If you think the little guy can’t make a difference, think again. Over and over, regular people have enacted significant changes by gathering signatures on petitions. Social media often fuels these campaigns. Just as social media has changed business, it now offers the potential for any petition to go viral.
Change.org, the world’s largest petition platform, says that 115 million U.S. users came to the platform in 2021, creating almost 792,000 petitions and gathering 464,000,000 signatures. Many of these petitions led to profound social changes within organizations. The changes brought about in 2021 were just the latest in a series of victories achieved through petitions.
Change.org petitions are user-made. As such, petitions on the site cover hyperlocal issues as well as demands directed toward national or international organizations. Although many petitions fail to meet their goals, many other Change.org petitions succeed and can bring about long-lasting changes at some of the largest businesses operating today.
Here’s a look at five significant Change.org petitions that worked.
For years, so-called “pink slime,” officially known as “lean finely textured beef,” bulked up U.S. beef products under the radar. But no longer.
When Texas mom Bettina Siegel started her Change.org petition in 2012 asking the USDA to stop using pink slime in school food, she didn’t even expect to get 1,000 signatures. Nine days and 258,874 signatures later, the USDA agreed to offer schools a pink slime-free option – a decision with lasting ramifications for the beef industry. Beef Products, Inc., the leading U.S. producer of pink slime, claimed the media furor around Siegel’s petition caused it to close three of its four plants and lay off 650 people.
When Cynthia Butterworth’s sister escaped from her abusive husband, she needed to cancel their shared cell phone contract so he couldn’t track her phone calls. But when she called Verizon, the company said ending her contract would cost $500 – money she didn’t have.
Finally, after a massive Change.org petition in 2012, Cynthia convinced Verizon to change its policies so domestic abuse victims like Cynthia’s sister could easily cancel their contracts. Then word spread, and another domestic abuse victim, “Jane Doe,” launched her own Change.org petition asking Sprint to follow suit. After the petition gained signatures, Sprint agreed to waive its $200 cancellation fee in cases involving domestic violence victims.
Following news that Ruth’s Chris Steak House and its subsidiaries took $20 million in small business administration (SBA) loans – and that the COVID-19 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) was running out of money for actual small businesses – J. Howard started a Change.org petition demanding the CEO return the borrowed money.
The petition ultimately garnered 262,484 signatures. The 2020 signature campaign led to intense media coverage of Ruth’s Chris Steak House and its borrowings. Eventually, the company returned the funds, freeing up $20 million in funding for worthy small businesses.
When the COVID-19 pandemic started, parents and students were forced to upend their lives, telecommuting to work and learning from home. But Comcast customers quickly found they were potentially on the hook for new fees aimed at heavy home internet users.
In response, Luiz Lucena started a Change.org petition that quickly gathered almost 70,000 signatures asking the company not to impose a data cap during the pandemic. In February 2021, Comcast ultimately agreed to postpone the new charges until the following July.
When Taco Bell announced its plans to discontinue the Mexican pizza, outrage ensued. A beloved menu item – and fast-food touchstone for many in the South Asian community – the threat of removing the entree inspired Krish Jagirdar to start a petition demanding the menu item remain.
The petition quickly gained steam and helped to inspire viral moments like Doja Cat writing a song about her love for Taco Bell’s Mexican pizza. After ultimately gaining almost 172,000 signatures, Taco Bell responded in April 2022 that it would bring the Mexican pizza back onto its menu.
Petitions are powerful. While not every petition succeeds, a successful petition can inspire like-minded activists, gain media attention, and become too loud for any single business or executive to ignore.
Although the above examples focused on very different topics and concerns, they highlight a few essential takeaways all business owners should understand:
Change.org is here to stay. The site has sustained growth year over year as visitors see mounting petition successes. Even though some petitions call out businesses for questionable operating practices, businesses can leverage Change.org as another avenue for customer engagement.
Businesses don’t have to view Change.org petitions in a bad light. Instead, use the website to monitor public opinion and act early to nip potential issues in the bud.
David Mielach contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.