Tragedy Spurs Corporate Altruism in Web Marketers, E-Tailers

As the country begins the long process of rebuilding and searching for answers after Tuesday’s catastrophic events, several online marketers and e-tailers are putting normal business on hiatus to show their support for relief efforts.

Amazon.com, for instance, placed a single graphic asking people to contribute to the Red Cross on its front page, which is normally reserved for users’ recommended purchases and special offers.

“All of us at Amazon.com are deeply saddened by the recent tragedies in New York City, Washington D.C., and southwestern Pennsylvania, and we extend our sympathies and condolences to those affected,” read the site. “You can support relief efforts by making a donation to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. You can contribute from $1 to $50 — any donation is greatly appreciated.”

Amazon also said that it would waive its usual commission for donations, which it usually collects for Web sites through its Honor System program. As of press time, a total of $1,164,553.33 had been collected from 40,423 donations through the service.

Similarly, Yahoo also is running an effort on its front page designed to encourage visitors to contribute via links and secure transactional links to the Red Cross, the New York Blood Center, and other relief groups.

Much-reviled Web advertiser X10.com, which makes tiny, wireless cameras but is better known for its massive pop-up ad campaign, exchanged its usual ads for links and numbers for the Red Cross and other groups.

“We have suspended our service out of sympathy to the victims and families of this National [sic] tragedy. Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to them,” now reads a message on its pop-up ads. “We can either feel hopeless or powerless or we can take action. (Most of us will do all 3!) Make the call or click the links to find your local suxpport center.”

Online marketing agency i7Interactive developed a banner ad, which asked visitors to donate blood to the Red Cross, and asked Web publishers to run the ad if they had excess inventory, and to pass it along.

“It’s a quick creative [effort],” said i7Interactive chief executive John Park. “We’re getting a pretty good reception. MyFamily.com, Classmates.com and Domania.com are just a few people that have responded.”

Online auction site eBay took its own approach to the tragedy, halting the trading of items related to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, “out of respect for the victims, their family members and the survivors … regardless of whether the events of September 11th are mentioned on the item or the listing,” the company wrote in a message to users.

“Many eBay community members have been directly affected by the tragic events that took place earlier today along the East Coast of the United States,” the company said. “We understand the strain that the sale of items relating to those events and the locations where they took place may place on those affected.”

eBay said it would resume normal trading on Oct. 1, although it currently does and said it would continue to prohibit the sale of items from or related to crime scenes through its Terms and Conditions.

“This is an extraordinary measure that we feel is appropriate considering the extraordinary nature of today’s events and its direct affect on so many members of our community,” the company said in its letter to members. “Many of our users have asked that we take this step, and we believe that the eBay community will understand and support this decision.”

Other firms also got into the spirit of giving. E-mail marketing firm Kintera, which services non-profits, waived its usual fees for organizations responding to the crisis.

“Because Kintera’s sole mission is to help nonprofits use the Internet to communicate, we are committed to assisting all organizations that need immediate help in providing disaster aid and services,” said the firm’s chief executive, Harry Gruber.

Similarly, New York-based email marketer NetCreations said it was providing free list rentals to relief organizations.

“The horror of it all was (and still is) much more than any of us could take in,” said NetCreations vice president of sales Michael Mayor. “But now we are focusing on how to help.”

Additionally, West Chester, Penn.-based email ASP United Messaging offered free, temporary Internet and POP3 email services to all displaced businesses that had inhabited the World Trade Center.

Research firm Gartner Group made its reports available at no cost to the public, and made its analysts available through open conference calls to discuss disaster recovery, security and business continuity planning.

Web-based conference service PlaceWare said that for the next 90 days it would offer free online meetings to any emergency or governmental agencies needing to conduct disaster recovery efforts or communications, based on Tuesday’s attacks. The company also said it would offer two weeks of free online meeting services to any businesses materially affected by the events.

Similarly, telecommuting firm Expertcity said it would make its GoToMyPC service — which enables people to remotely access their PCs via a Web browser — available for 30 days, free, to companies affected by the nationwide aviation shutdown and transportation issues in New York and D.C.

“With the country reeling from this horrible human tragedy, a secondary effect has been the impact on the nation’s corporate productivity,” said the company’s CEO, Andreas von Blottnitz. “The effect of the airport shutdowns, corporate closings and the security precautions, bound to cause delays, will result in thousands of people unable to get to work. And this is only the beginning of what will likely be weeks of travel interruptions. We hope that by making our teleworking tool available to all affected, we can provide some relief over the next few weeks.”

Cynics might suggest that the companies are simply hoping to blithely cash in on Tuesday’s horrific tragedies, but the firms see it a different way entirely.

“During tragic times like these, we all feel we have an obligation to help,” said Ben Trowbridge, who is chairman and CEO of United Messaging, the email ASP providing free service. “That is why, in addition to our thoughts and prayers, United Messaging is doing what it can to assist the affected companies as they struggle to restore their critical communications infrastructure.”

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