All Blog Posts

The Disruptor Foundation’s Anti-Summit: The Relationship Between Social Media and Activism for Brands

Becca Courtney

Recently, I had the privilege of attending The Disruptor Foundation’s Anti-Summit, a two day peer-to-peer exchange of ideas on the collision of arts, sciences, humanities, technology and business and their impact on innovation. In partnership with Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards, the conference (or rather anti-conference) consisted of a cluster of speaker presentations, panels and “Do-Tanks” with topics ranging from the gender pay gap in professional athletes, to simplifying the complexity of the global financial market, to the relationship between social media and activism for brands.


Though the Tribeca Disruptive Innovation Awards began six years ago, with a notable list of honoree alumni including Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, Rick Rubin, founder of Def Jam Records, and Dr. Bill Magee, CEO and co-founder of Operation Smile, this was the first year for the Anti-Summit. The brainchild of Craig Hatkoff, founder of the Tribeca Film Festival and Tribeca Disruptor Foundation, the Anti-Summit’s mission was to break the mold of traditional conferences. Rather than sitting through lectures and presentations, the Anti-Summit aimed to inspire participants into “Business Hactivism”... to tackle social issues by creating tangible, actionable solutions rather than just talking about them.

Though each session was equally inspiring, one panel in particular spoke directly to me about the work we do at Walker Sands. Titled “Memo to Brands: Shut Up and Do Something, How Activism is the New Social Media Disruptor”, the panel focused on how we can disrupt social media by using it not only to reach customers, but to genuinely engage with them through social responsibility.

Here are just a few of the themes I took away from the panel:

1. Use social media to drive change.

Social media is an incredibly effective way to reach consumers through self-promotion, but companies looking to genuinely communicate through social media need to use their online presence to create meaningful conversations that will influence a positive change in their communities.

2. Use social media to humanize your brand.

There are real people behind your brand and social media gives you the opportunity to tell their story. Using social media for social good will humanize your brand and allow you to connect with consumers on a deeper level than by selling a product or service.

3. Consider partnering with a non-profit that aligns with your social responsibility campaign.

Aligning with a non-profit gives your brand a transparent agenda, but companies must make sure that their social responsibility campaign is sincere. What may or may not have been a genuine attempt to spark conversations on race, Starbucks’ recent "Race Together” campaign created a firestorm on social media. Many consumers viewed the campaign as a shameless attempt to capitalize on recent racial controversies and just as soon as it began, Starbucks canceled the campaign. Though there were many reasons the campaign failed, its major downfall stemmed from the fact that consumers believed it to be disingenuous. If Starbucks had partnered with a non-profit whose sole mission was to positively influence racial tensions and who had been working directly with the recent issues Starbucks referenced, the campaign would have looked less like an underhanded marketing attempt and more like an authentic effort to positively influence the community.

 4. Choose your brand’s position… and commit to it.

While some say Chick-fil-A’s decision to shut down operations on Sunday is, profit-wise, a bad one, their commitment to closing their doors one day a week aligns directly with their brand and benefits. To effectively position your company’s social media activism, you must align with a subject that reflects your brand, customers and employees. And while social media activism is the main focus here, the mission must cross over through all channels of the business, not just your online presence. When the heart of the campaign becomes integrated through all channels of the business, the activism becomes genuine.

Social media has been disrupting the way we position our brands since the technology was first introduced… and it will only continue to do so. By using the power of social media for social good, we can humanize our brands, genuinely connect with consumers and make a positive change in our communities.


Special thanks to curated panelists Josh Machiz (@machiz), director of integrated marketing at NASDAQ, Perry Hewitt (@perryhewitt), chief digital officer at Harvard, Sree Sreenivasan (@sree), chief digital officer at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, John H Bell (@jbell99), founder of Social@Ogilvy, Donnetta Campbell (@DCBYGBounce),  Tribeca #TDIA2015 #SocialPR Disruptor In Residence, Kelly Courtney (@kellyacourtney), senior communications strategist at MIT, Leslie Richin (@LeslieRichin), social media editor at Billboard, and moderator Jonathan Salem Baskin (@jonathansalem), Forbes contributor, author and president of Arcadia Communications Lab and thanks to Anti-Summit sponsors Tribeca Film Festival (#TDIA2015), Disruptor Foundation, and RELEVENTS. To participate in or learn more about upcoming panels and summits, visit or contact Donnetta Campbell Digital Disruptor in Residence #TDIA2105 @disruptorfound Fellow

Do you have a social responsibility plan in place? Tell us about it at @WalkerSands.