If there were a book called “Dictatorship for Dummies”, lesson one would be to ban large gatherings of people.
Most dictatorships in history have understood that large assemblies of people have the power to move mountains – to revolt, to upend, to usurp – in short to change the politics of a nation in a very short period of time.
There is no greater threat to a dictatorship than the ability of the people to assemble and fight for their rights.
And so, if you visit any dictatorship, you will soon realise that people are afraid to gather in public together. The state is watching.
But, fortunately for the oppressed peoples of the world, dictatorships usually aren’t too tech savvy, and many have ignored the now real and prevalent ability for the masses to assemble off the streets, and out of harm’s way, online.
Social media has been rightly credited as the medium through which thousands of protesters were able to assemble and organise in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and many other countries across the Middle East.
Social media can also be used by protesters to galvanise their compatriots by posting real time footage of some of the atrocities carried out by their own governments.
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But, we are only now on the cusp of seeing what social media is capable of achieving in today’s world.
If social media has the power to tear down dictatorships, it also has the power to promote positive causes by connecting and uniting people.
This power can be harnessed for political causes, but it also can be harnessed for business.
Social media has had a tremendous impact in making it easier and cheaper for businesses to talk directly to their customers, and to generate a loyal customer base.
To know what your customers wanted in years gone by you would have to run overpriced surveys, hideously expensive focus groups, or failing that, tell them what you want them to think with expensive, in-your-face advertising.
Now a start-up can establish a Facebook page within seconds, start micro-blogging through Twitter, and broadcast to the world through YouTube.
But, to create a loyal online community, businesses need to treat their social media presence in the same way as the political organisations do.
We need to listen to the community and general popular discussion, rather than just talking at customers.
I’ve seen many business owners hear about the power of social media and set up Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts, and simply use them to bark discounts and sales pitches at their customers.
This is a huge mistake. We must use these powerful new mediums to engage in meaningful, transparent and, most importantly, mutually beneficial communication.
The businesses that use social media best are those that treat it as dialogue, not monologue.
At kogan.com.au, we can engage with our customers and learn exactly what they want, simply by asking them through social media.
We can see in real time what our customers are thinking, what products they want us to create, and what they think of our business and the industry we operate in.
This means taking the good with the bad. Your social media fans will praise you when your business continues to offer great value.
We’re often inundated with praise on the Kogan Facebook page. However, if we mess up and have a shipping delay, or make a mistake somewhere in our business, we have to be prepared for our customers to be loud and vocal, and boy do they let us know about it!
Business isn’t about never making mistakes, it’s about learning from your errors, taking on constructive criticism and implementing new processes to resolve any existing issues.
Businesses can learn a lot from the groups of oppressed people fighting for freedom using social media in the Middle East.
They have used social media to galvanise and organise. Businesses need to start using social media to build a community around their offerings.
We have never deleted a single comment from the Kogan Facebook, Twitter, blog or YouTube pages.
We know that once a medium turns from transparent to opaque, customers will quickly learn to look elsewhere for the truth.
We are fast approaching the point where, if a business is afraid of transparency, you can safely assume they’ve got something to hide.
So, I implore all honest businesspeople to take the transparent approach.
Harness the power of social media and use it to engage in meaningful dialogue with all your stakeholders – your business will reap the benefits.