Over the past two weeks, I watched Egypt’s digital revolution unfold in awe. As a Middle Eastern studies major in college and as one who has spent a significant amount of time in the region, I saw events enfold that I thought would never occur. Common people, finally fed up with the corruption, self-organized using social media, planned demonstrations and effectively brought the country to a standstill. They exercised their voice and were finally heard.
Even when the government tried to shut the various social networks down, people found other ways to access them and continue to both organize and share their story. The world watched YouTube videos and looked at pictures from Al Jazeera that provided a human face to the struggle. Even from half a world away, we were connected to the struggle for freedom and became part of their voice.
One example of others joining in the struggle was a a YouTube video from Juju, an 8-year old girl in Saudi Arabia. In the voice of a child, we heard a truth that was hard to deny.
Juju expressed a truth we all felt. We watched images and videos flow out of Egypt from Flickr and YouTube. Google provided a voice to Twitter service so people could still speak out when the Egyptian government shut down Twitter and Facebook. And many of us spread the word through our own networks and curation efforts.
CNN provided a nice recap of the digital revolution. Emily Banks from Mashable, summarized at the end of her article “Egyptian president steps down amidst groundbreaking digital revolution.”
“Without a doubt, social media, mobile devices and the web have brought the stories from Egypt closer to home. And conversely, the events in Egypt have shown the strength of these tools for both organizing and informing people. The Egyptian people and reporters alike found ways to share their messages even when the government tried to stop them. Using VPN, proxy sites, third party apps and other tools, they were able to continue sharing news with those of us on the outside. And at the same time, the rest of the world found ways to use tech to curate and disseminate information.“
We were all touched (and a little surprised if you know much about Middle Eastern politics) when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after 2 weeks of protests.
We all know there is a long road ahead, but we can be thankful it did not escalate further than what it did. Now Egypt has a chance at true democracy if the Army is willing to make it happen.
Looking back, we can see how social media played a critical role in creating a movement toward freedom. But can this work for the church?
The Blueprint of a Digital Movement
Churches can learn how to create movements of social change by learning from our Egyptian brothers and sisters. It is not about looking for ways to market our specific church or saying “look at me!” but identifying a key social concern and rallying people to the cause.
1. Identify the movement. We need to identify a common cause that unites us, whether it is helping children succeed in school, eradicating hunger in your city or ending domestic violence. People want to be part of something bigger than themselves. By examining your church’s calling, you can find a cause the resonnates with your congregation and its purpose.
2. Connect via Facebook and other social media. The Egyptian dissenters used Facebook to organize and to connect with large groups of people. They found current Facebook groups and joined them as well as created new Facebook groups, invited a group of activists and then encouraged them to spread the word by inviting their friends. Churchs can do the same by identfying groups fighting hunger in their community, joining those groups and and creating their own group that their congregation can invite people to join. Educate people on the issues through posts, videos and pictures.
3. Focus the movement on a specific call to action. While the Egyptians ultimately wanted to remove President Mubarak, they created specific calls to action to focus effort. A call to demonstrate in Tahir square after Friday prayers creates a specific event people can join. It is specific, immediate and actionable. The same is true for ending hunger in your community. It can be a “one day collection” event where every business on Main Street is collecting food as well as church members ar key intersections. A two week campaign is a food drive that isn’t that compelling. A one-day event is an event everyone can join in and create an atmosphere that is newsworthy and memorable.
4. Leverage Twitter as the news distribution engine it was meant to be. Twitter was defined by its founders as “as an important news-bearing medium in this any many other situations of global portent.” While many people us it to report what they had for breakfast, it is important information that will break through the clutter. The infographics shows how Twitter was used during the Egyptian crisis.
Use Twitter to get the word out and connect your Twitter feed to your Facebook groups to broaden the distribution. Share early and often as well as make sure that you create a “hashtag” for the event. (A hashtag is a single word after a # that everyone puts at the end of their post (ex. #endhunger.))
5. Provide photos and videos via Flickr and YouTube. One thing that made the Egyptian demonstrations so compelling is that we saw what was going on directly. It wasn’t filtered by news agencies in a cute 2 minute segment. We had the opportunity to engage directly. Grab your flipcams and post live footage with some on the street commentary. Take photos and post them to flickr. Share the links on Facebook and Twitter. Always include the hashtag.
6. Aggregate and curate. With some much being posted (as well as blocked) it was important to create curation sites to get the word out. Here are a list of the top “curators” durign the two week uprising. Identify one or two people to curate the event and gather everything that was posted. Repost with attribution. Provide summaries that can be shared and push them back out to the network.
7. Recap and write summary press releases. While the news agencies did this for the Egyptian revolt, you may need to help your local media sources to publish the story. Reach out to them ahead of time with an “announcement” press release and then provide a “summary” press release and recap summary with links to the top stories. Most smaller town media outlets need stories to fill the weekends, so get to be friends with your local media and feed them with information, videos, photos and content to help them help you to spread the word.
This is not a fluke, but a glimpse into what is to come.
We can see this pattern starting to emerge across the Middle East with people finally being able to organize and create a movement digitally when it was near impossible physically. The same is true for other social movements, whether it is focusing on the need for clean water, wiping out malaria or ending hunger.
Learn from the Egyptians example. God calls us to transform the world. Are you willing to use the tools He gave you to do it?