Social networkers came into their own last week on the first day of the protests in Swaziland (12 April 2011).
So many messages were sent about the protests that Swaziland was one of the top ten ‘most talked about topics’ on Twitter that morning, according to the Independent newspaper, UK.
This was the first time that social networking was used extensively to report on a Swaziland protest and if my own experience is anything to go by it proved to be a valuable way of getting information out beyond the borders of Swaziland.
Countless news organisations, prodemocracy groups and ordinary individuals logged into Twitter, Facebook and the various blogs to follow the action.
Personally, I had about a dozen requests from various newspapers, radio and Television stations across the world for information about what was going on, or for contact details of prodemocracy people they could contact for interviews. These ranged from internationally-renowned organisations to small on-line human rights journals.
Many were trying to get pictures or videos of action from the protest.
More generally, the two blogsites that I am connected with saw ‘traffic’ at an all time high. The Swazi Media Commentary site saw an increase in visits of 700 per cent (week on week) and the Swaziland Commentary was up by 1,500 percent.
It is impossible to count the number of ‘hits’ on the Facebook and Twitter sites that I am connected with, but judging by the number of people who wanted to ‘follow me’ or be my ‘friend’ these sites were getting as much interest as the blogsites.
And ‘my’ sites were not the only ones sending out information. Among those also working hard were the Swaziland Democracy Campaign, Swaziland Solidarity Network, stiffkitten, and the April 12 Swazi Uprising (apologies to any I’ve accidentally missed anyone out).
So what can we learn from this? Most obviously, these are vital conduits of communication and we have complete control over what messages go through them. Throughout the day we were influencing the news agenda.
And, you will have noticed that apart from in Swaziland, not a single media report was in favour of King Mswati – and none came close to supporting him.
So the lesson for us all? Before the next stage of the ongoing protests we need to devise a media strategy to ensure social networkers work together so we can build on all the goodwill towards the protest that has been generated so far.