Not to make light of important affairs shaking one of the world's most strategic and most ancient nations--and I do not--but what seemed to catch the Western eye most glaringly at the start of the troubles was not, say, "access to Suez" or "twenty-million Cairenes are angry", but "hey, they can't Tweet over there!!!".
Let us not underestimate the power of social media. Hosannahs to Facegoogtwitskype and whatever other apps and platforms toil thanklessly in the interests of our marketing success. But let us not fail to notice that when Embattled Dictator shut-down-Internet, Revolution did not screech-to-halt.
At first it was assumed that crowd-sourcing had reached a sort of apotheosis in the way the first demonstrations were aided by electronic communications--a call to arms in 140 characters or less? It kind of looked like it. Everybody was talking about how this street-fight was "made possible" by social media.
That discussion had a short shelf-life. Because when on CNN they showed an actual web analytics graph to television viewers everywhere, it was the one where use of Google had dropped to about zero in Egypt. This was because Mubarak hit the Internet Kill Switch. Maybe he too was bamboozled into thinking his people could have no means to effect an attack upon him without the use of their thumbs upon tiny screens.
Next day of the crisis: surprise! No Facebook, no problem.
The squares and bridges were packed with protesters, and not a crowd-sourcing "mayor" among them I would wager.
Imagine this as a "shock of the new": people are really excited about something, they talk to one another, they exchange information personally, the word gets out (goes "viral"), and lo and behold, a million people are packing the streets throwing rocks and burning down police stations.
Does anyone remember when this kind of stuff used to happen without any technology whatsoever?
Think: the REAL Tea Party; "One-if-by-Land"; the Bastille; Archduke Ferdinand's last day in Sarajevo; Budapest v. Russian tanks 1956; the Beatles (okay, the Ed Sullivan show); the Berlin Wall 1989; the rescue efforts after "nine-eleven". Each one featuring paradigm-shattering events without any tweeting.
What lesson to take from this?
Social marketers, keep your wits about you. Nothing's wrong with the Internet, or those other IP-enabled micropublication technologies we have come to see as bedrock to our communication strategies. Just don't forget that everything has a limit.
In other words, keep stuff--even stuff as big as Facebook--in perspective. You'll be able to assess your real marketing opportunities more effectively that way.