The potency of online communication has been in sharp focus recently with the unrest in North Africa and the Middle East. In countries such as Libya, Tunisia and Egypt as much as 50% of the population is under 25 and their weapon of choice for revolution has been social media. They have used it to great effect to dethrone some of the most dominant long standing world politicians. They have shared their story with each other and gained courage en masse as a result whilst sharing their message with the world to win sympathy, expose human rights violations and – most importantly – place enormous political pressure on their leaders.

This gives us an insight into the power of the social web. From a business perspective we all need to be aware of how the social web works and how to communicate with younger audiences.

So what can we learn from these unfolding events?

A dominant market position and golden reputation can be destroyed at a frightening pace. Who would have predicted the pace of change we are witnessing and the downfall of the mighty figureheads such as Mubarak and Gaddafi. Once a message takes flight within social media it quickly becomes uncontrollable both in pace and environment.

So what can business do to protect themselves from a similar fate?

Businesses need to monitor the tone of rhetoric involving them on the web. This should be automated. It will allow you to respond quickly to capitalise on good PR and tackle any negative noise.

Contingency plans should be in place. These should be thought out in advance with all eventualities covered. Pre-authorised press releases should be created and a strategy in place to release them into the social web. This will mean you are equipped with the tools to bring an element of control and direction to the message.

Too many social media marketing strategies neglect the aforementioned and therefore leave you open to a nasty shock should negative PR develop. It will take time and thought but it could save you a fortune in the long run.