Power nowadays lives and dies on the strength of one deceptively powerful tool: the hashtag symbol.
Put another way, he who controls the hashtag controls the conversation. This distribution of power is a central theme of the recently published âNew Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World â and How to Make It Work for You.â
Authors Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms explore how power is won and lost now that anyone with a Facebook
YouTube, Instagram or other social-media account can create a popular movement just by adding â#â to a cause or concern. New power is eroding the traditional hierarchy of who has power and who is powerless â a shift that frightens those clinging to old power and invigorates those acquiring new power, with game-changing implications for everything from our politics to our purchases.
Accordingly, the rise of new power and its future is particularly important for stock investors. Savvy companies pay close attention to social media as more than a way to push products. They register the raw power of online discontent, for example the #MeToo and #NeverAgain movements, and respond in proactive ways that reflect good corporate citizenship and, not incidentally, aim to retain brand loyalty.
Dickâs Sporting Goods
Â ending sales of assault rifles after a gunman at a Parkland, Fla., high school killed 17 people is a prime example; so is Starbucksâ
Â damage-control effort in the wake of a racially charged incident at one of its Philadelphia stores. As new power emboldens individuals, corporate executives and investors alike can expect consumers to make themselves heard often â and loudly.
Read: David Hogg calls for investors to boycott BlackRock, Vanguard over gun holdings
More: Youâre probably invested in gun stocks â hereâs how to change that
Heimans and Timms spoke with MarketWatch by telephone recently about new power and its influence on government, corporate governance, social activism and public opinion. The interview has been edited for clarity and length:
MarketWatch: New power will give some companies an edge over their rivals. How can companies stay on the upside of this societal shift?
Timms: A new generation of workers are coming to the table with different expectations of agency in the workplace. They have an inalienable right to participate. You have a world of people who are now wanting to shape things.
âTo participate is the symbol of our times.â
How you provide them routes to meaningful participation is the theme of the 21st century. They expect to be able to influence. To participate is the symbol of our times, and people who get that are the winners.
Heimans: Some big companies really are trying to think differently about power. Unilever
Â for example, is committed to greater transparency in their supply chain. Itâs willing to be more political and values-driven. Itâs abandoning quarterly reporting. Unilever is an old-power model beginning to adopt new power values.
Patagonia, a smaller company, thinks about the mobilization of its consumers. Sometimes it asks them not to buy stuff. It asks consumers to mobilize around the protection of native lands and climate change.
âFacebook would be nothing without all of our participatory energy.â
MarketWatch: What does Facebookâs recent controversies say about which side of this new power/old power struggle itâs on?
Heimans: Facebook would be nothing without all of our participatory energy. But Facebook really isnât modeling new-power values. It isnât transparent in the way it needs to be and isnât sharing power. Imagine a Facebook or Uber that was owned by users or drivers rather than the capital markets. You would get a fundamentally different power relationship. With Facebook, we should be able to take our data and move profile info and friends and photos on to another platform if we feel that platform is more aligned to our interests. All of these platforms can work together the way email works together.
There are many ways that Facebook could more nimbly hear from its users, and we could better shape the destiny of the platform. Facebook is an incredibly powerful global public square. Itâs effectively become the pipe to democracy. We have to think very differently about it.
But as of now we donât have any ability to share in the economic value created by Facebook, even though that value is built on our creative energy. This is a paradox. Masters of new power are not necessarily those who have our best interests at heart, and thatâs the big challenge of our time. Wall Street should get behind businesses that know how to cultivate their new power community.
Timms: The power of the crowd influences the state of companies. Weâve seen that with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. You look at the way companies are positioning themselves; Dickâs Sporting Goods around the gun debate generated goodwill from the crowd. Corporations have the capacity to turn the crowd in their favor, but that takes a great deal more than the press-release mindset which many companies are still hanging on to.
Read: 5 things to know about Europeâs new data rules â which could cost big, bad tech billions
More:Â What Facebook and other tech leaders must do now to win back our trust
MarketWatch: The thing about power and change, to borrow a line from the band The Who, is that the new boss all too often is the same as the old boss. Why should new power be any different?
Timms: Power has been command and control, leader-driven, closed. That world worked very well for a long time. It will never be the end of old power. The people who are going to succeed in the 21st century are going to have the old-power playbook and the new-power playbook, and blend those skills together.
New power is the essential skill of the 21st century. You harness the crowd to get the outcomes youâre looking for. Great platforms have been built on new power: The Trump and Obama campaigns; #MeToo; #NeverAgain. The danger is the fizzle; things surge and then shift back. The opportunity is taking new-power energy and converting it into policy change. Who are the leaders and organizations to work with? #NeverAgain and #MeToo have made great progress on that front. They have an intuitive understanding of how these tools work, which is going to give them a real edge in the battles ahead.
Heimans: We are the beginning of a very steep curve. All sorts of things are enabled that were not possible 20 years ago. A kid today can command a following of millions of people. You have the ability to start movements, and to spread misinformation â even violence. You canât today be a CEO of a company without being sophisticated about this.
Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms are authors of âNew Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World â and How to Make It Work for Youâ (Doubleday). Heimans is the co-founder and CEO of Purpose, a company specializing in building social movements around the world. Timms is executive director of New Yorkâs 92nd Street Y and the co-founder of #GivingTuesday, a global philanthropic movement.Â