Just Hit Send: How the Social Media Revolution Has Shaped Global Policy

Originally handed in as a TMBA Global Business paper.

INTRODUCTION

According to Richard Florida’s analysis of global business published in The Atlantic Monthly in 2005, the world is not round – it is spiky. Globalization has all but erased the geopolitical boundaries of our third grade social studies course maps, enabling information and people to flow almost seamlessly from one continent to the next. A quick analysis of the population concentration of modern society clear shows that cities like London, New York and Tokyo, to name a few, are the true political and socioeconomic superpowers; cities not countries are the entities truly in charge of establishing the international policies and business norms that will shape commerce, innovation and civil reform. This brave new interconnected and interdependent world not only has leveled the entrepreneurial playing field in emerging and existing markets but has also polarized how economic development and progress are viewed. Those in power still control the distribution of wealth and opportunity regardless of national borders and geographical distance because communications, transportation corridors and trade agreements enables the reach of their influence to travel at the speed of a phone call, email, text or social media message.

As a side effect, the ability to communicate via the internet has made possible for those individuals living in the megacities or peaks to become agents of change. Balance is easily enforced or restored whenever an injustice is observed with the push of a button. Twitter, Facebook, or any type of social media message, can mobilize citizens around within minutes to respond to any worthy call to action. Campaigns like Black Lives Matter, and the Women’s March have started global social revolutions that have forced transnational companies to take a stand and become allies to keep customers from boycotting their services or products. Those who oppose a popular sentiment or lobby can see their corporations crumble or lose revenue within days. A single message can make or break existing policies, tarnish brand recognition, or scrutinize a business’s transactions, moving politicians and social institutions to enact reform at the necessary pace to quell civil unrest and outrage. The cities that are not as rich or fortunate, the hills and valleys of the planet, benefit greatly from these movements receiving the ancillary benefits of being associated with the superpowers’ wins.

JUST HIT SEND: PEAKS BAND TOGETHER FOR SOCIAL REFORM

Richard Florida (Florida, 2005) defined the peaks, hills and valleys generated by globalization as follows:

“Three sorts of places make up the modern economic landscape. First are the cities that generate innovations. These are the tallest peaks; they have the capacity to attract global talent and create new products and industries. They are few in number, and difficult to topple. Second are the economic “hills”—places that manufacture the world’s established goods, take its calls, and support its innovation engines. These hills can rise and fall quickly; they are prosperous but insecure. Some, like Dublin and Seoul, are growing into innovative, wealthy peaks; others are declining, eroded by high labor costs and a lack of enduring competitive advantage. Finally there are the vast valleys—places with little connection to the global economy and few immediate prospects.”

The peaks have had the luck or ability, depending on who you ask, to stay on top of the game and lead by becoming innovation centers for technology, social reform and business. Many have been able to do so for centuries, such as London and Paris, and others like New York and Tokyo have become superpowers because of their economical and industrial pull, respectively. New comers like Seattle and San Francisco have benefitted from the rise of technology companies like Microsoft, Google and Apple to establish their importance in the global theater. The people that live in these cities have accepted the responsibility of leading as well from their position of relative power. Their communication platform of choice: social media, especially Twitter whose programmed ability to make hashtags or searchable key word posts easily retweeted or shared has started social movements that have spread globally in a matter of minutes.

The most common example of how a hashtag affected policy and international dialogue has been the #BlackLivesMatter movement:

SmartSelect_20181203-104540_Word.jpg

Started in 2013 as a reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a Florida (USA) man that fatally shot an African American unarmed teenage boy named Treyvon Martin in the front yard of his dad’s girlfriend’s apartment. As Figure 1 shows, as of July 2018, five years after the event, the hashtag and movement have remained relevant in the United States and across the world backed by corporate campaigns aimed at promoting racial equality and tolerance messages. Ben and Jerry’s (Ben and Jerry’s, 2016) named an ice-cream Empower Mint to show their support of the movement. Nike, in September of 2018, enlisted the help of staunch supporter Colin Kaepernick, an ex-NFL quarterback, to promote their message of standing up for what you believe in. In both cases, product sales soared despite boycotts and protests of the corporation’s endorsement of the campaigns. For Nike, Figure 2 (Martinez, 2018), the boycott resulted in heightened online global sales as customers rallied to offset the losses, making it very clear to the dissenting voices that they were not only wrong but overwhelmingly outnumbered.

