The ‘technology revolution’ stories are coming thick and fast at the moment.
Tablets and twitter will only take campaigners so far
Cheap as chips, nearly
Amazon has launched the cheaper tablet Kindle Fire.
Smartphones are everywhere.
Second and third generation phones mean first generation smartphones are hitting emerging economies now.
This spread is giving them faster, clearer, more nuanced and detailed internet access as wireless broadband takes hold.
Smartphones all have cameras and video. Now everyone can document everything.
The world’s cheapest tablet computer is now available to students in India for as little as $35 a pop.
This company, 4G Africa, points out that although only 1% of Africans have broadband internet access, new technology firms are utilising Wi-MAX technologies (super powerful wi-fi) to wire up cities of millions of people with internet access in less than two months per city.
So lots more people are getting online with mobile internet, fast connections, cameras and video capabilities.
Many have an interest in large companies and what their operations mean for them as both consumers and stakeholders.
The rise in NGO activity in and around China is testament to that.
Meanwhile, sites in the UK such as 38 Degrees or Change.org in the US, are becoming effective campaign aggregators.
Other entities, such as LaborVoices will try to utilise crowdsourcing for both solutions and pressure.
It all sounds rosy for those of who claim that engagement with campaigners is a key part of business strategy, right?
But perhaps no.
What happens when Twitter campaigns become so regular they are, or can be, ignored?
How many petitions from online aggregators will CEOs listen to?
Most importantly: When will stories of social media campaigns or simply complaints against a firm, stop becoming newsworthy? When has the media ‘had enough’ of an issue?
(See this climate change graph for how this can happen)
The media loves big brand names and apparent ‘controversy’.
But what if there’s a new campaign three times a day?
My feeling is that it will be all about the new angle, not just the same old campaign.
India’s media explosion in recent years has clearly helped corporate accountability coverage.
But even with the rise of online media we will one day see in Africa, campaigners will need to recognise that ‘more of the same’ is just not always going to work.
As things stand, the campaigns are still effective. The trend, for now, is positive.
Social media scares companies witless.
The media, old and new, still loves a good old sweatshop/child labour/safety/environmental hypocrisy story.
But the day will come when the thin layer of big brands currently being campaigned against will just not be able to do much more.
Campaigners will have to go after the firms at the “next level” down.
These are emerging market firms, and Western companies no-one has really heard of, not just those big brands who buy from them.
These are companies such as Asia Pulp & Paper.
These targets, who are much less initially vulnerable, are already proving to put up a much tougher fight. Consumer outrage and institutional condemnation is much harder to muster than in the West. Or the company is simply well under the radar of the media.
For example, APP has been tussling with campaign groups for at least a decade, to not much avail.
By contrast, Mattel rolled over recently in a matter of months.
So what does all this mean?
On the one hand social media and cheaper handheld communications technology and growing internet access looks to provide stakeholder power with a major filip.
On the other, the next layer of companies below the big brands will be much more resistant to change.
Quite how faster, better, more ubiquitous technology helps bring them to the campaigners negotiating table remains to be seen.