By Brian Pittman, Partner, CommPRO.biz
Friday saw a peaceful 18-day uprising in Egypt finally lead to the resignation of Hosni Mubarak as president. Driven by live protests in Cairo’s Tahrir square and beyond (protester numbers were estimated at 2 million), the uprising was also expedited, facilitated and perhaps even sparked through the power of social media. Specifically: In August, protester Khaled Said was beaten by police, which saw the birth of various “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook groups. Then more recently, Google marketing executive Whael Ghonim was arrested amid protests and incarcerated. He then organized what he dubbed the “Revolution 2.0: The revolution on Facebook and Twitter.” From there, online pledges to participate reached 90,000 Group pages with hundreds of thousands of members gathering in the streets of Cairo.
Ultimately, the “voices” of the people in Cairo were heard—despite the government’s temporary shutting down Internet access and several social networks—and Mubarak’s 30-year rule was brought to an end. “By stepping down, President Mubarak responded to the Egyptian people’s hunger for change,” said President Obama on Friday, a day in which he also bid farewell to White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. “But this is not the end of Egypt’s transition, it is a beginning.”
It’s also just the beginning of attempts by the Western media, pundits and others to place the story into context.
Ours is but one of many industry sectors with multiple touchpoints to this story—and even potential lessons that can be drawn from it. After all, integrated strategic communications includes not just public relations, marketing and corporate communications—but also the subsets of public affairs, media relations, social media, media training … and many more. Put simply: Revolutions, political or otherwise, don’t happen without people forming, speaking and then spreading ideas. That is what our bailiwick of “communications” is all about.
So what do your colleagues—some of them thought leaders in public affairs—think the takeaways might be? I reached out to a few to find out. Here’s what they had to say:
“The Power of Grassroots”
John Davies, CEO
Davies Public Affairs
“The events in Egypt are the greatest illustration of the power of grassroots. Less than one-half percent of the nation was motivated and activated and they toppled a 30-year government without any weapon other than the grassroots and the use of limited Internet and social media.”
“Revolution in 140 Characters”
Ronn D. Torossian, President & CEO
5W Public Relations
”While Mubarak has ruled with a strong fist, who could have imagined that a revolution would begin with simple 140-character messages—State media may no longer be as powerful as self created content by the people themselves. Dictators beware.”
“Egypt’s Berlin Wall Moment”
Brendan Daly, EVP, National Director for Public Affairs
“This Berlin Wall moment for Egypt is a huge triumph for democracy, demonstrating the enormous power of ordinary people willing to take extraordinary steps. The protesters, many of them young, strategically used social media to organize and then used their huge rallies—with their uncompromising message that President Mubarak must go—to attract mainstream media attention, capturing the imagination of people around the world. Ultimately, their success to drive a dictator from power has the potential to resonate not only across the Middle East, but
across the globe. It will be studied by historians, political scientists and public relations experts for generations to come.”
“Internet Time Is Not Always a Good Thing”
Michael Levine, Founder
LCO – Levine Communications Office
“We are going at warp speeds today. It took six weeks for the average American to find out Lincoln had been shot. Today that would take six minutes, if not six seconds. This unalterably changes in “metabolism” of the world—that is good, and bad. Brilliance or wisdom is born of contemplation and contemplation is born of time—and we just don’t have the time for that these days. Not anymore.
“What that means to you when counseling clients or working on their programs: People who read this better get damned serious about the
curse of distraction when counseling clients, companies and CEOs. This is a big manifestation of that.
“The next obvious point of relevance for those of us in communications is the power of social media. It played a huge role in this uprising.
Much in the way that a mob can get people amped up—social media also has the capacity to not only coalesce thought, but to exaggerate it.
That can be good, or bad. If you’re a company in crisis, it’s probably not good.”
“Instant Communications Can Galvanize”
Al Golin, Chairman
“Not only was the Mubarak regime out of touch with the mood of their citizens, they obviously didn’t understand the huge influence of social media, particularly with the youthful makeup of their population. This instant means of communication galvanized them and enabled them to act immediately against the regime.”