Since the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, something has been happening across the Arab world that the media has deemed the “Arab Spring.” Much can be learned from the discontent that boiled over and mobilized thousands of people across these countries, taking the form of protests that sparked revolutions and even the overthrow of entire governments. It began in Tunisia in December 2010 and has since had a ripple effect on neighboring countries, including Libya, Egypt and Syria, but that’s only a few of the almost 20 countries that have held what ranges from small protests to entire governmental overhauls. Perhaps most interestingly is the use of social media during The Arab Spring as a catalyst and mobilization tool for many of these revolutions. These revolutionary uses of social networks can certainly teach your ad department about implementing a successful social media strategy.
Of course, the Arab Spring may seem light years away from the concerns and issues facing your newspaper ad department, such as maintaining your paper and advertisers’ relevancy in a country that is turning away from print media to their computer screens. However, one major reason Tunisia’s revolution influenced protests in the rest of the Arab world is social media outreach. Facebook pages and Twitter accounts sparked discourse and eventually action within these countries, demanding long overdue justice. While your newspaper may not be seeking to overthrow the administration, let alone an oppressive government, they can certainly learn some lessons from social media’s role in the Arab Spring.
Pick the Right Network: Ryan J. Davis used the “Kolena Khaled Said” Facebook in Egypt as a prime example of this use of social media in an article for The Huffington Post. He pointed out that the administrator of the “Kolena Khaled Said” page, Wael Ghonim chose Facebook because, in terms of social media, that’s where the Egyptian audience he needed resides. It’s important to know what your audience uses for their social media needs. Send out a survey asking questions about readers’ Facebook and Twitter usage, what sites they use, how many hours they spend on social networks, what they use it for, etc. Of course, you can always set up multiple accounts and cross-post on the sites, but if your audience doesn’t have much of a presence on Twitter, you may be wasting time having an account.
On-Staff Experts: In order to ensure social media sites had an impact on mobilizing people in these Arab countries; they needed to have continuous activity. Even brief periods of stagnation will detract from rather than build your following. As a result, it would defeat the purpose of social media, which is to reach out and inform your audience. Staff your social media accounts appropriately for their size and audience. For some, one person may be enough. However, if that person won’t be able to regularly update and monitor activity, make sure there are other people on staff that are well versed in the purpose and tone of your accounts and are able to take over their management.
Start a Conversation: Post information and articles for your followers, but make sure you’re responding to their posts as well. The success of many of the Arab Spring social media sites relied on the account curator’s interaction and response to their audience. This back-and-forth relationship was necessary if a revolution was to come to fruition. Likewise, if your followers feel unattended or disengaged by your social media presence, they won’t see the point in following your account. Without a following, your message will go unheard.
Share Your Followers’ Posts: Ghonim’s Facebook page was also successful due to sharing information and opinions from the audience. For instance, he would pose questions and highlight some of the responses. Doing this from time to time will make your followers feel connected to not only your account, but to other followers as well. This is what truly makes a social “network.”
Let Them Know What’s Going On: The Arab Spring began with much smaller events and demonstrations before it spurred larger protests. The word-of-mouth and organization of these events began on Facebook, Twitter and the like. While you may not want to invite your readers to a protest downtown, you may want to tell them what’s going on in your community. Make sure your page offers information to your followers that they may have not otherwise received, that way they will feel connected to the paper, other users and the community at large.