Taking action that matters

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For those who enjoy but occasionally miss tempests in teapots, Kenneth Cole tweeted this out yesterday:

Taking action that matters 1

The reaction was swift and merciless inside the social media fishbowl:

(3+) @kennethcole - Twitter Search

So how much of a difference did a massive amount of outrage make to the people who are responsible for running Kenneth Cole? None. How do we know this? Check out their stock price:

Kenneth Cole Productions: NYSE:KCP quotes & news - Google Finance

The stock finished neutral for the day from tweet to market close. The shareholders of the stock are the driving force behind any publicly traded corporation. They influence the board of directors (who are usually the largest shareholders as well) who in turn hire, fire, and otherwise oversee the operation of the company’s management.

If the tempest in the teapot had made any substantial difference, you might have seen increased volume in the stock and even a small hit to the share price as worried stockholders would have dumped it in fear of reduced revenues. Instead, the firestorm appears to have had no discernible impact on shareholders – volume actually dropped  and the share price held steady, which means the PR gaffe will largely be forgotten as soon as the next shiny object comes along.

If you were legitimately upset by Kenneth Cole’s actions as a person and as a company, did you do any of the following?

  • Sell any shares of KCP stock that you owned in it
  • Encouraged others to sell off their shares of KCP?
  • Contacted any retirement plans that you participate in to see if they held KCP stock on your behalf, and if so, asked them to divest it?
  • Cancelled any pending purchases you had and encouraged others to do so?

If not, then you didn’t exert any influence over the folks in charge of Kenneth Cole.

There’s an expression from musician Jewel that I love dearly:

No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from.

When it comes to companies, politicians, and anyone behaving badly, there’s a good chance that in America and most other capitalist nations that money is the foundation of strength for many organizations, right or wrong. If you want to make real change, if you want to exert real influence, you have to understand the financial angle behind the scenes that enables or disables an organization to take action.

Here’s another example, something floating around on Facebook.

Facebook (41)

This leads to a petition operated by a political action group. Petitions are fine and good for demonstrating that a lot of people want to say something for or against a position, but at the end of the day, if the politician who sponsored the legislation feels no impact, the petition is largely meaningless except to help people feel better. If you were for or against this legislation, did you do any of the following?

  • Donate money to the legislator’s re-election campaign or the opposing party’s candidate?
  • Donate money to the national party of the legislator or the opposing party?
  • Dial up the political action committees in the geographic area to ask what support you could lend for or against the legislator?

The uncomfortable truth is that protests of any kind online are largely insubstantial if they’re not accompanied by some form of tangible action, and material or financial support for or against something is the most expedient way to ensure that your voice has a little more leverage. While it may make us feel good to sign a petition or press the Like button or the Retweet button, we don’t change anything. Only when we have some skin in the game, some resources on the table, are we going to start moving the needle as rapidly as we want.

Next time something stirs you up, take a moment to step back and ask how you can leverage the influence you have to not only say something, but to take tangible action, to no longer lend your strength and resources to things you wish to be free from.

Full disclosure: I do not own any position in the KCP stock.

Final note: please do not comment on the individual issues raised in this post. Other places are doing a fine job of debating the merits of the above current events. Focus comments instead on the process of taking action that matters and putting resources in the game. Comments about the specific issues will be deleted.

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6 responses to “Taking action that matters”

  1. Christopher,

    This is a brilliant, brilliant post, and precisely what I was thinking about this morning after reading further chatter on the KC gaffe. I see constant streams of online petitions, etc. that seem to be to be lazy ways to “make a difference”; opinions across the board about situations like this are no different if all folks did was state their opinions. I agree with you 100% that taking a financial stand or direct action (key word there: “action”) is what will make the difference.

    Thank you for this point of sanity (and the data to back it up).

    Mike Zavarello (@brightmatrix)

  2. This was a great post. I really like the part about the petition and politics. Certainly spreading awareness about an issue is important, however we MUST take real action not mindless online action of signing a virtual petition or hitting a retreat or share button. Real action includes picking up the phone and calling YOUR elected officials, writing them emails (not just copied and pasted ones), volunteering time with organizations, donating money AND if you have the time and passion running for office. Stop complaining and get involved.

    Additionally much of what we READ about politics from our friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc is factually wrong and misleading. I’m not discussing the above. I’m saying in general. Get to know the facts and the spread of misinformation.

  3. Christopher – I would agree with you that taking action matters. And, agree that just tweeting about the Kenneth Cole incident, or complaining about it on a blog, does very little at the end of the day. What really matters to Kenneth Cole would be the impact to sales and the impact on its stock.

    What you might be interested to know is that on the particular issue regarding the rape amendment, there was “success” and the bill was changed to remove the definition. On these sorts of actions, petitions and other online actions can have some level of success.

    Do all of them work like this? No. There’s a really great article over on the Care2 Frogloop blog (http://www.frogloop.com/care2blog/2011/2/3/latest-report-what-messaging-and-channels-influence-congress.html) about how these messages are viewed by members of Congress. You are absolutely right that there are other ways to effect change — including donations and actively working to get different people elected — but while people are in office, petitions, other online campaigns and offline activities can be effective.

    — Sue Anne Reed
    Care2 Communications Manager

  4. Laura Orban Avatar
    Laura Orban

    I think this is a great post. Voting with your money is critical. I wonder if when it comes to political issues, online petitions carry a little more weight than a similar vehicle in a business situation because it gives the politician an idea of how unpopular a piece of legislation is (and ultimately they will be). Certainly donating, or calling has far more impact. Great points, thanks for the insight.

  5. […] So what do you do as consumers if you were offended?  Well I follow what my friend, Christopher Penn asked over on his blog following KC’s tweet on Thursday: Do you take action that matters, that has an impact on the brands in question? […]

  6. […] Christopher S. Penn pointed out on his blog, the stock remained flat at $13.89 from the time of the tweet to the end of the day of Feb. 3, when […]

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