This past week, the world witnessed what is likely the most powerful social media campaign to date.
In case you were under a rock (meaning, you’re not on Facebook), here’s what happened. On Monday, March 5, this video was uploaded to YouTube. Simply called Kony 2012, it was a 29-minute film by Jason Russell, for an organization called Invisible Children. Russell’s goal for the film: to bring to light a horrifying situation in Uganda, that he believed not enough Americans knew about, and to force the American government to take action. Joseph Kony is the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a guerrilla organization that takes children from their families and forces the boys to become soldiers (and commit heinous killings and mutilations) and the girls to become sex slaves. He is #1 on the International Criminal Court’s list of most wanted criminals.
Russell wants the world to know, via his film, that this situation is still happening in Uganda, and he believes that the collective voice of millions of individuals crying out can help get Kony arrested. He is using the film as lobbying tactic to get the American government to put continued pressure on the Ugandan government to have Kony found and stopped.
The campaign has been an unmitigated success. As of this writing, the video has been seen over 65 Million times. No small feat, considering most people (myself included) will not watch anything over 5 minutes.
The campaign was successful for a few reasons:
1. Emotional content: Things that incite our emotions, make us laugh, cry, or angry, get shared more than other types of content. This is a carefully-crafted, heartbreaking video which includes lots of footage of Russell’s adorable 3-year-old son.
2. The video gives the viewer hope: Often, here in North America, especially, when we are so far removed from Africa, it’s easy for us to forget that there is drought and civil war and horrible exploitation like the LRA. And if we do remember, we often shrug it off: “it’s a huge problem, how can I help?” The message of Russell’s film was very clear: using social media tools like YouTube and Facebook and Twitter, the world has become a much, much smaller place. And each of us has a voice. Social Media is powerful, and that’s why I love it–it gives the power back to us, the people. If we raise our individual voices, it becomes a strong collective. We just need to be coordinated.
3. He targeted celebrities: Huge celebrities, and in our culture of celebrity worship, he knew that, if he got the backing of celebrities (he also targets policy-makers in his video), the rest of the world would follow. Malcolm Gladwell would call them “influencers”: Oprah, Lady Gaga (currently the world’s most followed celebrity on Twitter, whose following numbers more than 20 Million, alone), Angelina Jolie, Justin Beiber and George Clooney.
4. He gave a clear call to action: At the end of his film, after he’s hooked the audience in, emotionally, Russell makes three very clear requests: first, for people to share the video however they can, via social media. Second, for them to order an Action Kit for $30 (currently sold out), which includes bracelets, posters, and stickers. And thirdly, to take the campaign to the streets on the night of April 20. The plan is to have the world wake up to Kony 2012 everywhere they look.
It was a well-played out campaign, and a huge success. On Tuesday, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were jammed with Kony 2012. It was impossible to miss or ignore.
But almost as quickly, the backlash began. Questions were raised about how much money Invisible Children was raising, and how much of that money (a very small percentage) was going back into helping the people who actually needed it. Questions about whether or not the Ugandan people were okay with this campaign, and if this is just another example of “White Savior Complex.” Questions about Kony himself–his whereabouts, and some of the numbers in the film (it is thought that Kony’s power is waning since he was place on the ICC’s list, he has not been in Uganda in years, and the LRA now numbers in the 100’s, not in the tens of thousands, as Russell insists).
In part 2 of this series, which I’ll post tomorrow, you’ll meet my friend and PR colleague, Pamela Smith. Working with an organization called Act for Stolen Children, she has been part of a team who was raising awareness of this issue five years ago. Tomorrow, we’ll have a discussion about her work and the lessons learned from a social media perspective from KONY 2012.