The Times They Are a Changin’

Flashback 1991-

Waking up in the morning, birds chirping, having breakfast and listening to the gentle crackle of the newspaper s the parents are flipping through whilst sipping their coffees. The doorbell rings. It’s the postal delivery man with a few lovely (handwritten) letters from friends and family all over the world. The exact kind of hand written letters which give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside. After a while, the mother decides to make something special for lunch, and searches through her many big, heavy cookbooks for the perfect one, bookmarking her few selections to choose from.

A typical Saturday morning …

Fast forward 20 years-

Waking up in the morning, checking e-mail/Facebook notifications/tweets on the iPhone/Blackberry/Android/iPad/whatever is closest to the bed, ignoring the few birds chirping, getting stressed out reading the various messages/texts/emails/tweets whilst making coffee. I foresee no fuzzy feelings today…

Going into the kitchen, the parents are sitting reading news online and chatting away on their respective laptops. For the recipe of the day, the mother searches away on Google to find that perfect Saturday meal. When she does, she continues to YouTube, where she can see how to make said recipe. The cookbooks sit idly by, on the kitchens shelves, collecting dust. This is what ‘Vintage’ must feel like.

The point of this post (and yes, there is one) is the following:

When was the last time you actually flipped through pages of a book for a few hours before going to bed? With Kindle and other e-book readers, going into a beautiful bookstore and judging books by their covers is a thing of the past. To prove that point, Borders Books just went bankrupt.

When was the last time you checked an actual recipe book for instructions, or any other manual or encyclopedia for that matter, when you have everything online?

Have you tried writing a paragraph lately? Strange sensation to actually write using an actual pen isn’t it?

Do you remember how a newspaper even smells like anymore? With Twitter, everyone is a journalist!

Social Media, and other technologies in this day and age are indeed a blessing… a blessing in disguise perhaps?

Business in Social Media: Facebook Pop-Ups

Steering away from Social Media in Politics, this post will discuss Social Media in Business. It is no secret that when it comes to advertising, Facebook is the go to place for promoting brands. A new Facebook trend on the scene now is ‘pop up’ stores (example: Roots), literally popping up all over Europe and Canada at the moment. In the real world, pop up stores are a new concept in marketing: Basically temporary shops (or bars) that ‘pop up’ in random places for a day or a few days offering a limited collection in efforts to build awareness of the product/brand.

More and more retailers all over the world have been making use of Social Media in recent years, offering deals, and encouraging people to write reviews or to address complaints. The convenience of said pop up stores on Facebook is that it ultimately allows current and potential customers to purchase their items without having to leave the site itself (i.e. Facebook), potentially increasing revenue tremendously, while generating ‘buzz’.

It takes time to calculate and analyze exactly how many more customers/clients such endeavors give to a company advertising in such ways, but as many retailers are claiming to have been seeing much positive results from using temporary ‘pop up’ stores on Facebook. They said they have seen an increase in the number of fans on their Facebook pages, more subscribers to their newsletter, and higher sales.

This has not been seen in the Middle East region however, not yet anyways. How successful do you think they will be for us in the region? As a culture that is new to shopping online (thanks to many years of war, political unrest, and no cargo getting into the country, or out for that matter), do you feel it might just be another way of regular advertising and brand awareness for most, rather than a good revenue generator?

Social Media to the Rescue: Speak2Tweet

In last week’s blog post ‘Online Activism: Social Media & Politics’, we took a bird’s eye view of the situation in the region as a whole, and how Social Media tools were assisting in organizing protests and demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and other parts of the middle east. In the past week, shortly after completing the blog post, Egypt erupted into what became a revolutionary uprising that is still ongoing as this new post is being written.

The role of Social Media, despite the government shut down of the internet in Egypt for days, has shown how important it truly is in our modern lives, and how much we rely on the internet for information, assistance and ‘spreading the word’. Which leads me to wonder how on earth did our parents survive without the internet?! Especially for those of us in this turbulent part of the world…A blog post for another day.

When the Egyptian government cut off the internet and started to crack down on Media censorship, Twitter came to the rescue with the help of Google and a company called SayNow to launch a service called Speak2Tweet. This was their way of helping Egyptians and others inside Egypt find a way to communicate with the outside world. People in Egypt call a certain number and are able to leave an audio message which is then posted immediately on the SayNow website, as well as on Speak2Tweet’s twitter account. Despite most of them being in Arabic, volunteers from all over the world are translating them into English, Spanish, and French.

Other Social Networks such as Facebook and YouTube have also been playing a major part in the Egyptian uprising, with Facebook pages popping up all over the world regarding the uprising in Egypt. Videos of the protests as well as news are being posted and shared by the thousands.

All of this leads to the ultimate question: What role should social networks take when it comes to Politics and various human rights issues such as what just happened in Egypt? Should Facebook and Twitter ‘take sides’?

Online Activism: Social Media and Politics

online_activism-150x150The recent events in Egypt mirror the uprising in Tunisia just a couple of weeks ago. Those events in turn remind us of similar anti-government protests in Iran in 2009. The thing that they all have in common, and that stands out, is that all were instigated online through social networks. Online activism in the region has been erupting anywhere you look online; Facebook, Twitter and YouTube specifically.

In 2009, after the presidential elections in Iran, thousands of Iranians took to the streets for days in protests and demonstrations that rocked the country. None of us in the outside world would have heard anything about those, and the subsequent human rights violations that occurred there, had it not been for Twitter and Facebook. Despite the fact that they were blocked, and no foreign reporters are allowed into Iran, some people managed to get on other proxy’s and tweet the reality of the situation. Foreign Media was reached thanks to Twitter, and made the world aware of the dire situation there.

Fast-forward to 2011, and barely two years later, Tunisians took to the streets by the thousands in anti government protests. They succeeded; President ZineAbidine Bin Ali fled the country. There, as in Iran, social networking sites were being actively blocked by the government, but that did not stop many from bypassing those and posting and sharing videos of the revolts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Facebook though, more than Twitter, became an indispensable resource for tracking the minute-by-minute development of the situation. The online community rallied with them in support, spreading and sharing the news and videos coming from Tunisia proving that Social media tools are powerful ways to communicate. Another thing to take note of is according to Facebook, they got thousands more users in that one month since the Tunisian uprising than ever before.

Inspired by the revolution in Tunisia, Egyptians took to the streets on January 25th. They came out in the thousands. There hadn’t been protests of this magnitude in Egypt since the 1970’s. All this would not have been possible had it not been for a simple Facebook page calling for all Egyptians to demonstrate and protest against alleged police brutality in Egypt, on the national holiday of Police Day. All day during the demonstrations people in Egypt were tweeting and re-tweeting the events happening around them, journalists and citizens alike. Despite the fact that the events in Egypt were not headline news on most TV channels in the region or internationally, it was indeed all over Twitter. The government keeps blocking Twitter as well as other social networking sites, but people are finding ways around them and continue to spread their message.

As this blog post is being written, protestors are still demonstrating in the streets of Egypt. Social Media has obviously been playing a major role in not only organizing such events, but also in spreading the word about them, and giving a rise in Citizen Journalism.

All those anti government uprisings in the region leave me wondering what’s next in Social Media when it involves politics. Online activism is translating into real results.

What, in your opinion, are the affects of Social Media in the Middle East, specifically when it comes to speaking out against something or someone?