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Lessons in social media from the Arab Spring

Internet users are savvy, spoilt for choice and don’t want to be bothered by brands and adverts. Having studied international marketing at university just over a decade ago, it amazes me how much the world of communications has changed in this relatively short period of time.

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Social media has taught us not to undermine or patronise those we’re trying to appeal to, whether we’re in business, politics or charitable activities. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have shown us how to engage and interact with our users, as PR no longer works exclusively due to the ease of accessing information and the truth.

Most of us now tend to live in online communities, and who would have imagined a day when 140 characters would have the ability to change the state of a nation?

Active communities tend to be made up of individuals joined by a common interest, with a meeting point to discuss these common interests. Audiences are more fragmented than ever before, making them harder to find, but much easier to define.

Growing up, I was taught never to trust strangers, however these days with access to new media sites, I would never dream of booking a hotel without first visiting Trip Advisor to seek the recommendations of people that I’ve never met. 

Peer voting makes quality content more visible.  The influence of ordinary people, our influence, has multiplied through unified online voices.

And no matter how much we moan about internet providers snooping on what we view online and creating personalised adverts, the reality of the situation is that internet usage is now ubiquitous in everyday life and we simply can’t live without it. 

We are seeing behavioural shifts take place with the growing acceptance of location-sharing apps and even apps that share our credit card purchases.

Whether you’re a fan of social media or not, whether you’re still trying to understand it completely and still contending with the rules of engagement, one thing is clear: social media is changing the world.  People are changing the world, as social media has inspired a shift in values and communications.

I believe that the reason which the social web is so well received by people is that it runs itself democratically.  As protests inspired by Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions spread across the Arab world, internet and social media platforms emerged as potent tools for pending revolutions throughout its neighbouring nations. 

Now with the most recent turmoil in Libya, we can again look to social media for the dissemination of news and explanations on the most up to date news.

Before the mainstream media even woke up to the siege of Tripoli, tweets and images went viral.  The effect of a single hashtag helped to achieve solidarity and a democratic revolution.

A new power structure had emerged and governments -- and in the recent English riots the police -- struggled to buy time, as through social networks support for people and connections are strengthened and the fear factor broken.

As Libya’s National Transitional Council begins to take over the reins of power, attention is turning to a series of governance issues where the local people are engaged, involved and have a vision of how they want Libya and society to exist.

Similarly in the West, social media is shifting, so who knows how our own societies will exist in the future.  Products, people and trends will further dictate where the next five years of social media take us. 

But the overarching themes of connectivity, portable identity and the continued democratisation of media will drive much of it, making the social media landscape we inhabit a much expanded one to that we know today.

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