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Companies must do good to do well, Twitter co-founder says

It probably should come as no surprise that a man who helped create a way for people from around the globe to connect with each other has a positive view of humanity.

And Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, does.

"People are basically good," he told an audience at the University of San Diego's Joan R. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Center last week. "And when you give them the right tools, they will prove that to you over and over again."

Stone was speaking as part of a panel discussion, hosted by USD's Center for Corporate and Securities Law and Oxford University's Said Business School, on how reputations are shaped in modern information markets.

Stone said social networks and other technology tools available to consumers have enabled information to be democratized.

"Everyone has access to practically all the information they need to make decisions that are good, and that represent decisions they feel will make them a better person," he said. "It's created a more powerful consumer."

This added access to information has allowed consumers to research not only products, but also companies and their executives. Consumers use this knowledge to choose what products to use. And increasingly, they want to buy products from companies that support a charity or have a redeeming philosophy.

Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, took part in a panel discussion hosted by USD's Center for Corporate and Securities Law and Oxford University's Said Business School. File photo: Bloomberg News

Stone cited research that revealed 94 percent of consumers are likely to switch brands to one that supports a cause.

"The future of marketing is philanthropy or altruism," he said. "And the companies that don't get on board with it, especially with millennials, are going to be scratching their heads in a few years wondering why this brand of sugar water is outselling theirs. And it's because they're working with Habitat for Humanity.

"Companies that do good, do well."

Consumers are looking for more than just a product. They want meaning behind the products they're buying.

Stone said the meaningful actions of a company will not only attract more customers, and therefore lead to increased sales, but it will also attract better employees.

When discussing human behavior online, Sinan Aral, a professor at MIT's Sloan School of Management, said people are more likely to be influenced by positive reviews than negative ones. This means that if a consumer sees a positive rating on a site like Yelp, they are more likely to give the company a positive rating as well.

The effect is companies should encourage those with a positive experience to post their rating and post it early.

"Positivity seeps into the system," he said.

Aral said the same occurrence happens with political polls. The higher the poll numbers for a candidate, the more positive impression that candidate has on the electorate.

"Are polls predicting the results of elections or are they driving them?" he asked.

Felix Salmon, a finance blogger for Reuters, said there's a movement toward positivity online with the emergence of sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy. Buzzfeed made news recently when it started a books section and said it wanted staff bloggers to write only positive reviews.

"Critics are being marginalized," Salmon said. "I think the old-fashioned sources of authority have become weakened.

"You look at how people behave online and what you see is the sharing of positivity and kittens. What you see is happy things."

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