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Egyptian Revolution

What Business Can Learn From The Role of Social Media in the Egyptian Revolution

February 22, 2011

Since the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution on January 25th of this year there has been speculation concerning the role social media played in causing the revolution.

Once again social media seems to have a huge impact on social developments.  In an earlier blog on our own site, I addressed how social media helped to organize and transform the student protests against the rise in University fees.  Now the discussion is around the true role of social media in the Egyptian revolution.

Role of social media

There has been divided opinion over the role that social media has played in the Egyptian revolution. Some people like Malcolm Gladwell of the New Yorker, claim it played little or no role at all, while others refer to it as the “Twitter Revolution”. Whilst it may be a little extreme to call it the “Twitter revolution”, it is generally accepted that social media definitely did play a role in the planning and organizing of this revolution even if it did not actually trigger it.

Many of those involved in the protest were young and technologically knowledgeable. They used social media sites to share information and organise activities. As information can be shared in real time to reach much larger audiences, it makes it easier to mobilize resources. Similarly, many believe that social media was a facilitator, rather than the trigger behind the Tunisian revolution.

In respect of Egypt, the government certainly acknowledged the role of social media by quickly blocking social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. This is not the first instance where social media sites have been censored from within a country. During the 2009 Iranian Presidential Election citizens’ access to Facebook was cut off, and after the election Twitter was used to help organize protests.

The purpose in blocking off access to these sites is to prevent the communication that enables more protests to be organised. In response to this Twitter posted on its own account @TwitterGlobalPR that “we believe that the open exchange of info and views benefits societies and helps governments better connect with their people”.

Social media useful business’s tool

Twitter’s comments highlight a vital point, namely that social media is a modern and useful way to connect people around the world.  There is much to learn from these political uses to which social media has been put, for businesses trying to reach their customers.

As Don Tapscott states, “[social media] will be what we want it to be, and in Egypt young people wanted it to be a tool to bring down a tyrant”

Social media is a powerful tool and with the right management it can have a positive impact for businesses.

So, businesses should not underestimate this new ability to communicate with their audience and market. Gap’s disastrous logo redesign exercise last year shows what can happen in this new interactive environment. The change proposed by Gap to their logo prompted a public protest, with more than 2,000 comments on Facebook criticizing the decision to ditch the well-known logo. As a result Gap went back to its former logo. Something like this would have been unheard of pre Web 2.0.

Here are some good examples of businesses engaging with their customers through social media. They include start up restaurants in San Francisco, who now rely on their online followers for custom, and retailers such as Levis who are investing more in building up their social media presence.

For earlier posts see ‘Student protests transformed by social media ‘ and ‘Social media policies for law firms’