For those who have had their head in the sand in the past couple of weeks, #IranElection refers to the hashtag that is being used on twitter and other social media sites for anyone who is posting tweets and posts about the ongoing election protests and government brutality in Iran – some call it the latest revolution.
Having been a relatively active “armchair” participant in this latest drama, and always thinking about the impact of social media tools on the world of business, I thought it would be good to take a quick look at some of the lessons that can be drawn from what is happening in the #IranElection campaign.
Lesson #1 – You Cannot Stop It!
No matter how hard you try, you cannot stop the social from taking hold anywhere – not within your employee community, not within your customer communities, and not within your community of detractors. People will find ways to help one another reach and help other people. In this case the government tried to blindfold the country – jamming satellite feeds, shutting off sms and mobile phones, doing deep packet scans on internet traffic, filtering sites, etc – it did not make a difference.
People are hardwired to be social, they now have the tools for the social to scale to where it makes a difference, and they will use it whether you like it or now.
Be like Obama, and embrace it, and don’t emulate Khamenei and his band of crooks.
Lesson #2 – Leadership and Leaders Are Defined By Their Tribe.
In this case we had an accidental leader – Mir Hossein Mousavi. While it is impossible to predict what kind of leader he would have been if he had been declared the winner of the election, most people agree that he would not have been the same leader as the one that emerged in the past two weeks. He has been reshaped by the people who consider him his leader, and is in fact allowing his leadership to continue to be transformed by the people who support him.
There has been a great deal of research on the subject of Tribal Leadership, and how successful leaders are defined by their tribes – you can find much of it in the Tribal Leadership book.
Lesson #3 – The Best People for the Job Will Emerge
Nobody appointed people to play different roles in the self-organizing #IranElection campaign. The best curators bubbled to the top automatically, the best front line reporters, the best organizers, the best leaders, the best technical advisers – all emerged from this chaos in which we also had many trolls and impersonators who tried to disrupt the process.
At different stages of a process lifecycle you will need different talent. That talent cannot be hardwired into fixed hierarchies. You need to enable the social infrastructure that supports your process to allow the right people to step up at the right times.
Lesson #4 – The Best Rules Will Emerge From the Social Messiness
In #IranElection, nobody set rules upfront, yet most people quickly agreed to settle on one dominant hashtag, not retweet names from people who are in Iran, on how to communicate the setup of proxy servers to help people inside Iran access outside services, on how to track impostors and to filter out spammers. Those rules emerged, they were not imposed or dictated by the leadership, nor were they democratically selected.
You have to have trust in your teams’ ability to sense and response and make up rules that are appropriate as the landscape in front of them constantly changes.
Lesson #5 – Social Media Is Not an Information Channel, But A Social Platform
Some debated whether twitter had more value as a news channel or an organizing tool during this latest #IranElection. In a lot of ways that mimics the discussions that many people in business are having around social media tools – is it a new way to reach employees, customers and prospects, or is an inevitable environment in which they can organize themselves into powerful social tribes.
Of course it is the latter – and of course the value as an information/news communication platform is very high as well. It is a platform of participation that allows the social to scale to where it can be turned into movements, both in politics as well as in business. But it is also a platform that allows people to interact, share information, and help other people – whom they trust, much more than faceless corporations or corrupt governments. So it is both an organizing tool as well as a information/news tool.