Consumer Power in the Age of Social Media

Sonic the Hedgehog blew away all expectations when it hit cinemas on February 14, 2020. Racing passed Detective Pikachu, it quickly claimed the highest-grossing opening weekend ever for a film based on a video game.

And rightfully so!

The film strikes a great balance between being a solid family film and pleasing the fans who grew up with the character. It was not only a financial success either. Critics apparently liked it too, as the film currently sits at a fresh 64% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Just a few short months ago, however, things were looking much grimmer for famed Blue Blur. Upon the release of the film’s initial trailer, fans were kind of upset. When I say kind of upset, I mean they were practically foaming at the mouth.

Instead of the Sonic the Hedgehog fans had adored for decades, they were faced with an unsettling hedgehog/human-looking hybrid that I can only assume originated in someone’s nightmares. The Sonic with cute, cartoonish features were gone, and in his place was a creature who simply looked… unsettling. His eyes seemed too small for his head, and his teeth looked like they had been transplanted from the mouth of a small child. In short, it was BAD.

Social media platforms such as Twitter and Reddit exploded with the outrage and frustration of fans across the globe. The hardcore Sonic fandom has always had a reputation for being excessively passionate, but even casual fans were chiming in on this one.

There was so much outrage, in fact, that the unthinkable happened. Paramount delayed the film’s release and ordered a complete redesign of Sonic’s character model, returning him to the classic hedgehog fans know and love.

How did this happen?

How could the will of the people cause Paramount, a major Hollywood studio, to cower in defeat? This outcome is something that fans could have only dreamed of ten or fifteen years ago, but now it is a reality. Consumers actually have a say when it comes to the products and media they consume, and it is largely due to the power of social media!

So, why would a corporate entity be so afraid of an average person sitting at home vigorously typing on his/her keyboard? Simple, consumers are making their opinions heard, and then backing those opinions up with how they spend their money.

According to SproutSocial, around 50% of consumers say they would boycott a company if it did not respond appropriately to their social media complaint, and 41% said they would share this experience with their social media followers. In the day where anything can go viral, it’s easy to see why companies are starting to pay very close attention to these online relationships with their customer base.

Of course, there is no way of knowing for sure if Sonic the Hedgehog would’ve bombed at the box office if Paramount had refused to make the changes, but one thing is certain. Paramount was not about to take the risk.

With this newfound power, people are not only able to determine what types of products and media companies produce, but also how these big companies operate ethically, from environmental concerns to issues of human rights.

As some may recall, 2017 saw the rise of the viral hashtag: #DeleteUber on Twitter. This hashtag was in direct response to what some were calling an attempt by Uber to take advantage of a taxi strike protest taking place in New York.

According to Mike Isaac of the New York Times, Uber had “turned off its ‘surge pricing’ feature, a function that increases the cost of a ride during times of high demand,” which was interpreted by many as an attempt to “profit from a protest.” While Uber denied these accusations, the damage was already done.

In her report in Business Insider, Paige Leskin states, “As a result of the #DeleteUber campaign, hundreds of thousands of consumers stopped using the Uber platform within days,” and the “viral movement caused Uber's reputation to be ‘adversely affected’ and ‘fueled distrust’ in the company.”

While Uber may have been negatively impacted by their social media following, Paramount is reaping the benefits of actually listening to theirs. They could have easily ignored the complaints and released the film as it was, but they didn’t. They took the extra time and spent the extra money to make sure they had done everything possible to preserve fan loyalty.

What does all this mean?

In short, consumers now have the capability to make things happen. Whether you’re speaking out against poor character design or fighting for serious real-world change, the power is in your hands. Just as with any other power, we must use it responsibly. Use it to make a positive difference, not a negative one. Does that mean your next tweet will change the world? Probably not, but in this age of viral communications, who knows the potential of your reach and significance of your point-of-view?

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