Egypt Cataclysm Can Reshape PR & Communication

Facebook in EgyptThe cataclysm of the last 15 days in Egypt should cause everybody in public relations, and any communications related field, to stop and reassess what they are doing. Although this story is far from over, in a little over two weeks the central tenet of the unchained Internet has been proven – that the free flow of information, regardless of physical or sociological boundaries, leads to a democratization of information and the liberation of repressive regimes. Twitter is mightier than the gun. We may not know where Egypt is headed, but as President Obama said, it can never go back to the way it was.

Day 14 of the revolution, yesterday, Google exec Wael Ghonim was freed. Ghonim launched the Facebook page that sparked a revolution. He was kidnapped, blindfolded, and held for 10 days. He was not aware that there had been deaths in the uprising, or how extensive it was. The Internet was shut down for a week but Twitter Warriors emerged (with the help of an inventive Google service called Speak2Tweet), and the world alternative media community coalesced to get the word out of Egypt.

Now there is euphoria in Independence Square, as Tahrir has been re-named, and a new order is emerging. The entire region, and the world, will deal with the repercussions. Heroes of this revolution are accompanied by @ symbol: @SandMonkey @RamyRaoof @Gsquare86 Hashtags have replaced AP newswire for news distribution from the front: #jan25 #egypt #tahrir.

This means that the front-line of communications is no longer determined by professionals, it is rising from the streets of repressive regimes. Necessity, invention, adaptability, determination, fluidity, creativity – these are attributes of Internet revolutionaries. PR professionals, in a corporate or agency environment, are trained to be the opposite. PR blogging is more about PR for PR, not breaking through to impact meaningful change or to engage in life-threatening communications campaigns.

Even if we are not fighting a revolution, or risking torture by posting a pic to yFrog, we need to learn to communicate like our livelihood depends on it. Technology only works if it is driven by conviction, words penetrate when they are driven by passion. These are the lessons from Egypt.

It is significant that China has blocked the word ‘Egypt’ from web searches. Propaganda is the great province of autocrats. When they are threatened they shut down the media and tightly control their story. The Eqypt battle now is largely a smackdown over PR messaging with the protesters proving to be much more skilled in the new order rapid fire, multi- channel news creation and distribution.

In the last few years journalists, disrupted by bloggers and social media, have been forced to re-invent their profession. They are now in front of the camera almost as much as they are behind it. Besides videos, they have to blog, Twitter, produce copy in 140 characters, a couple of paragraphs, as well as longer analytical pieces. Deadlines are minute-to-minute. If they work for a big media company, like News Corp., their copy could wind up in any number of publications, in print, online or mobile editions.

What PR agency is equipped to be that adaptable, creative and fast? The skill set of the new PR pro should roughly match the Twitter Warrior in Tahrir Square, or the journalists trying to file a story in a hostile environment. A Flip video cam is all you need to capture an event, a news conference, background and analysis – and propagate it through web sites, blogs, social media sites, etc. Ramy Raoff sent compelling live video from Tahrir via his mobile to the ‘bambuser’ web site. It doesn’t take heavy equipment or a big team to be a media pro these days. It takes imagination and courage.

I believe that all bloggers, Tweeters and social media mavens have an obligation to echo the chimes of freedom, no matter where they originate. That doesn’t mean we seek to meddle in the internal affairs of another country or try to bend that county to our way of doing things. It means we actively support the right of all people to communicate freely without boundaries. We’re communicators. It’s our responsibility to break down the barriers that divide us.

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