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Social Media, the Arab Spring, and Your Enterprise

Social Media

Leadership in corporations are now experiencing something similar to leaders of the middle-eastern countries that have been part of the “Arab Spring”: social media allows the people they oversee to rise up and have a very public voice. The way Twitter, blogging, and other social media outlets impacted that has been studied and documented. One such study stated that “During the week before Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, for example, the total rate of tweets from Egypt — and around the world — about political change in that country ballooned from 2,300 a day to 230,000 a day.” ( The net effect was a swelling of opinion and mobilization of people’s actions and voices which made it difficult for leadership to remain unaffected.

The voice of many people is an important aspect of our world, and everybody can have that voice, and find or arouse similar sentiments in others when they publish their concerns, and thoughts, and anger, and excitement.

One such way business should be aware of this is social media marketing. Certainly marketers have now begun to understand the value of “going viral”, and try to catch this lightening in a bottle to raise brand awareness and grow a business. But another way we should view it is the groundswell that can occur around unpopular leadership. Two recent cases highlight this. The first is the resignation of CEO Brendan Eich of Mozilla (producers of the Firefox web browser) after just two weeks on the job. His previous individual contributions to support an anti-gay marriage proposition in California caused a surge of social media posts by some in the organization, and many outside. It quickly became apparent that while he was in all other ways qualified to lead the organization, he could not do so with his record in this area, and the swelling of opinion against him. The second case is the resignation of former GitHub CEO Tom Preston-Werner. Mr. Preston-Werner, who had shifted into a new role of R&D, was accused of sexual harassment by an employee, who subsequently charged him publicly in a series of Twitter messages. In a similar fashion as Mr. Eich of Mozilla, Mr. Preston Werner resigned (

In each case, and countless others that mirror the Arab spring, there is no way to control this beyond the normal legal means of lawsuits, etc. These means do not work to reach agreement. The technology in question: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. are all public networks to which employees can publish from home. So it is not a technical question of “should we block access”. To the contrary, squelching the voice of a person with concerns tends to heighten these concerns and adds anger. The voice gets louder and others join. This can promote very positive change in society, but can also cause damage to an organization and its brand.

So what can an enterprise do? The same thing they should always accomplish. Listen to people and treat them with respect. There will be an occasional surge of opinion that is a mob-mentality and could be derived from a false accusation. But the overwhelming evidence of good character, facts, and allowing a pressure release of real listening and understanding, are the best ways of avoiding or dealing with social media movement against you and your organization. That has always been true, but now it is even more important to practice is because it is very simple for people to start a revolution, and often they may sustain it.