SmartSelect_20181203-104553_Word

The Twitter hashtag phenomenon is one way of showing how in global business, to expand and/or retain market share corporations, brands and products must delight the customer. In this day and age, and due to the speed at which information travels, it is imperative that said customer is not only satisfied with their purchase but also supports the company behind the product provided and services rendered. The spikes, or cities in which innovation and commercial influence are born and raised daily, dictate the pace at which the rest of the planet will adapt technology and social reform. Their corporations and leaders shape local and international policy based on the decisions made in the board room and their halls. If a customer raises a red flag in any part of the world, be it during design, manufacturing or actual sale of the goods sold to them, their disgust and dissatisfaction can generate a movement so powerful that the corporation could collapse in a matter of weeks due to the social pressure.

In the political realm, the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in 2016 generated a movement called “The Women’s March” (Women’s March, 2017) as a reaction to his misogynistic comments in regards to women and gender equality. Angry women around the globe joined in through social media to plan demonstrations in the peak cities of Washington DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York and Chicago as early as the following March, with reports of millions of participants. Smaller demonstrations took place in London, Oslo, Toronto and Paris, which by 2018 had grown to include more European and Asian countries. The repercussions of these events were broader in scope than Black Lives Matter because they tackled one of the most heated debates of the modern industrial age: women’s wages are subpar when compared to those of their male counterparts.

Corporations around the world were put on notice. Now that we all agreed that women deserved equal pay for equal work, and equal rights as citizens which were being infringed by the former plight, female employees and their allies would actively seek retribution. Today, thousands of chapters are in place worldwide to address the following subjects: ending violence; reproductive rights; LGBTQIA rights; worker’s rights; disability rights; immigrant rights; and environmental justice. Those corporations smart enough to realize that they had enough evidence and influence to change the narrative started to create internal and external campaigns to show their support of the movement. GE and Boeing, initiated online campaigns with the hashtags #BalanceTheEquation (GE, 2017) and #WomenMakeUsBetter (Capeheart, 2017) to promote women in STEM recruitment and career advancement. GM was not far behind as were Lockheed Martin, who coincidentally had female CEO’s at the time, and still do! As recently as early October of 2018, California enacted state law to force businesses to have 50% female representation on their Board of Directors to match population demographics. (Carpenter & Wattles, 2018)

The push in the United States to bring women to the forefront of business and succession planning was heralded by the success of similar measures in European peak cities, and the historical data available showing how female leaders in both politics and the industry have improved the bottom line for stake and shareholders alike. Myths about women being weak or not suitable for the challenges of the corporate world have been shattered by the performance of the likes of England’s past Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Germany’s current Prime Minister Angela Merkle. In late October of 2018 the first female Prime Minister was elected in Ethiopia, and given a gender balanced cabinet. (Brookings, 2018) The fruits of the movement are being felt through the hills and valleys as well. The global landscape is changing as women are given the opportunity to become entrepreneurs and seen as more than mothers, daughters and wives.

Other than hikes in sales or gaining positive brand recognition, corporations have benefited from the interconnectedness of the peak cities because through these information, people, trade and capital flow freely. However, it is important to note that globally, the trend doesn’t match the same pace and rate. For example, information may flow freely (Figure 3) but the other factors are actually slowly declining or barely increasing as the years progress.

SmartSelect_20181203-104609_Word.jpg

Nationalism is still strong, and the #MAGA or Make America Great Again political campaign is proof that these tactics still resonate with the voter base and citizenship. Without accords like the EU or bilateral entry agreements that make visas easy to obtain or not necessary, immigrants have a harder time gaining access into desirable countries. USA employers are having a hard time recruiting foreigners into their ranks, due in part by the recent changes in immigration policy. The Syrian refugee crisis of 2015 serves as a prime example of how sometimes interconnectedness serves to close borders and reject the idea that people can flow freely from one border to the next. Governments have yet to find a panacea for these types of problems, and the civil unrest that spreads due to the unwanted and sometimes unwelcomed foreigners who are faulted for stealing jobs and lowering the quality of life of the communities that open their arms to receive them. In politics, just like in business, there is an element of perception and bias that hinders cities and countries to prosper: the difference between the haves and the have nots still persist, even in the modernized and powerful peaks.

