Lessons From Uber, Starbucks: Will Hashtagtivism Disrupt Your Business?

Our new president has emboldened his base, while mobilizing and strengthening his opposition. Most corporations have stayed quiet, likely in a baffling wait-and-see mode. But given President Trump's various controversial actions, a few brands have begun to fight back.

Starbucks, with a long history of being front and center on social issues, seized the moment of the Trump Muslim ban with a call to hire 10,000 refugees worldwide. In response, the right kick-started #BoycottStarbucks. 

On another front, Uber first seen as breaking a taxi strike, called off surge pricing and then issued a statement of support for its immigrant drivers.  And that was Sunday. It was clearly too little too late to quell the masses calling to #DeleteUber, given their CEO’s role, along with heads of Disney, IBM and Walmart, on Trump’s business advisory group. 

Why will one hashtag take root and another fizzle?  Here are three possible reasons:

1. What your CEO thinks matters.  Howard Schultz wears his ethos on his sleeve.  Youth, economics, veterans, race – Schultz has not been afraid to wade into controversial matters.



Any action he takes today is credible, based on past words and deeds and his company’s actions. Conversely, Uber founder Travis Kalanick is known for his missteps in labor practices, sexism and misogyny.

Having Kalanick call for an end to the Muslim ban, given his past and connections to Trump, falls flat. We know what Starbucks stands for. Other than convenience, Uber stands for?  Anyone?

2. This is a new day for politics. This isn’t like the past, when any trepidation for brands to wade into political matters was understandable and, at most times, advisable. As Trump’s popularity dips below 50%, a feat which usually takes 1,000 days (not one week) and mass protests assemble in every city, we brace for an altogether different political climate. 

Issues such as barring immigrants, refuting climate change and attacking a free press are neither Democratic nor Republican.  The leadership moment is now. Brands have a chance to do the right thing.

3. Big, bold action will pay off.  Consumers will remember and reward brands that speak up and take a stand. Starbucks loyalists remain caffeinated as the boycott hashtag drops down the list of Twitter trending topics.  

Lyft is rewarded for its $1,000,000-dollar-pledge to the ACLU.  Five friends texted me Sunday telling me that they were taking their first Lyft ride.

It remains to be seen if other companies that are working with Trump will have consequences.  Perhaps yes, perhaps not.

Hashtagtivism is here to stay as mobile tech and social media can launch a campaign overnight.  Around certain issues, such as immigrant rights, womens’ rights and LGBT rights, there is one side to be on for a brand.  

And that’s the side of the protesters.  


1 comment about "Lessons From Uber, Starbucks: Will Hashtagtivism Disrupt Your Business?".
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  1. Peter Rosenwald from Consult Partners, January 31, 2017 at 3:45 p.m.

    This is the moment for corporate courage or cowardice.

    This shouldn't be about the financial bottom line but rather, the conscience bottom line.

    There are millions of people out there who will reward the CEOs and their companies who will stand up to Trump and Barron and use the power of their positions to support the values on which America and their businesses have been built.

    It is stand up and be counted time. 

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