Winner's Edge

Focused on strategic communications

Pro-Democracy Movement in Egypt: A Convergence of Social Media and Grassroots Organizing

Much has been written and discussed about the effective use of Twitter in the pro-democracy movement in Egypt. Here is a fantastic map on the Egypt influence network on Twitter:

Egypt Influence Network

The map is arranged to place individuals near the individuals they influence, and factions near the factions they influence. The color is based on the language they tweet in — a choice that itself can be meaningful, and clearly separates different strata of society.

Many fascinating structures can be seen. Wael Ghonim, a pivotal figure in this self-organzing system who instigated the initial protests on January 25th, is prominently located near the bottom of the network, straddling two factions as well as two languages. The size of his node reflects his influence on the entire network.
The lump on the left is dominated by journalists, NGO and foreign policy types; it seems nearly gafted on, and goes through an intermediary buffer layer before making contact with the true Egyptian activists on the ground. However, this process of translation and aggregation is key; it is how those in Egypt are finally getting a voice in Western society, and an insurance policy against regime violence. Many of the prominent nodes in this network were at some point arrested, but their deep connectivity help ensure they were not “dissapeared”.
Most of those in this network speak both English and Arabic, and their choice of language says a lot about both the movement and about Twitter. Some may choose to primarily communicate with their friends, while others make an effort to be visible to the rest of the world on purpose. They want to reach out, and connect with, the rest of the global society. The structure on the bottom, near Ghonim, seems entirely composed of this free intermingling.
In a case of ironic symbolism, the far left-most satellites are the Whitehouse, State Department, and Wael Ghonim’s employeer, Eric Schmidt, who is merely a speck on the map. And that’s probably how everyone in the rest of the network would like this future to look.
The media has covered at length the effective use of Twitter and Facebook in the Egyptian pro-democracy movement. While online social media were effective tools, these elements alone did not make the revolution. And the protests did not originate as a spontaneous uprising following similar events in Tunisia. In fact, the pro-democracy movement in Egypt was founded on traditional grassroots planning and organizing. Leaders of the movement were educated by the Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies, or CANVAS, an organization run by young Serbs who had cut their teeth in the late 1990s student uprising against Slobodan Milosevic.
Following is a link to a fascinating article by Tina Rosenberg at Foreignpolicy.com on the history of CANVAS.

February 21, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Breaking through the noise of social media

Proven sources like academics and experts gain influence as people become more skeptical of peer recommendations.

Way back in the 20th century, “buzz” was the je ne sais quoi of the marketing world. Every company wanted it, but few presumed to know how to get it. Back then, corporations generally lobbed their products into the marketplace, bombarded consumers with repetitive messages and sat back and prayed that buzz would magically appear.

That, of course, changed as companies learned how to harness the Internet. And, as social media like MySpace and Facebook emerged, marketing became less of a monologue and more of a multiparty conversation. It suddenly wasn’t enough for companies and their spokespersons to speak down to consumers from the mountaintop. The new challenge was how to get consumers to say good things about a product to one another.

The rise of social media has been part and parcel of the devolution of authoritative information and the flowering of a million cacophonous voices. It not only changed the way companies looked at consumers but how consumers looked at each other. By 2005, surveys showed that when it came to the marketplace, Americans were beginning to trust their peers more than well-known authorities and experts. The following year, according to the Trust Barometer Survey conducted by Edelman, an international public relations firm, saw the emergence of “a person like me” as a credible spokesperson for companies and products.

By 2010, nearly four in five corporations were planning to move money they once spent on television advertising to some sort of social media campaign. Two weeks ago, Pepsi chose to forgo a high-profile TV spot at halftime of the Super Bowl for a social-media-driven charity campaign that will award the nonprofit organizations that muster the most votes through virtual social networks. Could there be any better proof that social media is the future of marketing?

But hold on, now comes Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer. The latest findings fly in the face of that formerly new conventional wisdom.

According to the survey, since 2008 the number of people who view their friends and peers as credible sources of consumer and business information dropped by almost half, from 45% to 25%. Similarly, in the past year, the number of people who view peers as credible spokespersons also slipped. Even more strikingly, however, after a precipitous decline earlier in the decade, informed consumers have regained trust in traditional authorities and experts.

What’s going on? Are Facebook friends turning on each other? Did we lose faith in ourselves? Is social media just a fluke?

None of the above, says Gail Becker, Edelman’s Western regional president. After sifting through the data, she concludes that consumers are merely rebelling against all the noise and reflecting the effects of uncertain times.

A few years ago, when peer-to-peer trust was at a peak, social media was still relatively new and its circles were manageable. But since then, the number of friend networks has exploded and every kind of business, for-profit and not, has sought to harness — we might say, exploit — them for their gain. That, according to Becker, has made people more skeptical of peer recommendations.

“Social media is more professionalized now and less organic,” says Becker. “It’s harder to know who to trust.”

And in troubled times, such uncertainty is magnified. All of this explains the rise in the number of people willing to pay attention to sources like proven academics and experts. After indulging the thoughts and opinions of anyone who was “just like me,” it seems that people are now looking for a firmer guarantee of clarity, objectivity and accuracy.

Although these findings are mostly about business and financial matters, they surely also have broader significance. They suggest that the flattening of authority may not go on forever, and that there are limits to Americans’ belief in Everyman.

I’d like to think that this bodes well for one of the old, authoritative sources of information, the traditional media. Unfortunately, so far the survey also shows that the credibility of television and radio news and newspapers continued to take a beating over the past two years.

Cacophony and crisis prove the need for objectivity and expertise. What a relief. Call it old-fashioned, hierarchical or elitist, but in an era in which issues are only becoming more complicated, it’s about time.

(reprinted from Los Angeles Times. OpEd by Gregory Rodriguez)

February 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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