CLOSING STATEMENT

Ghemawat, in his TED talk “The World is Not Flat”, asks that as citizens of the world we shift the paradigm of globalization from business to how people live their lives. Transportation corridors that include airplanes, trains and automobiles create information and good super highways though which humanity can connect and band together to keep war at bay. By becoming dependent on one another, the peaks, hills and valleys must work together to fight for the greater good which is the only sure fire way to ensure our species’ success. When we get together to create and innovate, we thwart any efforts to disband and break up the information and idea flow, showing detractors that globalization is a necessary evil. Just like the people in the peaks can start a social revolution by hitting send, so can those in the rest of the world. By becoming allies and supporting each other we close the physical and geographical gaps between us acting as one force with one goal and one mind.

Even though outsourcing and offshoring served to open boarders for trade, they have yet failed to materialize a balance that collectively enriches all of the world’s cities and countries making the world truly flat or interdependent. People can organize and protest at neck breaking speeds but making sure everyone affected gets a piece of the pie is harder to accomplish than anticipated. Corporations and politicians in the peaks and superpowers will react to the pressures of society enacting laws that are oftentimes not transferable based on cultural and religious norms. Ben and Jerry’s and Nike see an influx of sales that do not necessarily correlate with the elimination of laws or biases against black people. GE and Boeing need to work against gender roles and gender bias to reach girls and young women who are interested in STEM fields but lack the resources and support to see their dreams of becoming engineers, scientists and mathematicians. Refugees cannot cross borders fast enough to reestablish themselves and their families as hard working, worthy, employees. Many small and midsized companies and businesses will not be able to match wages for female employees nor will they be able to survive the fall out of the next trending Twitter campaign.

Be it tax cuts, protesting existing unfair laws, or forcing corporations to take a hard look at who they use for labor and how they source and produce their brand items, social media is a powerful tool to shape global politics and business practices. When used wisely, people in remote areas of the planet will feel connected to each other based on a shared idea or sentiment. As much power as we think the peak cities and their inhabitants possess, it will mean nothing if energy is squandered on issues that only benefit the growth and sustainability of those superpowers. Until we find a way to bottle the success of these centers of excellence and we can use it to develop the emerging markets, policy change on a dime will continue to slow down our borders and generate enough animosity between groups to foster nationalism, and discrimination. Education structures need to be erected behind these social reform movements and revolutions to perpetuate their achievements and keep the momentum alive. Only then will the changes become permanent and truly global. With the help of these movements we can only hope that more hills and valleys will rise. If not, we will see globalization’s deepest contribution, free information flow, become its undoing. In that case, I hope the world’s female leaders don’t get blamed for it. We are all, equally, in this together.


REFERENCES

Ben and Jerry’s. (2016). Retrieved from Black Lives Matter: https://www.benjerry.com/whats-new/2016/why-black-lives-matter

Brookings. (2018, October). Retrieved from Ethiopia appoints first female president and gender-balanced cabinet

Capeheart, J. (2017). “Women Make Us Better”: A tribute to women’s importance in STEM careers. Retrieved from Boeing.com: https://www.boeing.com/company/about-bca/washington/women-make-us-better-06-27-17.page

Carpenter, J., & Wattles, J. (2018, October 3). California has a new law: No more all-male boards. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/30/business/california-requires-women-board-of-directors/index.html

Florida, R. (2005). The World is Spiky. The Atlantic Monthly , 48-51.

GE. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.ge.com/?search=Balance%20the%20Equation

Martinez, G. (2018, September 10). Despite Outrage, Nike Sales Increased 31% After Kaepernick Ad. Time. Retrieved from http://time.com/5390884/nike-sales-go-up-kaepernick-ad/

Women’s March. (2017). About. Retrieved from Women’s March: https://www.womensmarch.com/

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