Social media, especially the 140-character signals zipping among mobile devices, serve as a rudimentary nervous system for the public body. And, like a child learning to walk, we’re still trying to learn how to convert uncoordinated motion into forward progress.
These signals are most effective when they’re directed, aimed at producing a specific action at a specific place and a specific time. Undirected, they’re the Twitterverse equivalent of a nervous tic—distracting at best, disturbing at worst. But when they produce action, the results can be remarkable… for good or evil: Getting scattered friends together for an after-work drink, organizing volunteers for a neighborhood cleanup, coordinating emergency efforts, creating flash-mobs, inciting looters, or triggering massive demonstrations that depose despotic governments.
At last April’s CMO Thought Leadership Summit in New York, two leaders of the Egyptian April 6th Movement (named for a Facebook group formed to support a local strike on April 6, 2008) talked about how they used social media to build this spring’s Tahrir Square demonstrations and overthrow Hosni Mubarak.
One of them, Waled Rashed, 28, is a banker who served as the Movement’s spokesman. He is bearded, ironic, and a disciple of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks, with a decidedly Gen-Y twist: He thought of the Movement not as a revolution, but as a grassroots marketing campaign.
He knew the authorities were clueless about the dynamics of the new media when they hauled him in for questioning. They demanded the names of the people in the Movement’s Facebook group and the password the members used. Accustomed to guarded secrets, controlled systems, and hierarchies, the secret police couldn’t grasp an open system freely accessible to 76,000 people.
Mubarak himself helped trigger the final push. Fearful over social-media buzz about a massive gathering in Tahrir Square, the regime shut down Twitter, Facebook, and text messaging. Cut off from information about what was happening, opponents sought out the one forum that remained open: Tahrir Square itself. In a sense, Mubarak himself gave the signal for the protests to begin.
PS. PM360 would like to repeat its thanks to the brand managers from more than 120 companies (from Abbot to Xanodyne, listed on our Web site) who completed the lengthy product-manager survey whose results we published as a supplement to our August issue. Once again, we appreciate the privilege of working with this extraordinary group of people, and value this amazing input…from our own innovative marketing community network. We thank all of you, and especially those who took the time to participate. As a small token of our thanks, we have, as promised, distributed an iPad2, an iPod Touch, and a Kindle among three respondents (two brand managers in pharma, and one in medical devices) selected at random.