It’s a revolution, Jim, but not as we know it; social media makes a difference

(We're delighted to feature another guest post from Alex Ranson, our social media expert. You can contact her at alex@beaglethinking.com and follow her on Twitter @beaglethoughts )

It’s a revolution, Jim, but not as we know it.

Last Friday evening,  I was at the gym, half watching CNN’s coverage of the Mubarak resignation, when a local pundit came on air tearfully to thank Mark Zuckerberg - founder of Facebook – for making the Egyptian revolution happen.

Other than our emotional Egyptian pundit, perhaps, no one else is arguing that social media was the cause of the deep public dissatisfaction in Egypt and Tunisia which ultimately forced their Presidents to step down.   (While Zuckerberg has never seemed the most modest of men, I suspect even he would feel a little sheepish about taking all the credit for that one.)  There is a little more debate over how far social media activity materially influenced the coverage of the uprisings in the traditional media such as newspapers, radio and TV…although as virtually all newspapers, radio and TV in north Africa and the Middle East are censored, and one could argue that the UK media is pretty irrelevant to the outcome, that seems a bit of a moot point.

But one thing is very clear about the last few weeks in Egypt and Tunisia.  Social media tools can play huge role in accelerating change.

-          We saw incredibly fast information sharing: real time casualty figures from streets and hospitals posted on Twitter, a set of Flickr photos showing minutes-old propaganda SMS messages sent by the Egyptian government, and hours- old YouTube video footage of the military clashing with protesters.

-          We also saw information reaching far more people.  While much was still shared by word of mouth on the streets of Tunisian and Egyptian cities, social media played a crucial role in keeping the people in remoter locations and overseas up to date on what was going on.   New stats from Chartbeat show that 71% of the huge traffic to Al Jazeera’s English language site immediately following Mubarak’s resignation announcement was coming from social media sites - the vast majority from Twitter.

-          We also saw networking and coordination taking place through social media.   Grass roots activists, who had never before met, found each other through Facebook and Twitter.  New leaders emerged, and demonstrations and protests began to be organised – far faster and more efficiently than if people had relied on leaflets, noticeboards, face to face meetings or even just phone calls and emails.

-          And it seems there was one final accelerating effect of social media during the protests: that of mobilizing ordinary people to act, by giving everyone a voice, making them feel informed and involved and crucially, not alone but part of something much bigger.

I wouldn’t presume to liken even the most burning corporate platform (no, not even Nokia’s) to the Tunisian or Egyptian regimes, nor the most radical internal change programme to the subsequent revolutions.  But it is impossible not to be inspired by the way we’ve all seen social media tools help to bring about previously unthinkable change so quickly, simply and cheaply.   Could it do the same in your organisation?

First Voice

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