Egypt is the hot button topic and we are all witnesses to what some want to describe as a 21st century revolution. On CNN, last week, the network repeatedly displayed a large screen showing in real time the social media posts that were related to Egypt. It was astonishing to see. The board could not keep up with the updating posts, so the board basically resembled something like an amusement park ride’s flashing neon lights. And just like those flashing lights, social network postings at a meteoric rate can be encapsulating. But can the intrigue last, or better yet, sustain an entire movement?
It can no longer be surprising that social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and the many countless blogs are being viewed as the forefront of this revolution. They have become what is the fulcrum of our collective “interconnectedness.” In my previous post, I discussed how email responses and phone etiquette, in today’s service orientated business world, are allowing employees to act as company brand ambassadors and, in turn, become the company’s brand. On the flip side of that, these company brand ambassadors are instantly accountable for their actions. Having a bad day? Better not let that show up in your service industry work. The public’s demand for real time results has an agent of technology with new media to enact a change in dynamics in the moment and maybe even a change in social dynamics for an industry. A waiter who gives poor service is no longer a regrettable experience between a few people. Neither is a rude representative on the phone. Nor the president or parliament that fails to support its people. In today’s real time world, the negative experience instantly becomes online fodder for hundreds and potentially thousands to see. Word of mouth, still the industry standard by which all companies build their reputations, no longer requires a face to face meeting for a poor review to be disseminated; it’s tweeted, it’s posted on Facebook, it’s blogged about and becomes part of an online community, with information that passes far beyond your own circle of contacts.
Before the advent of social media, your reputation was built on the hundreds of positive reviews and one negative review didn’t fully transcend that reputation. Now, that negative review becomes a flashpoint by which people will now effectively brand your reputation. Think, did restaurants and hotels pay attention to comments and blogs about service in their establishments even just two or three years ago? I am sure they do now. But can social media dispel the good reputations many service industry companies have accrued over the years? Or is it just a flashpoint quickly brushed aside after it’s been tweeted and read? Is it as lasting a movement, as say, the picture four activists sitting at the Woolworth counter in Greensboro, North Carolina? Hardly! Four students quickly grew to 600 protesters and in a few days, sit-ins had spread to Winston-Salem, twenty-five miles away, and Durham, fifty miles away. The day after that, students at Fayetteville State Teachers College and at Johnson C. Smith College, in Charlotte, joined in, followed on Wednesday by students at St. Augustine’s College and Shaw University, in Raleigh. On Thursday and Friday, the protest crossed state lines, surfacing in Hampton and Portsmouth, Virginia, in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sound familiar? No social media at the time. Malcolm Gladwell, recounts in this New Yorker article, “why the revolution will not be tweeted.” It’s the cause that rallied the people together, not someone updating their Facebook status while eating lunch.
The change and demand for freedom in Egypt is truly remarkable. It is something entirely different than what many generations have grown accustomed to. No army. No invasion. No secession. No strong victimizing the weak (for the most part). And yes, we have one tweet at a time, one Facebook posting at a time, one woman’s bravery for a call to a common cause on YouTube. One has turned into thousands and then millions, with billions of the world’s citizens watching events unfold in real time. But it all started in real-life, real-time.
February is Black History Month and I am reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. I am, as ever, amazed by the picture of all the people standing in the Washington Mall, demanding, peacefully, the equality rightfully given to them in the Constitution. Imagine if that speech with the historical implications was given today. Would people attend or steam the video live at their computers? Would people make the trip to Washington, D.C. or just comment about it on Facebook? While social media has the ability to rapidly organize people to an event or a cause, it hasn’t shown that it can continue to extol its influence beyond that. As Andrew K. Woods wrote in his recent op-ed for the New York Times, “Of course, great movements require great leaders. That’s why the leadership vacuum in the Middle East is so politically electric, and why Tunisia is still a mess. The crucial question, in Egypt as in Yemen and Tunisia, has little to do with Twitter’s availability. It is whether a galvanizing figure will step forward and seize this opportunity to lead, or remain in the crowd, just another decentralized node in the network.”
So while I am here, I will gladly and proudly proclaim “Viva La Revolution” and hope for a better Egypt. Yes, I am astonished at that screen of social media posts. The question is, will the masses be listening, or better yet, tweeting, long after social media’s initial impact has been felt and the state of Egypt is left in the hands of the Egyptians? Or is social media just another hyped-up PR tactic?
*Bio: Richard Gallitelli brought a wealth of sales and customer-service experience when he came to BurrellesLuce in 2007. His outstanding performance as a sales associate and personalized shopper for Neiman Marcus (he also has worked for Nordstrom) earned him a nomination by Boston magazine as “Best of Boston” sales associate for high-end retail fashion stores. Rich’s talents also won him praise and a profile in the book, “What Customers Like About You: Adding Emotional Value for Service Excellence and Competitive Advantage,” written by best-selling business author Dr. David Freemantle. Rich majored in English Literature at William Paterson University, and is a published poet and short-story writer. Facebook: BurrellesLuce Twitter: BurrellesLuce LinkedIn: BurrellesLuce