Friday, January 28, 2011

Egypt Unrest: The Rallying Effect of Social Media

CNN.Com carried a report today on how protesters in Tunisia and Egypt are using social media to communicate, inform and organise themselves. This “rallying effect” of social media was one of two new dimensions of social media I identified in my earlier research.

Since the Greek Riot of 2008, where researchers first observed the rallying effect, social media's effectiveness as a rallying tool for social movement has increased significantly. This is attributed to the proliferation of mobile phone versions of social networking tools which now enable users can now stay connected to their network 24/7 and from anywhere in the world.

Authorities are therefore rightly concerned over the potential for abuse by individuals or organisations with ill intent.

It was reported that Egypt's attempts to block Internet traffic has had limited success. This is because the nature of the Internet makes it amorphous and practically impossible to block.  So what then can authorities do to counter the rallying effect?

The answer lies in raising their own army of ambassadors. In a world where social networks can grow in size to tens of thousands, it is impossible and unrealistic for any government to employ sufficient number of PR or crisis communicators to address all the negative information on the Internet. The only sustainable option is for governments to communicate and engage with their stakeholders to convert them into ambassadors of the government.  These ambassadors must be proactively engaged by officials to ensure their understanding of the government's position on matters, rationale for policies, and limitations to adequately address all the concerns of all the citizens all of the time. This clearer understanding of the government's position and thinking will then enable the ambassadors to "speak up" as third-party endorsements for the government to counter negative information.

In addition, as social media becomes even more pervasive, governments should begin educating their citizens on the dangers of being manipulated by individuals or organisations with ill intent.

Hence, as I have said many times in this blog, communication is the key to winning the battle for social media.

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