He could not have foreseen Egypt on 25 January in Tahrir. Forgive the Twitter hashtags, for this was a new kind of revolution. This was a Twitter revolution, a Facebook revolution.
Wael Ghonim is marketing director of Google Egypt by day, but took on an ever more all consuming role as Facebook page administrator for the page that coordinated the January 25th protest that eventually brought down the Mubarak regime. As he put it on twitter: “@Ghonim: This is Revolution 2.0: No one was a hero because everyone was a hero.”
Gil Scott-Heron was right though. I watched Al-Jazeera live stream video of protesters merrily riding along on army troop carriers, exposing the lie that the regime still had control of the military. However, it mattered not what those pictures showed, nor that the developed world had no idea how to react, this had grown into “the thing that’s going to change people”.
What lessons can businesses take from “Revolution 2.0”. Some significant ones, but first we must recognise the “Perfect Storm” that hit Tunisia, Egypt and perhaps more authoritarian regimes to come.
Authoritarian regimes are, in general, able to remain in power not simply due to repression that can be brutal, but for two simple and deeper reasons.
First, citizens will tend to remain compliant as long as their basic human needs are met. Classic examples of this are such things as subsidies of fuel and basic foodstuffs, but also the use of the assets of the country to maintain massive government employment programmes. Keep people fed and employed and they will be less likely to rebel. Second, a tightly controlled state-run media and single party structure give the people the sense that they have no alternative and no way to organise themselves with like-minded others when they want change.
The “Perfect Storm” was the combination of the Great Recession and the rise of social networking. As governments could no longer afford the bribery of their bloated systems, the people had, for the first time, a way to communicate and organise that the state couldn’t control, short of shutting down the internet and cellphone systems. Egypt eventually did that, but by then the genie was out of the bottle.
What are the business lessons then? The key message is that you can’t possibly hope to control what people think of you anymore, and you certainly can’t do it with your marketing.
Back when TV started, top shows captured over 75 per cent of the US viewing public, so companies simply bought primetime network TV ads and force-fed their message. What is more, people had to “buy” the message they were selling, as there was (effectively) no way to verify if it was true.
Today, however, the TV market is fragmented beyond belief. Even if you do reach your target audience, they are conditioned to be suspicious of advertising and can instantaneously check the message and compare their options online.
So, you can’t reach the audience, they won’t buy what you are selling. Add to that budget constraints that mean you can no longer afford to advertise the old way even if you want to.
The solution is the ultimate in “old school”. Simply offer a great product and look after your customers. They will then use the ease of online communication and social networking to “turbocharge” your message by telling all their friends and colleagues. Am I recommending everybody cut their marketing budget entirely and focus only on product development and customer service? No, but you do need a radical reinvention for Marketing 2.0. Oh, and for the dollars you do spend on getting your message out? Make absolutely sure your product more than lives up to your marketing; you can’t control the message or the media anymore. It’s a 2.0 world.