A Social Media Master Class

Posted by

If you have not seen the Kony 2012 video, you may be living under a rock.

It is, without question, the hottest viral video sensation the Internet has seen in a long time. Looking beyond the forty million-plus views that this thirty-minute documentary/movement has achieved in a couple of days (if you haven’t watched it, you owe it to yourself to do so below), this admirable non-profit movement is giving a free master class in Social Media marketing to both non-profit and for-profit organizations. The group is called, Invisible Children, and they have been working for nearly a decade to end Africa’s longest-running armed conflict. The video is a touching and moving story about children, war and a part of the world that is all too often neglected. The ultimate goal of the organization is to make Joseph Kony (head of the rebel group, The Lord’s Resistance, and the world’s worst war criminals) "famous." According to the Invisible Children website: "Not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice. In this case, notoriety translates to public support. If people know about the crimes that Kony has been committing for 26 years, they will unite to stop him. Secondly, we want Kony to be famous so that when he is stopped, he will be a visible, concrete example of international justice. Then other war criminals will know that their mass atrocities will not go unnoticed or unpunished."

Lessons from a Social Media master class.

  • It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. The website is simple and clean (and it’s one page). The idea is to watch the video or tweet about it, not to spend all of your time navigating a big and clunky website.
  • The video works. It’s a mini documentary (almost 30 minutes long), but it’s shot well, edited well and – most importantly – it tells a personal story that all of us can relate to. Because they’re using both YouTube and Vimeo, they make it extremely easy for people to watch, share and discuss it.
  • Twitter spam. Because they want to get Kony taken out of commission by the end of this year, they create a sense of urgency. Part of the campaign is to Twitter spam twenty celebrities and twelve policy makers (20 and 12 – very smart). The tweet is generated once you choose who you want to tweet and it reads, "Help us end #LRA violence. Visit kony2012.com to find out why and how. @billgates Join us for #KONY2012." The are encouraging people to "call out" these celebrities and are hoping that by inundating their Twitter feeds, they will take action, speak up and share the story. This was a super-risky move, but extremely creative. Others have tried this, but Invisible Children pulled it off.
  • Social Media backlash. There are many aspects and angles to the problems in Africa. Not everyone agrees with Invisible Children and what they’re doing. They experienced a PR crisis because some organizations questions their intent (see here: Fast Company – Invisible Children Responds To The Kony 2012 Viral Video Controversy). Invisible Children wasted no time in explaining their positions here: Critiques. If you do nothing else, please read how they responded. Whether or not you agree with this organization, they responded quickly and they’re speaking in a very human and real voice. It’s inspiring.
  • Calls to action. They’re taken this initiative well beyond the digital realm and encourage people to get a kit to help spread the story. They’ve also chosen a specific day in the year for people to take to the streets and spread Kony’s picture everywhere to make him "famous." The calls to action are both easy to do and act as an emotional battlecry for the cause. It’s something anyone and everyone can do.

Honest. Direct. Powerful.

Too many brands can’t wrap their heads around Social Media because they’re over-thinking it. Invisible Children leveraged a couple of well-known strategies, re-invented them, pulled them together and had a real story to tell. Most campaigns fall down because the story doesn’t grab attention. This one does (which is more than half of the battle). Beyond the great story, they kept it simple and drive people to either watch the video or tweet spam and it all comes together very well.

Kudos to Invisible Children. Not for the for forty-million plus YouTube views, but because of how it all comes together. It’s worth talking about… and worth sharing.


  1. Forget the critics. As a board member of Equitas – the International Centre for Human Rights Education, and 2010&2011 jury member of the Beyond Borders media awards, I know that there is fabulous work being done by dedicated human rights activists around the world. I’ve met them, and each tells an as equally compelling story of the work they do to stop human rights abuses. The challenge of non-profits like these is to attract media attention so that the world knows about the important issues they’re challenging on a daily basis, when, quite frankly, most of the time the K name in the headlines isn’t Kony … it’s Kardashian. Shame on us.
    If nothing else, Invisible Children has raised awareness. Forget the rest. Just for that, and that alone, they get my support. Men like Kony and movements like the LRA need to be stopped from exploiting children. Period.
    Thanks for the thoughtful analysis, Mitch – on the mark, as always.

  2. Content is king. Always has been and always will. I wonder how successful this campaign would’ve been without the video? Although their website was no doubt a small investment, I marvelled at what it must have cost to put together that very slick video, design/print all the collateral used globally, blah blah blah. Don’t under-estimate that this took significant resources, money and creativity to pull off, no easy feat for, say, a small business.
    But there is no denying that if you focus on the story/content and if you can tie it into something with emotive qualities, throw in some altruism and mix in the pack mentality… you win. Good job to the Kony2012 team. Wonderful concept.

  3. Although I will not support the campaign with money (too many questions about the organizational structure), but I agree that their campaign and subsequent response to the Twitterfrenzy has been masterful. I tell people all the time: “Be present. Be in the conversation. If people don’t agree, for heaven’s sake, don’t pull out of the conversation. If you aren’t there, someone else is delivering your message and YOU DON’T CONTROL IT.” Hmmm, wonder where THOSE ideas came from? 🙂
    Will pass this excellent diagnosis on to those who won’t listen to me!

  4. are you trolling right now? This grave oversimplification is nothing but a danger to the world in how it views US foreign policy.
    But you this is a media blog so I’ll speak more to danger in the way this “media company” operates.
    They do not control the message, the message controls them. It defines how they have to act, and cannot afford to go off message. They have to believe the message without wavering. They cannot question the message because the message is all they have. And so be tying oneself into a message, literally becoming a message, they loose sight of any and all ability to react to change.
    Instead of taking criticism, and looking inward to discover what their problem is, they justify their actions.

  5. “I would take 365 of these campaigns annually if it meant I never, ever, ever had to hear about Kim Kardashian again.” This is a FB comment about the whole debate from a friend and it pretty much captures my feelings.
    A topic that can get us talking about right and wrong, human rights, citizen participation and accountability for charities – in a way that is nuanced and, increasingly informed – might just have a longer tail than awareness of atrocities in Africa.

  6. This is the social justice version of “Like this page for a free Tims Card”. The movement spammed celebrities who are less likely to think critically and in turn crumble under the weight and spam their followers.
    The Beliebers made this movement happen. He tweeted it at least a dozen times in a short period. Diddy’s missive has been retweeted more than 65000 times.
    This was a case of social media shampooing: link. share. repeat. The slacktivist audience considers a “like” or a “share” to be a life changing action. They pushed the meme forward and it exploded.
    It’s a social media master class in manipulation and a said comment on how generation like is less likely to think critically.
    I’ve been taking flack from some friends and colleagues for being a naysayer on this topic, for me it’s the “meme more than the message.”
    I wonder what McLuhan would have to say about it.

  7. To those above chastizing Kim Kardashian .. this campaign is nothing without the twinfluence of her and Bieber.
    Make no mistake, this was a spam bomb that detonated on the smartphones of Hollywood.

  8. Although I support what Invisible Children is doing, my concern is it’s working because the target is something simple we can all get behind: a vicious, brown guy, half way around the world, who steals kids out of their beds, turns them into soldiers and makes them kill their parents. It’s easy.
    What’s not easy, and therefore most marketers don’t do it, is taking a critical look at some of the companies they work for. If they did, they’d have to confront the fact that some of those companies, support, directly or indirectly, some horrible things (some worse than Kony’s).
    But don’t take my word for it:

Comments are closed.