(Courtesy of App Annie)

These days, everything is political: even your ride-hailing app.

This weekend, Uber and Lyft — in their reactions to the Trump administration’s immigration order — illustrated how important companies' political views have become to consumers. Lyft took a public stand against the order and, on Sunday, saw more downloads than Uber for the first time ever, according to analysis firm App Annie. Lyft's Sunday downloads also more than doubled its daily average over the previous two weeks.

Uber, on the other hand, had a bad weekend. Hundreds of people called for ride-sharers to ditch the company through the hashtag “#deleteUber” after it announced that it would drop surge pricing for John F. Kennedy Airport trips. Many saw Uber’s move as an attempt to undermine the strike that New York City cabdrivers organized to protest the immigration order and capitalize off the controversy — something Uber was quick to deny. It also didn't help Uber's standing among President Trump's critics that its chief executive is on the administration's business advisory committee. 

As Uber tried to straighten out its PR mess, Lyft managed to capitalize on the anti-Uber movement by pledging to donate $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union over the next four years. The ACLU is fighting Trump's executive order to ban travel to the United States for migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries and refugees.

“We know this directly impacts many of our community members, their families and friends. We stand with you and are donating $1,000,000 over the next four years to the ACLU to defend our Constitution,” the company said Sunday in a blog post also sent to its users.

It was exactly the right thing to do, said Marlene Morris Towns, professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. “It was great and it was perfect,” she said of Lyft’s response, from a brand perspective. “And now people are advocating for them online. You’re seeing people explain other reasons that they’ll choose Lyft over Uber as well.”

The social reaction to the Uber-Lyft divide was immediate. App Annie confirmed that Lyft climbed the app charts on both Apple and Android phones this weekend. It overtook Uber to reach No. 1 on the Apple App Store.

That bump came despite the fact that Lyft didn’t suspend its service during the strike either and despite Lyft's ties to another close Trump ally, investor Peter Thiel. Its pledge over the weekend, however, seemed to speak louder than those facts — and louder than a later Uber vow to devote $3 million to help its drivers with immigration legal costs.

App Annie said that, as of Monday, there isn't enough definitive data to say that Lyft is now the new ride-sharing king — after all, it’s only been a day or so. But Lyft, which has ranked third for downloads in its categories in the App Store and Google Play Store for nearly a year, definitely got a boost this weekend.

“As of Jan. 29, Lyft moved up two spots to rank #1 for downloads in the Travel category on iOS and moved up one spot to rank #2 for downloads in the Maps & Navigation category on Google Play — Uber remains #1,” App Annie confirmed in an email to The Washington Post.


(Courtesy of App Annie)

The impact on Uber was less clear: Uber downloads appear unchanged, the firm said.

It can be hard to measure how much effect social media boycotts really have on companies, but there’s little doubt that they are on the rise, said Towns. And companies have to react accordingly.

“I think that new rules of business are that you, more often than you have in the past, have to take a stand,” she said. She said she used to advise brands not to wade into politics and risk alienating half of their potential customer base. But that’s changing, she said.

It’s now becoming important for companies to cultivate identities that customers can relate to and focus on courting an audience that will agree with a company’s core values. If Starbucks loses customers because of its pledge to hire 10,000 immigrants, for example, it has to be confident that such a move will shore up its base more than it will put off customers who don’t agree with that position.

“This is more divisive than I’ve ever seen before,” Towns said. “You have to be willing when you come out on an issue to take a stand and be willing to sacrifice part of the population.”