The end of 2011 saw big reversals by major corporations in the face of public outcry. First was GoDaddy, who came out in favor of SOPA and was quickly persuaded by online outrage into switching positions. The second was an even faster about-face by Verizon Wireless. Verizon thought they’d quietly slip-in a $2 bill payment fee, only to find the public reaction so seething that they cancelled that bright idea before potential shaming by the FCC. Two up. Two down. Is there something to be learned here?
It might be possible to dismiss either or both of these incidents as the obvious corporate toe stubbing that occurs from time to time. But when you add them to a stack of other news stories this past year that fall into the same category, there’s a pretty obvious pattern that emerges.
What other stories? How about the “Arab Spring” demonstrations that swept many countries in the Middle East and prompted regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt & Libya and ongoing protests in Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Jordan? How about the “Occupy” movements that have been dubbed an “American Autumn” by some? How about 100,000 demonstrators in Madison, Wisconsin that included tractor parades and farmers dressed as cows circling the Capitol last February? By this summer, it may culminate in recall of the state’s Governor.
How does all this disparate activity tie together? The common thread is the Internet. We are living in a new age of the empowered individual that is different from anything we’ve seen before in one important aspect. Thanks to technology, that empowerment is nearly instantaneous.
Time was, if you didn’t like something you always had the option to write your Congressman or the editor of your local paper. You could call or write a company to voice your disapproval. If the results weren’t satisfactory, you always could discuss matters with your friends, even escalating your group efforts into a demonstration or protest march. The civil rights movement and student protests of the 1960’s can certainly be said to have changed the course of American society over a period of turbulent years.
For those of us old enough to remember 1968, there is a certain resemblance to Zucotti Park and UC Davis. One difference is the way we hear about these things and see the images. In the 60’s, you tuned in Walter Cronkite from 5:30 to 6 PM or you went without video. There were always AP wirephotos in the Sunday newspaper or color pictures in next week’s Time magazine.
Compare that with watching the live feed from Tim Pool's cell phone as he walked through the crowd in New York City, interviewing people involved in the Occupy Wall Street protests as he went. What’s it take to be such a citizen journalist with your own audio and video remote broadcast facility? In this case, a Samsung Galaxy S II smartphone and an unlimited 4G broadband account from Sprint feeding into a Ustream account called “The Other 99.” Would you like to broadcast live video to a dozen friends or tens of thousands of interested onlookers worldwide? The Ustream.tv channels are free. You can feed them from your desktop, laptop or smartphone with wired or wireless broadband connection.
Social media is said to be a major theme for business in 2012. The social media revolution has already become mainstream activity for individuals everywhere. In WWII, desperate messages came out of countries under siege via Morse Code sent from hidden short wave transmitters. In 2012, that’s text messages and tweets from some of the billions of cell phones in service worldwide. Think this can be stopped? Just who is going to round up all those billions of phones or cut off the Internet or texting for very long? There are so many interconnections that if you need to send a message anywhere on Earth, you can probably find a path in short order.
It’s more than the power of motivated individuals. Social media and the readily available tools that feed it allow those motivated individuals to quickly, almost instantly, join forces with others of the same mind. In hours, minutes, perhaps seconds, group efforts can be mounted to address nearly any issue. This is what doomed the ill-fated initiatives from GoDaddy and Verizon before they ever got solidified. One disgruntled customer on the toll-free service line can be placated or ignored. Ten thousand or a hundred thousand in concert bashing your business on Facebook, Twitter, text messages, YouTube, blogs and email are a force to be reckoned with. Once they get the attention of the mainstream media who monitor those social channels looking for newsworthy material, the game is over ... even if it only started a few hours or days ago.