Social network movements: You can’t beat them, so why not join them?

Tom Liacas —  March 27, 2015 — Leave a comment

My conference roadshow kicks off in Paris this year. For these engagements, I am going forward with a direct and uncompromising message to businesses and governments: Stop trying to resist the power of new citizen movements. Better learn to work with them, or else face the music! I’ll start by laying out the topline of my arguments below and a deeper look will follow in subsequent posts.

Why am I being confrontational here? Well, I think it has a lot to do with where the world is at in 2015. In the last few years, I have been called to advise corporate leaders on ‘what to do’ about social network movements that were increasingly focusing on businesses as the target of their pressure campaigns. Decision makers in target industries were getting worried and with good reason.

In the course of these discussions, I have spoken to CEOs of the global majors and “supermajors” in the mining and oil and gas sectors. When I did so, I tried to explain that social movements have some valid reasons for fighting corporate power. I also tried to discourage urges to fight back or somehow neutralize such pressure campaigns.

I have been rather diplomatic about all of this, until now. The time for diplomacy has come and gone. As the climate crisis begins to overshadow all other geopolitical issues and the global debate around inequality and resource distribution ramps up, it’s going to get quite hot for those at the head of businesses and governments.

There is a sea change underway. The multitudes are beginning to mobilize with increasing power and soon, they will not be asking for government reforms or for corporate social responsibility. They will be dictating the terms of survival for the power structures that make the cut.

Dramatic, I know… But then again, who saw the Arab Spring coming as quickly as it did? Who, for that matter, could have predicted that citizen groups would be able to block major resource and infrastructure projects around the world?

Of course, I plan to do more than make bold claims here. There are things that governments and business can do to adjust to this new balance of power and to align with these forces. Below, I present the overall structure for understanding where things are at and how to adjust.

Three things that governments and businesses need to keep in mind about social network movements:

1. They are a force of nature

Driven by cultural trends and deep social forces

2. You won’t beat them

So stop being combative, it will get you nowhere

3. There are ways to take part in them

To engage productively or align with their momentum

In the next series of posts on this blog, I will expand each one of those points in detail. Stay tuned!

For visual thinkers, here is a glimpse at my presentation deck:


Flag image credit: “White flag waving” by Blue_flag_waving.svg: Viktorvoigtderivative work: Dove (talk) – Blue_flag_waving.svg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –


Tom Liacas

Tom Liacas

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An M.A. graduate in Media Studies, Tom Liacas is an experienced Social Network Strategist who first cut his teeth creating and managing advocacy campaigns as an activist.