The Rise of Social Activism: Why You Need to be Listening to Your Customers
In late December 2011 it was discovered that one of the key supporters of the US SOPA legislation was the world’s largest domain registrar, GoDaddy. This was curious given that nearly every other major tech company considered SOPA and PIPA to be a clear and present threat to not only their business activities but also to the internet itself. Many people were outraged by this support and a boycott of GoDaddy was organised, beginning on the social aggregator Reddit but soon spreading through Facebook, Twiiter and other social networks. The result wasn’t just social activism, it sent major shockwaves throughout the corporate world and underlined just why every business needs to be listening to its customers.
In the face of a consumer boycott most companies would at least release a carefully worded statement explaining their views. They might even open up a dialogue with their opponents and some in the company might begin to re-evaluate their own position. However GoDaddy just seemed to shrug off the threat. They refused to comment and closed down their support forums. Some time later they eventually released the following statement to Ars Technica:
Go Daddy has received some emails that appear to stem from the boycott prompt, but we have not seen any impact to our business. We understand there are many differing opinions on the SOPA regulations
This callous dismissal of the boycott outraged its supporters. They began not only removing their own domains and those owned by their companies from GoDaddy, but also started targeting other GoDaddy registered sites and pleading with them to withdraw their domains from GoDaddy as well. Amongst those targetted was Wikipedia, which coincidently is a major opponent of the SOPA bill.
The boycott quickly gained momentum, and GoDaddy soon paid for their poor communication skills. In just one day alone they lost over 21000 domain names. Within 12 hours GoDaddy were forced to make an embarrassing backdown and released a statement claiming that they were dropping support for SOPA.
However, it soon emerged that this was not true. They continued to support the bill in private, they had even worked on the legislation to ensure that they were immune to its effects. Clearly they not only weren’t listening to their customers they were telling them to fuck off. Other registrars, who opposed SOPA, took advantage of the situation by welcoming the refugees, offering them discount vouchers.
Social media allows consumers to not only be very vocal about their displeasure at a global level, but also to produce well-organised activism campaigns extremely quickly. GoDaddy were either arrogant or naive to not only ignore their consumers during the crisis but to actively dismiss them as powerless. They only needed to look at of what happened during the Arab Spring to see what happens when social activism gets a full head of steam.
Supporters of the boycott plan to decimate GoDaddy: to send them out of business. This is not only as a punishment, in retribution for SOPA support, but also as a warning to other corporations who are considering being out-of-step with their customer’s moral and ethical values.
There are some that might call this virtual vigilantism, or even cyber terrorism, but really it’s a major schism between some in the corporate world and consumers. It stems from the financial collapses in 2008 where many people lost everything due to the excesses of corporate cowboys. This is the world in which we now live in. Consumers have rediscovered the power they feel was ripped from them and they’re not afraid to use it. That’s something that every business needs to be aware of and prepare for.
No business is entitled to its customers. It has to work for and with them constantly. And when you’re at war with your own customers then there is only ever going to be one loser: you.