What Linkin Park Teaches Us About Corporate Social Responsibility
If you’re early to a concert by Linkin Park, which one publication recently declared “The Biggest Rock Band on the Planet,” you’ll have many opportunities to make the world a better place. You can get your cheek swabbed by the folks from Love Hope Strength to see if you’re a match to donate bone marrow and save someone’s life, as sixteen Linkin Park fans have already been. You’ll learn how you can help the environment from Reverb, a nonprofit that worked with Linkin Park’s crew to minimize the environmental impact caused by the tour. Or you can visit the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
They had recently gotten back from a tour of Southeast Asia when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit on December 26th. Staring in horror at the images of devastation in the area that had so recently hosted them, they were moved to action. “We had never really had the unified vision to have one organization that would be our own until that happened,” bassist Dave “Phoenix” Farrell told me. “We saw the devastation and felt like we might be able to help mobilize not only our community of fans, but also the music industry in general.”
Triggered by compassion, the band sprung into action, using its existing resources and infrastructure.
Linkin Park was in fact sitting on major untapped resources. First was their huge and passionate fan base. A pioneer in using the Internet to nurture its community of fans, Linkin Park now has more than 66 million fans on Facebook. Second was its organization, from management to crew, dozens of employees, subcontractors and service providers. Third was its network of fellow bands, each with its own dedicated community of fans.
“I believe in strength in numbers,” said Farrell. “I want to gather real power to make change through a crowd.”
The band realized it could make the greatest impact by providing its own compassion triggers for others. They contributed to the “Not Alone” video to raise awareness and funds for Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. The Secretary General of the United Nation was so pleased by the response (more than 9 million YouTube views at the time), that he asked the band to support his Sustainable Energy for All initiative, promoting universal access to electricity. The resulting collaboration is called Power the World, which has been providing solar electricity systems to health clinics in Uganda, biogas cookstoves for households in Nepal and soccer balls that are also portable generators to communities in South America.
Talking about the pain of others and asking for help easing that pain is a natural extension of Linkin Park’s relationship with fans, which is already based on the intense emotional content of their music. Speaking about their music, Farrell said, “There is a lot in there that’s joyful and happy, but there is a lot in there that’s also upset, disappointed, and downtrodden. When people talk to me, they gravitate toward that realness of the range of human emotion that’s in there.” Linkin Park’s music connects people through shared emotional experiences, which the band has translated into a conversation about other people’s plights. “For us it’s always been very easy and natural and comfortable to be able to talk about that and to be able to interact with our fan base in that way,” he said, “because it’s always been something that has been personal and close to our hearts.”
But more than awareness, the band sees Music for Relief as an infrastructure to engage people who want to use their skills to provide physical help. To that end, they organize tree plantings, park cleanups and construction projects for their fans and crew.
Through such activities, Linkin Park has been able to permeate its organization with a culture of care. According to a recent paper by professors Kevin André and Anne-Claire Pache at the EESEC Business School, effective corporate social action builds on creating an organization where people have opportunities to do good for others, where they are encouraged to care for each other and where they can interact with those who benefit from their services.
Here is where Linkin Park can serve as an example for any kind of organization that wants to do social good .
By organizing volunteering opportunities for their crew, Linkin Park engages people who may not have otherwise done philanthropy. According to André and Pache, these activities make “organizational members realize that they have both the responsibility and the capacity to care.”
In South Africa in 2012, twenty Linkin Park crew members planted trees at an elementary school. “It was the best day,” said Missy Allgood, “It was so sweet. These little kids in uniforms in 80-degree weather, and it was beautiful. They were singing and every person had a tear in their eye.” The experience bred new crew initiatives, such as collecting soaps and shampoos from hotels on the road and donating them to a women’s shelter. As recent research has shown, volunteering enhances employees’ sense of meaningfulness at work.
The ethic of care translates into how the crew interacts with fans. Security guard Tom Robb, nicknamed “Hellboy,” told me, “This is an incredibly fan-friendly tour in how we talk to the kids, how we interact. No heavy-handedness will be tolerated.” He tells his security staff to keep an upbeat vibe. “We know you’re strong,” he tells them. “Show that you can be gentle.”
Linkin Park also turns its caring inward, encouraging caring relationships within the crew. Jim Digby, the band’s production manager and the head of the crew, told me he hires people for a positive attitude and perpetuates a familial atmosphere. Backstage I heard him shout “Love you!” and “You’re a rock star!” to his black-clad crew members.
Linkin Park renews its philanthropic energy by continuously engaging with the people who are touched by their work. “What’s been the most rewarding for me has been the couple of times that we’ve actually been able to go out and visit areas where we’ve been in disaster relief,” said Farrell. In Japan they visited schools that suffered from damage following the 2011 tsunami and even jammed with kids receiving music therapy to help deal with the loss of friends or family. They also visited refugee camps in Haiti to get a first-hand perspective of life in a refugee camp with no electricity. As we know from research by Wharton School professor Adam Grant, interacting with those who benefit from your work is a highly effective—yet often neglected—opportunity to motivate action.
Take the regular meet-and-greets Linkin Park conducts with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. “Creatively it’s refreshing and kind of re-energizing,” said Farrell. “You see an individual night through somebody else’s eyes, not as being one show of thirty that you’re playing that month. That helps to bring it into a place where it can add that element of energy, add the element of uniqueness and just make it a lot more special.”
booth, where you’ll meet Quan Nguyen, who will tell you about IAVA’s efforts to protect the vulnerable veteran population.
And you’ll meet the aptly-named Missy Allgood, who will tell you about Music for Relief, the organization Linkin Park founded in 2005 to raise money and awareness and provide direct help with disaster relief and environmental protection. Music for Relief has already raised more than $6 million for survivors of natural disasters and has planted 1 million trees to help reduce global warming.
How is Linkin Park able to accomplish this? Like any band, Linkin Park’s six members are a top management team. Though they were able to get on the same page musically, when it came to politics they were all over the map.
Until December 2004.