When the group Invisible Children launched their video for a campaign called ‘Kony 2012’, it went viral…and quickly. In 3 weeks, the video had been viewed over 80 million times on YouTube alone (other video sites would push views over 100 million). This is the first time (to my knowledge) that an international issue such as genocide in Africa would garner more attention than nyan cat, Rebecca Black, and keyboard cat. So how did they do it? And why did it flop?
The internet is gullible. That’s why sites like Snopes and Reddit exist. So when every teenage girl shares a video on her Facebook page with the line “OMG this guy is so horrible, you have to watch this video!”, people do. And the story behind the fact that Joseph Kony is a horrible man who has done horrible things is a convincing one. So convincing, that nobody checks their facts. Instead, everybody wants to be the one to save the world…from in front of their computer monitor.
Lack of Context
People who are true activists (not Facebook activists) began pointing out that many “facts” stated in the video lacked context. This is why the stats surrounding the issue that the campaign was built on were so convincing. Thus, making it a successful piece of propaganda.
This is when we see the decline of the Kony campaign. When people started poking holes in the story, it went from inspiring to controversial. Invisible Children exaggerated the role they were playing in bringing Kony to justice, they exaggerated facts to make the video go viral, and this is when people stopped listening to the group.
Though ‘Kony 2012’ went viral with a bang and brought a lot of attention to an international disaster, it fizzled out before the campaign’s main event. On April 20th, communities were to “Cover the Night”, plastering their communities with posters promoting the campaign. In reality, the event came and went with little more than a whisper. The problem? Invisible Children no doubt underestimated the initial response to their video, which peaked and then declined within a week - too long before “Cover the Night.”
So when you’re trying to promote something (especially an important social cause), keep these things in mind:
1. If you’re going to lie, lie well. Nothing is worse than having to weave a web of lies to save your own ass.
2. If your video goes viral quicker than anticipated, keep the pressure on. ‘Cover the Night’ wasn’t a success because everybody had forgot about the campaign by that time.
3. Don’t run around your neighbourhood naked and drunk. Unless it is your intention to get press for yourself, you are taking all of the attention off of your social cause.
4. Be an agile marketer. Accept the fact that things will change. If you under- or over-estimate how your campaign goes initially, have a contingency plan in place. That way you won’t fizzle out as quickly.