From the Guardian, technology writer Meg Carter gives us a few examples.
Global printing giant HP changed its approach to addressing pro-social issues in December, moving from what it calls the "old-style corporate philanthropy" of donating money and technology such as printers, to creating a new office of social innovation with the goal of offering both engineering skills on the ground in affected regions and managerial help to NGOs.
"We are looking at what we can contribute not just for emergency response but for the longer term," says Paul Ellington, director of health initiatives for HP's office of social innovation. "For example, we don't want to parachute engineers into Haiti for just a few weeks after a natural disaster. We want to help create new jobs and train Haitian engineers, and we are partnering with the Clinton Foundation and Nethope.org to do that."
There are other ways that big corporates are putting their assets to good use and raising their pro-social profiles. The rock star Bono is the face of (RED), an AIDS research charity for Sub-Saharan Africa set up in 2006. However, for the big brands working with (RED) and raising money by selling (RED) branded products, the digital community is the source of the programme's underlying power.
"We have more than 2m followers on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, which allows for an intimate, two-way conversation with customers of our partner brands," says (RED) international chief executive Seb Bishop. "That creates deeper understanding and a more relevant, ongoing relationship."
Brands such as Nike, Gap, Apple and Penguin books pay a licence fee to use the (RED) brand name on their products – like the red-coloured ipod – and they donate a percentage of sales to Aids research. Some $150m has been raised through the sale of almost 1,000 different (RED)-branded products launched across 60 countries worldwide.
For the (RED) model to work, its partners must see sales as well as PR benefits, and digital communication plays a central role in both. "To get its message across, an organisation must develop a one-on-one relationship with its audience," says Bishop. "To do this it must prove it's multidimensional and closely in tune with that audience's daily lives."