The first speaker after the break at Digital Directions 2011 was Riyaad Minty (@Riy), the head of social media at Al Jazeera. Minty discussed the role of social media in the recent Arab country revolutions and how it has enabled a stream of information to come out of these regions.
“The key to success is getting in early,” Minty says. “We started building a list of bloggers that we could get in touch with. Once governments start clamping down on protesters, the first thing they do is cut off communications. We might have gotten hold of people via social media, but then we call then up and use them on our live blog.”
He also talked about the process of educating mainstream journalists of the value of social media tools, often by starting with small examples that demonstrate the value.
“Over the last two years there has been a big uptake in it,” Minty says.
Al Jazeera also distributed Flip cameras to trusted people, with much of the content used on screen.
He also cautioned not to yet technology hijack the revolution.
“It is pockets of people that are using these tools, but where there is injustice in the world people will turn to the tools available to get the message out,” Minty says.
The recent revolutions have seen traffic for Al Jazeera spike by 2500 percent, with Twitter and Facebook contributing 70 percent of referrers. About 45 percent of its audience is in the US where it does not have cable distribution.