Iran’s Twitter revolution offers lessons for CIOs

Politics is a fascinating subject and I am sure we all have our own opinions on the events currently unfolding in Iran regarding their recent elections. However, this post is not about the election or who won. Rather it is about the incredible flow of information that happened even in a very restricted/controlled environment. We live in the 21st century, and this unfolding story holds many lessons for modern CIOs…

What does an election in Iran have to do with Twitter?

Noam Cohen of the New York Times has taken a look at how information has flowed since the riots began. In all honesty, the “Twitter revolution” is probably overkill. Websites, text messages, and simple person-to-person conversations probably did a better job of spreading news than Twitter. However, Twitter did an amazing job getting information out of the country.

Remember that Twitter is only three years old. Its impact is far greater than its seniority would lead a CIO to believe. Although you may not be dealing with a contested election, Twitter could play a significant role in the future of your company.

What Twitter means for your business

There will be times in the future when your senior management (CEO, president, etc.) will want to control what information is published about your company and have some control over what people say about your company. Twitter opens up a whole new channel for people to talk about your company. Here are six lessons the Iranian elections have taught us all about this powerful new communication tool:

  • Twitter really can’t be stopped: Twitter messages (“tweets”) are really a form of one-to-many communication. There is no centralized site that can be shut down or forced to remove information by court order. There is no way to stop this beast.
  • There is power in numbers: a single tweet probably doesn’t mean much. A couple of tweets will not attract attention. However, a series of tweets on the same topic will start to create an ecosystem around an event or point of view. This can get attention and start generating more conversations.
  • Buyer Beware: Remember, no one on the Internet knows you’re a dog (a saying from the early years of the Internet). Since people who participate in Twitter don’t have a real identity, you can’t really trust what they say until it’s verified.
  • Home of Bad Information: There are probably people trying to communicate truths using Twitter, but there are probably also people trying to spread lies using Twitter. Whether it’s to drive down (or up) its stock price or to prevent/encourage an acquisition, all sorts of people will use Twitter to spread completely made-up stories.
  • Twitter people use Twitter: CIOs should always keep in mind that the people who use Twitter are generally tech-savvy people who spend a lot of time online. This does not necessarily represent the general public.
  • Twitter is connected to the media: Popular media “gets” Twitter and is listening for leads on new stories and digging up sources. This means that almost any storyteller now has a potential direct line to a major news outlet.

final thoughts

Twitter is one more way for people to communicate. Most of us take a little getting used to as we struggle to understand why anyone would take the time to send 140 character messages to communicate when we have so many other tools we can use. However, Twitter (and all its variants) are here to stay.

CIOs need to adapt to this new world. When future events affect your business (disasters, mergers, acquisitions, product issues, etc.), Twitter is likely to play a role in how information reaches the world at large. Developing a communications strategy that includes Twitter is a critical responsibility of the CIO. Addressing this problem will mean that CIOs will have found a way to apply IT to enable the rest of the business to grow faster, move faster, and do more.

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