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In age of “clicktivism,” CEOs taking a political stand is good business

Companies  are increasingly using social media as a way to gauge public perception.
Saulo Mohana
Companies are increasingly using social media as a way to gauge public perception.

 Stateside's conversation with Jerry Davis, Associate Dean for Business Impact at Michigan Ross Business School

Amidst the public uproar over the separation of families at the U.S.-Mexico border, there was a notable push-back from leading airlines.

United, American, Southwest, and Frontier all announced they did not want the government using their planes to transport separated children, saying it defied their corporate values 

These airlines are just some of the corporations to openly resist the President, pointing to a trend of increased corporate activism. 

Jerry Davis is a business and sociology professor at the University of Michigan, and Associate Dean for Business Impact at Michigan Ross Business School. He spoke with Stateside’s Cynthia Canty about this shift in political outspokenness. Davis said 20 years ago, companies worked hard to avoid any political association.

“There is a famous and apocryphal quote from Michael Jordan when he was asked why aren’t you supporting Harvey Gantt to run for Senate? He said ‘Because Republicans buy sneakers too,’ and that was kind of the folklore for business,” Davis said. 

About five to 10 years ago, social media started playing a bigger role in corporations' public image, and that changed the calculation. 

Today, it's easy for individuals to ‘like’ petitions and articles, taking a stand through a phenomena that's become known as ‘clicktivism.’ Davis said this also allows companies to see what the public is thinking about them. 

“If you go out on your Twitter stream and say 'Holy smokes! If our costumers discover that we’re transporting children who are separated from their parent, if this becomes a video like that man that was dragged off that United Airlines flight, this is not going to end well for us,” Davis said. “So companies are going to be much more in the vanguard of figuring out what the public's going to think about this, and with tools of social media, you can figure it out pretty quickly.”

Davis does not see this sort of corporate activism going away, even after the Trump presidency. 

“More transparency is not going to go away, and as more and more people see that they can be successful by using these tactics one could imagine this leading to real polarization,” Davis said. “You could imagine there being red companies or blue companies.”

Listen above to hear Davis’ full interview with Cynthia Canty. 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Sophie Sherry. 

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