Social media empowers consumers to change the way companies do business.
By Simon Mainwaring
No doubt many readers of Talkback agree that free market capitalism has fallen into disrepute, proving to be ineffective in creating a prosperous society for everyone. Today, Wall Street banks, wealthy investors, corporate CEOs and boards continue to pursue profits at the expense of the overall society. Jobs are being outsourced to cheaper labor countries, worker salaries are falling and the middle class is slowly disappearing. Meanwhile calls for values-based practices, ethical conduct and concern for the greater good fall on deaf ears.
In response, many thought leaders and social visionaries have proposed new versions of capitalism – co-op capitalism, conscious capitalism, ethical capitalism, philanthrocapitalism and creative capitalism to name just a few. But these efforts are yet to have the impact we need to build a better world.
That is about to change.
A powerful new dynamic is shaping up between brands and consumers, a force that finally has the capability to alter how corporations practice capitalism. This dynamic is driven by social technologies that are connecting consumers, giving them a voice to express their opinions and the leverage to hold corporations accountable. If you listen closely, the consumer voices you hear in hundreds of blogs and thousands of YouTube videos, on scores of Facebook pages and within tireless Twitter streams, share a common sentiment: People want a better world, not just better widgets.
Through social media, consumers are forming communities around shared values – like accountability, sustainability and global citizenry – values that go against the grain of the profit-for-profit’s sake practice of capitalist self-interest. In these communities and networks, consumers are connecting with each other to exchange opinions and share ideas, effectively forming their own citizen media to disrupt the old balance of power between brands and their customers.
Through social media, consumers are empowering themselves to persuade and cajole companies into accepting a greater social responsibility in society. They will increasingly do this not only through their voices but through social activism. Social media gives consumers the tools they need to organize boycotts and buycotts, to push back on irresponsible companies, exposing the bad actors while praising and rewarding the good ones.
Consumers will increasingly gravitate toward the leading-edge companies that are paving the way to a new vision of capitalism, a softer, kinder, more humanistic and values-based economic system that cares about sustainability, the environment and creating prosperity for a larger percentage of people. These are companies like Pepsi, Toms Shoes, Patagonia, Seventh Generation, Starbucks, Nike, Unilever and P&G, all of whom are investing in cause promotions and outreach programs that speak to the values their consumers share. These are the companies that recognize they must a play a stronger role to advance humanity, and that the future of profit is purpose.
This growing influence of consumer sentiment will become unstoppable. Those corporations and brands that listen to this groundswell and adapt to the new social reality it mandates for their business will succeed. Those that fail to listen to what consumers are telling them will wither and die, the victims of Joseph Schumpeter’s famous “creative destruction” that social technologies are now introducing into capitalism. No one, not even Wall Street, will be immune to the power of hundreds of millions of consumers who, through social media, are eager and willing to do what it takes to build a better world for themselves and their children.
About Simon Mainwaring
Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a social branding consultancy that helps companies, non-profits and consumer groups build a better world through changes to the practice of capitalism, branding and consumerism using social technology. More information about ideas and concepts to re-engineer capitalism through social media is available in We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World (Palgrave/Macmillan, June 2011). Or visit wefirstbook.com. Simon blogs at simonmainwaring.com and you can follow him @simonmainwaring.
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