55 million video views and counting is a pretty clear indication that you have been noticed. The #KONY2012 campaign is a success – whether you love the cause or not. Some call this a “viral hit”. Some call it advocacy. I call it exceptional marketing in disguise.
So what made the world pay attention to a 30 minute video? My take on the 3 factors that made #KONY2012 a success
1. An activist network
#Kony2012 as a “social media success” is misunderstood. This was not campaign created by social media; it was fueled by social media.
For the past 6 years, Invisible Children have created and cultivated a passionate activist network (referenced in the #KONY2012 minute14:37-18:52) . The activist network grew from efforts that spanned across the real and online world. Many were outraged at the atrocities after watching the original ”Invisible Children” movie (2006), others were inspired at universities, some engaged through fundraising events , others conducted political stunts. Most felt like they were a part of creating Invisible Children. This network was buying merchandise long before KONY2012 Action Kits existed.
For years these highly connected activists have been receiving updates about Joseph Kony and the LRA via their social media outlets and email treatment.
Invisible children have done a brilliant job at cultivating and inspiring their online community. This treatment even lead to them winning $1 million through an online competition!
The invisible children activist network understood Invisible children’s goal, were highly engaged and ready to act when asked.
Before #Kony2012 was live, they saw pictures of it in the making. Looking at their vimeo statistics -the hipster videographer channel of preference- the video was probably released to their network via email on Monday and then publicly on their Facebook page on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the world started to notice.
It is very clear that these cultivated activists gave the campaign an amazing head start. Often, people try to create “viral” videos rather than recognizing that the power of the distribution stream will usually determine whether people will see the video or not. The quality of the content is what will keep it moving.
Years of cultivating activists paid off in the case of Invisible Children. This is the exact reason I defend of the term “Slactivist.”
2. Quality content
A good social network can only take content so far, it won’t make it viral – the content needs to speak for itself. Invisible children has quite a robust and talented creative team, but what makes the world watch a 30minute online video? Here is my amateur take:
- An introduction that viewers instantly relate to. “I’m on Facebook”, “I laugh at Youtube videos”
- A compelling story with tangible/ characters. The Enemy (Kony), the Victim (Jacob), the Hero (Jason), the cute funny kid (Gavin), The “it” crowd (the activist network), the Recruit (the viewer), the Army (the viewers mobilizing).
- An invitation to be a character in the story. Through joining this campaign viewers are visually compelled to join “It” crowd or the “Invisible Children Army”. Their role as a character in this story is to help the hero bring the enemy to justice.
- Exceptional cinematography complemented by emotive music. Not really a new tactic but this level was pretty epic for a charity video. The best example of this was in minute 26:45 – 27:01 where a viewer can see themselves in this scene, almost as if joining #KONY2012 puts them in an action film.
- Repeated identification of the problem. The viewer is continually reminded of the existence of the enemy and their power to overcome it.
- Repeated and diverse calls to action. In many different ways Jason urges people to take action. He does this through indirect statements viewers relate to “I don’t want my kids to live in a world where…”, as a commander mobilizing his troops to fight “We are targeting…The mission is…” and in-direct calls to action “too often we have done nothing but if we are going to change that, we have to start somewhere”. Interestingly, I couldn’t find any direct asks from Jason, instead it’s left to the end text and website content.
- Clear instructions, attractive next steps. Jason explains “how” to be a part of this and the “how” is attractive. Speaking as commander of his activist army, he gives very clear and easy to understand instructions. The viewer perceives that with tangible next steps, they have the power to make change happen… by vandalising their community with posters with sexy graphics, petitioning popular celebrities via twitter and wearing a wristband band that will identify them to the “it” group.
- Fueling the innate desire to change the world. Most people – especially young people- want to believe they can change the world. As mentioned above, the video gives clear instructions and affirmations that make the viewer feel they can bring the enemy to justice. He then laces this action with emotional statements that feed in to the innate desire to change the world: “Arresting Joseph Kony will prove that the world we live in has new rules” .
3. Social Media Integration
This is the easy part. With a solid distribution stream -an active social community- and compelling content #KONY2012 was bound to gain some traction. That said, Invisible Children took it up a notch, entrenching social media into the campaign itself. They made social media part of the narrative in the video, connecting the viewers to each other and as a core next step, asked them to tweet celebrities.
Charities asking celebrities to promote their cause is not a new tactic, but mobilising your community to ask through a mechanism in your website is. And it works. Because of the large following of celebrities -much larger than most brands/charities- they have strong distribution power to push content to the masses and continue to spread the message.
On a much smaller scale than the success of #KONY2012, I have seen celebrities with strong social media presences help gain views and traction for videos.
At World Vision USA, Kyle created a powerfully emotional video within hours of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Community manager Lindsey Talerico and I began to tweeting celebrities the video. Within hours MC Hammer and Donald Miller shared it and it began to gain traction.
At World Vision Australia, we got on the old spice band wagon and our brave CEO did a spoof dressed in his bathrobe within 24 hours of the initial release. Again, we deployed the tactics of tweeting Australian celebrities, and within a few hours the video began to gain traction that complemented the wave of interest in old spice spoofs.
These videos have had nowhere near the traction of #KONY2012, however they do show that utilising celebrities social media presences will help you gain video views if the content is relevant to them and their audiences.
Many will debate the success of this campaign but I think it clearly engaged the hearts of thousands despite criticism of Invisible Children. I am eager to see whether the city of Melbourne will look like on April 21, a visual representation of whether this was a weak social share vs a social movement.
Regardless of the outcome of #KONY2012, Invisible Children have now grown their social community to 2.6 million people, up 300, 000 from when I started writing this post less than 24 hours ago! The “social reach” of a 2.6 million person community is monumental considering the average Facebook user has 130 Facebook friends. If I were Invisible Children… I would be investing heavily in ensuring quality content and relationship management to keep the attention of this audience. That way… when and if Kony is no longer the enemy, you can take your audience on a journey to understand the plight of other invisible children.