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Digital Britain: Lessons Learned from London Riots

August 18, 2011 - 0 Comments

Most people can remember where they were when a high-profile news event happened — such as the 9/11 attacks on the USA.  I mention this because I was standing in a hotel room a couple of weeks ago listening to my wife tell me about the London Riots – from insights she received on her smartphone via Twitter. Reality happens in real-time, so does today’s news reporting.

The internet and mobile communications have enabled this transformation.

As I tuned the television in the hotel room to BBC News, the stories were clearly a couple of hours old. In contrast, the breaking news was being delivered via social media, mostly from content being created and shared — literally, as it happened — by people on the street.

Steven Shepard mentioned this phenomenon in a previous post.  But it was only as we were reading the latest tweets about events in London, my home town, that the concept of Citizen Journalism really came alive for me.

On-the-ground information was readily available, virtually, from any location. Clearly, we weren’t the only persons following these events. Within hours there were reports that smartphone messaging and social media services enabled the riots to spread quickly — apparently a Facebook group was used to organize looting efforts. These negative applications were troubling.

Redemption from the Facilitation of Good Deeds

However, on the positive side, towards the end of Monday night, there was already a twitter account setup to help arrange the clean up Tuesday morning (@riotcleanup – with over 82,000 followers) so people could meet in Hackney, Bethnal Green and Clapham Junction to participate in the recovery process.

British celebrities were also active – using their influence to reach out and engage more people. Kate Nash spearheaded the collection of items for the people directly affected by the riots in Tottenham – by using twitter and her own personal blog. This series of events has brought many people together, both virtually online and in-person, to work in collaboration on a good cause that reunites concerned people within the local community.

Social media also played a key role in thwarting potential attacks and looting at Westfield shopping centres (both in East and West London) and at the Olympic Park site.

How Empathetic Leaders Earn Their Engaged Followers

In business, how can we apply real-time communication and social media to tap into the hearts and passions of our customers?  I touched on this topic in a previous post, but the London riots triggered a new enlightened thought process about how to create a commercial following that could stand the tests of time.

I think there are two key elements to consider. Firstly, you must follow the people who you want to engage. Through this observation, you’ll be able to gauge the current ‘feeling’ of your community of interest.  I’ve recently learned that there’s a perfect metaphor for the thoughtful use of social media: It’s more like a hearing aid, not a megaphone.

Meaning, initially, it should be used to listen very carefully, to increase your sensitivity and understanding.

The second element is to entice people to follow you. Do this with honest self-reflection. Ask yourself, are you follow-worthy? Are you intent on enriching the social media experience of others? Are you really providing them with information that they want or need?

Like the saying goes, “we were given one mouth and two ears for a reason.” So, listen more, pay attention and strive to be a person that’s known for their infinite empathy and consideration.  If done right, you will create an authentic presence in today’s real-time marketplace — one that could sustain your enterprise for many years to come.

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