What the Egyptian Revolution Can Tell Marketers About Social Media | Adweek What the Egyptian Revolution Can Tell Marketers About Social Media | Adweek
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What the Egyptian Revolution Can Tell Marketers About Social Media

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When we can say literally that the fate of nations is in question and the aspirations of people to be free are at stake, it may seem venal to wonder what consumer marketers can learn from events like those currently happening in Egypt.

Given that the role of social media is being much discussed in the context of the Egyptian revolution (and revolution, it seems, it must be called), however, we must look to Cairo and Alexandria if we are to have a real-time understanding of how social media is impacting the course not just of communication but of daily life.

To look at the conversation in Egypt from a social media perspective is to look at a conversation beset with confusion and controversy. Has social media played a crucial role in fomenting first unrest and then revolution, sparked initially by Facebook-enabled young Egyptians and rolling inexorably toward the mass demonstrations now under way? In other words, would what is happening in Egypt now be able to happen at all without the Internet?

Or, to look at the alternative point of view, was the upheaval in Egypt inevitable, based on decades of authoritarian oppression, coupled with rapidly declining economic realities (particularly food inflation)? In this view, the inciting spark came from the streets of Tunis, and what followed was merely facilitated, and perhaps initially accelerated, by the availability and flexibility of social networks.

The facts on the ground at the moment seem to favor the latter narrative. Internet access has been severely restricted (and eliminated entirely on Jan. 31 with the shutdown of the nation’s last functioning ISP), and mobile device traffic has been intermittently disrupted throughout the demonstrations. Yet it was during the peak of this disruption that the movement had gained the most momentum and saw the most dramatic crowd turnouts.

Also, the increasingly broad demographic in those crowds—young, old, rich, middle class and poor—would seem to indicate the message of resistance has spread well beyond the social media-connected population of a country that has only about 6 percent Facebook penetration (as of December 2010).

And yet . . .

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