UK Riots: Social Media Has The Message, Is The Message

london-riots-smallLike much of the social upheaval throughout the globe recently, the UK riots are being discussed in terms of how social media was the crucial tool in organizing the protests. Whilst the claim has some merit, it is really more the impact of technology that has given the protestors and law enforcement quicker methods for sharing or gathering of information.

The latest post from Hitwise shows that Twitter usage surged as users flocked to get real time eyewitness updates from the days rioting.

Twitter Visits During London Riots

In an earlier era, when there were no large-scale communication methods, oral dissemination of information was used – people met in quiet corners of pubs to discuss their problems and how things could be changed, passing along the information to smaller groups. When printing became available, pamphlets and small newspapers were used, until the power of the medium was seen and soon policial parties grabbed up newspapers to support their campaigns for change or the status quo.

It is the people who adapt their communications to the technology available. The media, themselves, do not create the message – well most times – and that is a completely different article. Faster, more wide spread technology has helped make the organizational part of protests easier. The conditions that spark them are similar through history, but the days of rocks and pitch forks as weapons are long behind us.

Social News & Signalfire

Late last year, the student protests in the UK made great use of Google Maps and Twitter to communicate and provide meeting points and police barricade positions. This time round, the UK protesters used Blackberry Messaging to communicate between each other – the password protected messages gave them privacy. Twitter was used to tell about news and broadcast general information and passwords.

“Of course, there was huge amounts of chatter on social networks like Facebook and Twitter, with the latter coming under enormous amounts of criticism from the UK press for fuelling the fire. But while Twitter has largely been the venue of spectators to violence and is a handy public venue for journalists to observe, it would appear the non-public BlackBerry BBM messaging network has been the method of choice for organising it”, TechCrunch noted.

Referencing a recent study, TechCrunch reported that Blackberry phones are favored by the 16-24 and 12-15 age groups – this I learned personally when my 15 year-old son traded his iPhone for my Blackberry.

As one of the commenters, Judi-mae Galer, posted on the TechCrunch article, “you can’t blame social networks for organizing riots! Social networks are a way of communicating and if people who want to riot didn’t have them, they’d use chat rooms or some other form of mass communication such a forums and blogs. All the networks do is allow people to talk to each other – their plans to damage property and steal things is their own doing and their own behavior is their own responsibility.”

When the role of Blackberry was uncovered, the company issued a response on Twitter. “We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can.”

New Mobile Behavior

Marketers are becoming aware of this demographic, as has Blackberry sponsoring a number of rap concerts and other youth events. While these social protests provide insights, as marketers we need to be watching what platforms and media are preferred by what demographic and other classifications to be effective.

Interestingly, a recent survey of web designers found 50 percent did not consider mobile users when designing their sites. Obviously marketers need to address this with their design teams. Access numbers from mobile devices is growing and insightfully many of the high end brands have embraced it quicker.

The UK riots showed how mobile social was the message and has the message.

Now we need to react, feel free to add a comment, but meant as marketers. Perhaps mobile social marketing should differentiate itself by actively engage these communities and demographics, rather than simply blasting messages?

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