The Supreme Court has given corporations more power, declaring them people-like in the Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission case. But in at least one other way, we individuals have recently gotten more power over corporations.

At sites such as Change.org, visitors can click into and "sign" a host of online petitions on a wide range of issues. Contrary to popular assumptions, many petitions have actually proved very influential on their own, or as part of larger campaigns. Let's review a few recent victories.

Real results
A factory fire in Bangladesh that killed 27 workers led to petitions asking Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF), Gap (NYSE: GPS), Target (NYSE: TGT), and others to improve their safety standards. A Target spokesperson said, "I want to understand what we have to do to get our brand off the Change.org petition … Tell me what we need to do, and we will try to do it." Eventually, all three companies met the demands of 65,000 petitioners.

Mega-florist 1-800-Flowers.com (Nasdaq: FLWS) agreed to offer Fair Trade flowers -- by this Mother's Day, no less -- after more than 50,000 people signed a petition. Meanwhile, petitioners protesting Chesapeake Energy's (NYSE: CHK) plans to drill for natural gas near Arlington, Texas, got the City Council to delay granting permission.

Animal-rights supporters protested when BP (NYSE: BP) was burning sea turtles alive in "burn zones," and after meeting with various organizations, BP agreed to take steps to protect the creatures. Petitions and activists asked Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) to remove an anti-gay and anti-choice application from its iTunes store. The company did, agreeing that it didn't belong there. 

Good and bad
When you're looking for terrific investments, it's worthwhile to see whether consumers are petitioning companies of interest to take certain actions. While some of the changes they demand might be great for society, they might also hurt the company's bottom line -- say, by limiting natural gas drilling, or requiring additional expense to protect against environmental impact. But changes can also boost profits they improve a company's reputation among consumers.

This new power we wield can make great companies even better.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Apple and Chesapeake Energy. The Fool owns shares of and has written puts on Apple, which is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice. Motley Fool Alpha owns shares of Chesapeake Energy, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.