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Ryan J. Davis

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Social Media Lessons From a Revolution

Posted: 07/05/2012 1:13 pm

Revolution 2.0, former Google Marketer Wael Ghonim's brisk, first person account of the Egyptian Revolution offers real lessons that online community managers of any brand or organization should learn. Ghonim was the administrator and creative director of the 'Kullena Khaled Said' Facebook Page, easily the largest opposition social media page during the uprising. Now it's true that most of us aren't trying to topple a repressive regime (many of us are trying to sell laundry detergent) but we should manage our social networks with all the energy of a high stakes, historic cause.

What did Ghonim do to foster online engagement that eventually contributed to real, on the streets, offline action? It's simple really. He spoke, users listened and responded, and then he acknowledged their contributions. Here are a handful of takeaways other digital marketers can learn from his work.

1. Choose A Channel -- Ghonim knew social media and picked Facebook because it had the audience he needed in Egypt. While cross-channel integration is vital to many large brands, understanding your audience, staffing concerns and desired engagement may reveal one channel as more desirable to focus on.

2. Staff Appropriately -- Ghonim knew that he couldn't work on his Page full time, so he brought on volunteers who were well-trained in the right voice to provide backup. This kept the Page humming when he was at conferences or being held without trial at the state police station. His moderators never stopped updating the page and keeping users engaged and motivated.

3. Engage Constantly -- You've picked the right channel and assembled the right staff, so it's time engage. Far too many Pages make the mistake of posting great content, but not interacting with their audience. Ghonim and his team spent hours on the page each day, replying to comments and contributing to conversations. This goes a long way in building a real community of users who recognize and respect each other.

4. Create Feedback Loops - One of the most effective things Ghonim did on his Page was to ask questions and then surface answers from the community. He'd highlight responses that articulated the themes they were pushing, which made users feel like they were really a part of the Page, not just members. He'd also post request for creative -- designs, images, poems- and amplify the best ones to all members. In doing this, he succeeded in creating a community that felt very connected to each other.

5. Provide Plenty Of Actions -- The page was originally started as a response to a specific instance of police brutality, not to spur a revolution. Before the revolution was even an idea, he'd ask users to change their profile pictures, share the page, participate in surveys that dictated the direction of the page. He created smaller events that got users out and participating in respectful acts of civil disobedience. When the time came for a much larger campaign, to oust the Pharaoh, the page was full of users who now connected with each other as people, and were ready to organize something at a much larger scale.

Certainly there are more community organizing lessons (offline and on) to learn across The Arab Spring. Ghonim's book isn't even a first draft of that history, which remains to be written. But, since he came from a digital marketing background, it could be one of the better resources for us to learn how digital media can create change -- from what soap you choose to the president you vote for. We're lucky a true revolutionary let us in on his secrets. Now it's time to use them.

Ryan Davis is Blue State Digital's Executive Director of Social Innovation. You can follow him on Twitter at @RyanNewYork.

 

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