How to quash an internet uprising

Tuesday, 22 February 2011, 16:43 | Category : General
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“Triumphalism about recent events in the Middle East is premature. The contest is still in its early stages, and the new age of Internet-driven democratization will endure only if we learn to counter the sophisticated measures now being developed to quash it.”

…so concludes a recent, fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal that brings into question whether the internet really will play a long term role in democratising restless nations.

And whilst it’s a depressing thought, you only need look at how companies that engage with their online audiences (rather than ignore them) have a far greater likelihood to pacify them.

One immediate parallel that I can draw from the commercial world – in how to quash an uprising – is from TalkTalk – who faced a barrage of criticism after failing to service its ‘free’ broadband promise. It’s critics manifested into online forum called TalkTalk Hell – a place for customers to share their latest bad experiences.

Of course all this online negativity didn’t do much for TalkTalk’s sales conversion rates amongst Google savvy new customers. But, rather than ignore the forum and let it fester, TalkTalk took the braver decision – and decided to engage with it on a regular basis. By opening up a dialogue woth its critics, it made them seem not such a bad and faceless bunch.

Next, TalkTalk (allegedly) purchased the forum, renamed it TalkTalk Members Forum and hosted it on its own website. So, whilst forum members could continue to vent plenty of spleen, it was far less ‘searchable’ behind TalkTalk’s iron curtain. By taking control and engaging its critics online TalkTalk shifted the balance of power and shutdown the worst of the online chatter.

Unlike TalkTalk, President Mubarak’s big mistake (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d construct….) was to ignore the online unrest – and the rest as they say is history.

But as the WSJ alludes, events in previous weeks will surely provide a quick lesson for his fellow dictators in the importance of engaging online audiences; that, just as companies have begun to understand, turning off the internet is clearly not the answer. Engagement is.

So whilst the score may stand at Insurgents 3 Dictators 0 – regrettably I wouldn’t right off a second half come back from the dictators just yet.

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