Over the last eighteen months we have seen a remarkable series of events that have been driven in part by social media. Protests during the Arab Spring revolutions in Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, as well as those that continue today in Egypt, Libya and Syria, were amplified using social media. The riots in London and through the United Kingdom this week were partly enabled and coordinated using the same tools. The question is how soon will it be before social media plays an activist role in customer’s daily lives?
Whether the long-term causes are political or economic oppression, social media has seemingly become a mainstay of organized protest. And each time this occurs, citizens around the world becoming more comfortable with engaging these tools to have their voices heard. So it’s by no means a stretch of the imagination to posit a day when consumers use these tools to organize their push-back against brands that continue to ignore their social responsibilities.
Violence in any form can never be condoned, but economic conditions around the world are becoming intolerable for a growing number of people – especially the young – that are falling out of the middle class and joining the ranks of the poor. As evidenced in London this week, when people have had so little to gain for so long, their actions demonstrate a belief that they have nothing to lose.
Yet these very tools and dynamics that are giving angry citizens a voice could just as easily be re-purposed to build a society that spreads prosperity more evenly and to earn consumer trust. Companies that invest in social causes that are in alignment with their core values will not only reap the benefits of popular support but will reinforce their brand and what it stands for. And given the present inertia in government and the limited resources of the non-profit sector, citizens and consumers are desperate for something or someone to believe in. This represents an unprecedented opportunity for companies seeking to be an instrument of change rather than greed.
My hope would be that more corporate leaders have the wisdom to drive the change that we need in our world and reap the rewards for doing so. Those who do will not only be the business leaders of tomorrow, but they will become the architects of communities that drive their business success for years to come.
Do you believe consumers will use social media to vent their frustration against socially irresponsible companies, or do you believe consumers are still too apathetic to push back against brands?
Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.