I went to a start-up conference a couple of years ago. During a presentation, the CEO of Gainsight said something that I found very interesting.
“The future of marketing is within online communities.”
What a nice little gem of information, I thought at the time. And it’s been percolating in my mind ever since.
Now with all the drama with Reddit, GameStop, and Wall Street playing out like an Oliver Stone financial thriller, that proclamation has never been so relevant.
And how this crazy story has unfolded should serve as a stark reminder to businesses of the power of the internet and the communities that form on it.
Now, this isn’t meant to be a report on the story or an analysis of the implications on the global financial system.
But here are some of the highlights that have really made me think:
Over the past decade, online communities have formed around the topic of investing and financial independence. The most prolific of the bunch and the one at the center of this whirlwind is a subreddit called, WallStreetBets — founded in 2012.
This particular subreddit has a particular propensity to target stocks that have been heavily shorted — meaning that investors and institutions are betting for these companies to fall.
The most recent stock to catch the attention of the WallStreetBets community was GameStop — a brick and mortar retailer specializing in the sale of physical games and consoles. Suffice it to say, the long-term prospects of this company faced a lot of challenges in an increasingly digital world (Blockbuster, anyone?).
As a result, GameStop was also heavily shorted by numerous hedge funds and financial institutions — something to the tune of 140% of overall shares.
The stock and company faced heavy scrutiny by hedge fund managers, analysts, and researchers, with constant reports published predicting its demise.
Then the members of WallStreetBets decided, for one reason or another, to band together and collectively support the stock of this ailing company.
Some did so out of activism, tired of the blatantly immoral (and illegal) practices of Wall Street — who have historically influenced market conditions in order to support their own positions.
Others saw this as an opportunity to make some money. And during these trying times, who can blame them.
But in any case, this 2 million member community (now 6 million), organized and agreed that GameStop would be the play and deployed to implement this into action.
Through a combination of no-cost trading platforms like Robinhood, inexpensive options strategies, and the sheer volume of transactions, the GameStop stock price skyrocketed.
Here are some of the most notable results (so far):
Historical High’s in GameStop Stock Price
The stock price of GameStop is now up over 1700% this year! This puts the overall market cap of the company at about $28bn. Not bad for a company that isn’t projected to make a profit until 2023. And definitely not bad for all the retail investors who have cashed in on this frenzy.
Trading activities limited on numerous platforms
After the explosion in the price of GameStop, trading platforms like TD Ameritrade and Robinhood began to restrict transactions, blocking any sales of the stock — citing ‘protection’ of its users.
This move has been heavily scrutinized and called downright criminal as critics accuse these institutions of blocking smaller retail investors in order to protect the interests of their wealthy stakeholders.
Billions of dollars wiped out
Hedge Funds and other financial institutions have collectively lost over $5bn on short positions of GameStop.
Memes have hit a new peak of creativity
I’ve logged over two hours on Instagram today just scrolling through memes about GameStop — I’ve been laughing hysterically for over two hours.
Calls for reforms in the financial system
Just some of the terms that hedge funds and the wealthy elite have used to classify this situation in an attempt to spur reform and regulations. The hypocrisy in this reaction is not lost on the world and the on-going social commentary happening on all channels of media has been outstanding.
Bringing It Back
Whether we come out of this better or worse, I have no idea. But can we just take a moment to appreciate the power of the internet and the influence and cultural shifts that can happen when communities band together under common goals?
I think this drama highlights a key thing that often gets overlooked by many businesses. Which is the power of online communities.
Like it or not, communities will form around your products and services. And smart businesses will invest in creating and nurturing these communities.
The internet has given people numerous spaces where they are free to be open and transparent with their thoughts on your businesses and the product you make.
They exist in community forums such as Reddit (for now anyway)
In Facebook groups
On slack channels
On Twitter feeds
On your Yelp, Google, and Amazon review section
And as businesses that create things we hope people will buy, it’s definitely worth it to pay attention to what your communities are saying about you.
So the next time you’re wondering if it’s worth the investment to create and nurture an online community, remember this time in history.
A time when the entire financial system was brought to its knees because of the actions of a single subreddit.