By Eric S. Arcidiacono Social Media is no longer just a fun platform for socializing with friends online, it’s the stuff revolutions are made of. More specifically, it has been used in recent weeks to spur revolutions all over the Middle East (Yemen, Iran) and North Africa (Egypt, Libya) and continues to be part and parcel of the change in those regions. If you’re not a repressive regime leader, but instead a brand exec, you may be saying, “OK, I agree, but why do I care?” Let’s start by demonstrating the scope of this trend by reviewing some significant events that have happened recently in North Africa and the Middle East. Then we’ll move on to some key authorities’ take on social media and then we’ll pull back and talk about 5 reasons why this matters to you and your organization.
The democratic effect of social media
On January 25, 2011 - The Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak blocks the internet in Egypt to attempt to prevent communication via social media from feeding the revolution underway. Two weeks later, on February 11, 2011, Hosni Mubarak steps down from his post as Egypt’s President.
February 13, 2011 - Muammar Gaddafi warns his citizens against the use of Facebook and subsequently arrests people for calling for reform on Facebook. Today his power is dwindling and he has taken to stationing in Tripoli in a defensive stance against the protesters.
February 14-17, 2011 - 50,000 users rush to Facebook to join the 25 Bahman page in support of the revolutions happening in Egypt and Tunisia. Today, Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Syria, Yemen and Libya currently have the beginnings of a revolution underway, facilitated by Facebook and Twitter.
Authorities weigh in
Susan Rice, American UN Ambassador, officially states that Twitter and Facebook have had an enormous impact “on the emergence and coalescence of these social movements.”
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad asks Palestinians to promote change peacefully and chooses Facebook as a means to address them. He has also used Facebook to crowd source his cabinet members.
The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University cited Facebook and Twitter as playing key roles in spurring social change in Tunisia.
5 Takeaways for any organization
We’ve seen the power that social media gives to citizens in even some of the most repressed societies, so now what should you and your organization learn from this? Here are a few takeaways.
1. You can’t stop it You won’t be able to stop it, so don’t even try. If something is worthy enough of your fans’ time to tweet or post about en mass it’s likely that they care about it a lot. No matter how tough the message is, don’t try and shut it out. Any attempt to shut it out will make you look weaker in the end when you fail to shut it down, so your response strategy should be to enter the conversation and offer your own view point to the world (or particular audience) and let them decide.
2. You need to get in there, be savvy and craft your own message. Since you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em- sort of. Tunisia tried to stop their protests via social media by putting up a huge firewall to block online activity and that failed. Egypt tried to shut down the internet and their President still had to step down. Libya has a savvy team of Twitter users who identified change agents via Twitter and was able to more effectively manage their situation. Let me be clear, this particular instance is TERRIBLE for human rights in the world, but there is a learning moment here. If you are savvy, know the digital territory and craft your own messages you are much more likely to come out of a crisis with your shirt on.
3. Ultimately, the power is in their hands Ultimately, the power lies in the hands of the people, or your fans. This is a big change from previous models where organizations could control the conversation almost entirely no matter if the people had their own ideas about your brand. Now you must realize that the consumer plays a large role in shaping your brand, so you must recognize that, respect that and act accordingly. If you do, you’ll be much better off for it.
4. Learn to work with human routers One new phenomenon that has come out of these upheavals is the existence of human routers. Essentially human routers are people who have a very large personal reach via Twitter or Facebook who are able to take information given to them by various sources and spread it far and wide via the social web. This is something like what we might call an influencer in social media terms, but much more functional and focused. As an organization you will want to identify these human routers before a crisis hits. Depending on which side of the situation you stand on, these individuals can be your best friend or worst enemy and can ultimately make the difference on how the game ends.
5. You organization can be propped up or taken down in 140 characters or less Some of you have accepted it, some of you have not. To quote @JeffPulver, who I had the pleasure of listening to in the past couple of weeks, “social media is a new form of socialism.” Your brand can be propped up by rabid fans or taken down by a wave of disgruntled human routers. The people have a voice- a publicly accessible, collectively large voice, and in order to successfully manage your organization’s identity you will need to put that idea at the center of your messaging strategy in order to remain relevant and successful moving into the future.
What is your organization doing to ensure the people are on your side? Let us know in the comments section below!