If you want to help Chile, Haiti or other causes, a new Web site wants to help you do it 140 characters at a time.
Launched today at the South by Southwest Interactive conference, Help Over Twitter creates local communities of socially conscious businesses and consumers.
When users come to the site, they can select their city to follow a Help Over Twitter (HelpOT) account for their local area. Through that city-specific account, socially responsible consumers and businesses can tweet about and read philanthropic promotions and offers. HelpOT launched in nine U.S. cities, but plans to reach 25 cities within eight weeks and the top 50 markets within six months.
“It’s a way for local merchants to stand out for the giving they’re already doing,” said Atif Rafiq, one of the site’s co-founders. “The percentage of merchants who donate today is material, but it’s not used strategically in the form of offers. Consumers don’t know about it.”
On HelpOT, for example, locals and visitors alike can learn that Opal Divine’s Penn Field, a local bar and grill, will donate $10 to Haiti and Chile via the Red Cross for orders of $100 or more.
Rafiq, who is the head of local business for Yahoo, said the idea came to him while he was traveling for work.
In a copy of the Indianapolis Star, he spotted a story about ways consumers could help Haiti by shopping at local stores. He later found similar articles in Chicago and Seattle papers.
The self-identified “entrepre-doer” found two partners, including a Yahoo colleague, and got to work. The three person team completed the side project in just three weeks.
Though the site singles out helping Haiti and Chile, Rafiq said he expects it to help all kinds of causes all over the world. Some of the businesses already on HelpOT feature promotions that support local charities and artists’ organizations.
“A year from now, we’ll see a broad portfolio of causes,” he said, adding that it could help change the way local businesses market themselves. “Just like every local business has coupons, they could have social responsibility offers.”
– Ki Mae Heussner