Online social networking is all the rage these days, presenting a huge opportunity for companies to insert their brands into consumers' increasingly divided attention spans. Timberland (NYSE: TBL ) , the premiere pick for my Rising Stars portfolio, recently released a new initiative that unites social media with social responsibility.
The shoemaker's new Facebook application allows fans to plant a virtual forest. The more fans start growing these virtual forests on Facebook, the more trees Timberland will plant in Haiti as part of the Yele Vert reforestation program. The company's goal is to plant 1 million real-life trees in Haiti.
Between that effort and its initiative in China's Horqin Desert, Timberland plans to plant 5 million trees in the next five years.
Many companies use Facebook to increase their brand recognition in a "friendly" way. Huge corporations like Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG ) are trying to interact with consumers through such media. Last June, Famecount data dubbed Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX ) , Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO ) , and Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI ) early leaders in social media marketing.
On the other hand, social networking's wild, consumer-driven social component can backfire big-time for companies that make a mess of things, as BP (NYSE: BP ) learned the hard way following the Gulf oil spill.
Timberland's social networking idea takes support for its brand a step further than many companies would, which could provide a huge, beneficial halo for its products and reputation. Innovative ideas like the company's social-media-driven reforestation program are not just good for Timberland's brand, but also for the world at large. That's a far more sustainable strategy than most companies' sales-y approaches.
Timberland's socially networked, socially responsible philosophy is just one more reason it made the cut in my portfolio. Check out the original buy recommendation here.