Social media

10 Things to Learn from Kony 2012

Kony 2012 has become an internet phenomenon, highlighting why charities and non profits need to be aware of the power of compelling campaign videos.

By Reason Digital · March 12, 2012

Over the past week Kony 2012, a 30 minute documentary by Invisible Children aimed at getting Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony arrested, has gone viral. Since being uploaded the YouTube video has already managed to get over 70 million views, and over 16 million views on Vimeo.

It’s become almost impossible to avoid on the internet – people are sharing it across Facebook and Twitter, some people are turning Joseph Kony into memes and others are discussing the reputability of the non-profit behind the video. Regardless of your stance on Invisible Children it’s undeniable that they have created a great social media campaign, and here are some things that we can learn from it.

Video is the Future

A picture may be worth a thousand words but Kony 2012 illustrates that a video may be worth over a million. The video’s rapid rise to popularity is something that just wouldn’t have been possible if it had been in any other format. Pictures may have been able to have spread just as quickly, but they aren’t able to convey the same message. Had it been written out in words it would have been several thousand words long and people just wouldn’t have read it.

For an audience, video is easy. It blends together the effortlessness of pictures with the detailed descriptions of words. All people have to do is click play and watch. It’s this ease that makes videos the most likely to go viral.

Make it about people

The Kony 2012 video gets people emotionally invested early on by focusing on two individuals – Jacob, a Ugandan youth, and Gavin, the film-maker’s son. It informs the viewer of Joseph Kony’s atrocities and the plight of the Ugandan people through Jacob and then uses Gavin to create a clear comparison and relatable connection to the first world. The overall scale of the problem is only revealed after both Jacob and Gavin have been fully embedded in the viewers consciousness.

This is a great technique to get people emotionally invested in your cause. It may seem counterintuitive to minimize the scale of a large problem down to just a handful of people but sometimes it’s a necessity. We, as humans, can’t always comprehend suffering on a grand scale. By focusing on an individual and then revealing how they fit into a larger problem you can make it a lot easier for people to understand the issue as a whole.

Balance the Mood

Sometimes the world is a cruel place. Bad things happen, but that’s why charities exist  – to try and make the world a better place. Traditionally many charities have tried to get people to support their cause by just showing people all the negative things that their charity is trying to stop. While this can be an effective tactic it can also overwhelm people.

What Kony 2012 has done extremely well is create a balanced video. It shows the atrocities that Kony has committed, but it also has an optimistic feel and inspires the belief that people genuinely can make a difference. It’s this blend that has caused so many to rally behind the video.

Have a Clear Goal

There is a clear and definitive goal stated and repeated throughout the Kony 2012 video – to convince the U.S. government to help train the Ugandan Army to arrest Joseph Kony. People can easily support the message because it is simple, concise and to the point.

If you can’t sum up your campaign in one sentence then your message is too complicated. Focus on the most important issue and build your campaign around it. You can always inform people of other issues once you’ve got their attention or you can go back to them at a later date.

Show Others Taking a Stand

Choosing what causes to support can be extremely difficult for some people. There are myriad factors to consider when making the choice. One of these is how well supported the charity is. People are much more likely to join a cause, whether consciously or sub-consciously, when they know that other people are doing the same.

By putting your supporters in your campaign like Kony 2012 has done, you can make people more confident that your cause is the one to support.

Show You’re Making Progress

Another way of standing out from the crowd is by showing what you’ve already done to help your cause. The first step is always the hardest so by showing that you’ve managed to overcome that first hurdle you can show to your audience that you mean business. People are more likely to join a cause that has already proven itself – so show off your achievements and show why you’re worthy of people’s time and effort.

Don’t Be Boring

One of the most remarkable things about the Kony 2012 video is its length – at 30 minutes it is the longest video to go viral. This has partly to do with the level of effort that has gone into making it. It also busts the myth that people switch videos off after 2 minutes.

Invisible Children has created a captivating story based around individuals to convey its message. It doesn’t just bombard you with facts and statistics about why you should help, instead it slots them seamlessly into the narrative and they are used to illustrate points rather than being the focus. This is all tied together with a variety of film-making techniques to make it all visually interesting.

Target Influencers

Before creating your campaign you should identify a few key people who you believe are likely to want to help your campaign – these could be celebrities, journalists or industry experts. Be realistic but optimistic, because getting an influential person to endorse your campaign is a great way to broaden your audience and give an extra sense of legitimacy to your cause.

If there are key decision makers, such as politicians or business owners, who may decide if your campaign is a success then let your supporters know. Kony 2012 has done this to great effect, by naming 20 celebrities and 12 key politicians who they believe are key to making their project work.

Make to Share

Most of Kony 2012’s popularity has come through social networking. It is a video that has been designed to be shared and circulated across the internet. Invisible Children have achieved this through a number of techniques already discussed – a clear goal, focus on individuals and quality film-making. The most effective technique they have used though, is simply telling the audience to share the video.

When making your video don’t be afraid to tell your audience to “Share this video”. Some argue that it only promotes slacktivism, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. With slacktivism you have people feeling involved and good about sharing your message as well as expanding your audience. And rarely have we seen a campaign video that has been so readily shared and reached such a vast audience.

Back it up with digital Calls to Action

If you make a comprehensive and compelling video then the most likely time your audience is going to help out is straight after viewing it. So capitalise by ending your video with clear calls to action that tell your audience how they can help out.

There are a few generic ones that apply to most charities, like asking for donations, but the most effective ones are those that are tailored to your cause and relevant to your video. Keep your calls to actions simple and take it easy for your users to complete them. Little touches like adding links to your donation page in your video description can be easily overlooked but can also have a big impact.

And Finally…

While Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video has been a worldwide social media success – the documentary has been watched in over 150 countries – it still has its critics. The non profit has been accused of oversimplifying the political situation with Joseph Kony in Uganda. The LRA (Lords Resistance Army) are now much more of a force in bordering countries like the Congo and some reports allege that Kony in 2012 has only 200 followers, but as the film maker Jason Russell points out that’s 200 too many and he still must be stopped.

Invisible Children’s finances and transparency have also been questioned; only 32% of its 2011 budget went into direct services, but the non profit say they have have a “three prong” approach to tackling the LRA: “documenting crimes, channelling advocacy into energy and operating programs on the ground.”

With a hugely successful viral campaign, Invisible Children like Joseph Kony have become more famous, and here there is a final lesson to be learnt for both campaigners and supporters.

Campaigners need to be in a position to answer any criticism and Invisible Children have answered every question put to them, and for supporters – if you are considering donating to a campaign, do your research and ensure it’s the cause you believe in.

The ultimate aim of the Kony 2012 campaign was to make Joseph Kony famous – not to celebrate him, but to raise awareness of his crimes and campaign for his arrest.

This time last week, by Invisible Children’s own admission 99% of the world didn’t know who Joseph Kony was – now via a compelling video and the power of social media we do.