One Week After The #Kony2012 #StopKony Video Launched, Questions Still Remain

Just five days ago (has it been that long?), we posted an initial piece about the social media phenomenon of #Kony2012 and #StopKony. It was our most visited blog post of 2012, earning unprecedented interest worldwide. We think this interest was caused by the fact that as with any Internet phenomenon, while millions of people instantly reacted and saw things as valid (and in the case of the Invisible Children viral video, no one here is questioning the content's brutal and horrific authenticity), we questioned why. Why would did this video all of a sudden become part of the online world, so much so that in only a week of releasing the video, Invisible Children had made Joseph Kony a name most people in the United States and the Western world now know?

We also covered what Invisible Children had to say about its critiques and have seen hundreds of posts, videos, and memes about the entire topic of #Kony2012.

Nonetheless, questions still remain, and as we have said before, sometimes it is better to pause and look at the whole picture to confirm that your initial gut reaction was true.

Which leads us to a post we read today from Conscience Commentary, entitled #StopKony #Kony2012. The author makes several points within the context of the mission's public policy objectives, its philanthropic mission, and the strategy behind it all. We won't go into each point here (you can click on the entire blog here), but we would like to focus on the author's final point, which he elaborates in the context of why going "viral" on the Internet can be a Catch-22, and then informs us about some of the people behind part of the funding of IC:

…I think the #Kony2012 campaign was both strategically smart, but I also think it will be a victim of its own success.  Cause-marketers and strategists cannot argue with 70 million streams.  Less than 40 million tuned into the Oscars this year.  The viral success of this video is unparalleled.  However, I would rather have 700,000 watch 10 of my videos and react to 10 calls to action, than 70 million hit Like on Facebook.  Why?  Everyone has seen this video.  The story started, and it ended, in less than one week.  There are no legs to exploit.  And, unless Invisible Children has another viral video sensation up its sleeve, which it may, I don’t see how they recapture and re-engage an American who wants to be on the bandwagon.  In fact, I worry that the story, given its epic proportions, because a parody at some point soon. I can already see the SNL or Onion video.

There are a handful of operational critiques I would add to the discussion.  If you may go viral, prepare for the PR before you launch.  The CEO, the Communications Director, surrogates were bombarded for interviews.  And, in many they appeared defensive and unprepared to answer the standard list of critiques. By day 3 this had been remedied.  But, lesson learned by the rest of us.   And, from a production standpoint, I am torn on the pros and cons.  Production quality was high.  The form of the narrative and aligning the viewers values as the protagonist of the video was wise.  The use of the CEO’s child was, on the one hand, a sign of the simplicity of the issue.  But, on the other hand, it is slightly condescending to a viewer: “Even a Child gets it…” doesn’t always play well with audiences.  They seemed to pull it off in a genuine way, but be careful should you attempt something similar.

Within the 30 minute video, #StopKony did a few smart things, but I would posit that they did TOO MANY.  There are four distinct calls to action. (1) Share. (2) Buy a Kit. (3) Blanket the Night Campaign and (4) 20/12 initiative.  Because of the length and the overwhelming menu of options presented to the viewer, most just hit ‘share’ and felt their moral duty for the day had been complete. Some will buy a kit, like the guy at my gym who had a shirt by Wednesday (?!?). But, I fear the Blanket the Night campaign may not have enough engagement to succeed.  Unless the organization has strong and experienced field professionals nationally, it will inevitably fail to meet the expectations of a video that had 70 million streams.  And, while I believe the 20/12 concept is simple, smart and brilliant, amidst all the other calls to action, and without a clear ask for the viewer to help on this particular path, I don’t know how it easily translates into successful action.  Again, I could be wrong. The video and I.C. seem to have captured the zeitgeist of the 2008 Obama campaign.  The zeal and youthful energy seems similar to the call for Hope and Change to Believe In.  In addition, I noticed a pastor on the organization’s board. If there is a strong network of America’s super-Churches, anchored by strong evangelists with big audiences and institutionalized youth groups, then Invisible Children could have a built in field operation that politicians would envy.  Time will tell.

At the end of the day, all the criticism aside, I echo what many seem to believe: it is a story that needs to be told; it is an issue that needs to be addressed; and I am glad that the topic is now elevated to a level where Americans are aware of it.  I hope that the concern for this issue continues, until we can work with our partners across the world to end this terrible practice.

UPDATE: Truth Wins Out just posted a story that questions major funding sources for Invisible Children. I am with holding judgment until more is known, but it is concerning. This raises a critical and salient question: does the funding source matter if the ends are good in and of themselves?   Or, do we have to assume that a dubious source of donations implies something morally corrupt about the organization itself?  I don’t have the answer, but I think it is an important consideration for organizations and issue campaigns.