How Invisible Children turned Kony 2012 into a viral success

Visual Kony 2012 campaignNo matter where you stand on the debate surrounding Invisible Children’s work, from a marketing point of view the Kony 2012 campaign is an amazing success. We now have the first data and analysis showing why the 30 minute video turned viral.

The short answer is: it took a lot of work! 

Years and year of continuous work with very little return of investment in which a small and largely unknown organization nurtured their fans and built relationships with their supporters – that is the message that social media and communications professionals should drive home when their general secretary, director or CEO walks into their office and demands to “do a Kony-campaign” for their organization.

Social Flow has an extremely interesting data visualization and blog post showing how word of the Kony 2012 campaign spread through Twitter. (Update: the blog post is no longer available but has been archived here).

One of their key findings is:

“Having pre-existing networks in place helped the initial spread of their message. Our data shows dense clusters of activity that were essential to the message’s spread: networks of youth that Invisible Children had been cultivating across the US for years. When Invisible Children wanted to promote this video, deploying the grass-roots support of these groups was essential.”

Similarly worth reading is Jason Mogus’ “Why your non-profit won’t make a KONY 2012“.

His key points are:

  • You’ve Never Met your Supporters
  • You Don’t Have a Twitter Army
  • You Speak to Too Many Audiences
  • Your Policy People Would Never Let This Get Through
  • You Run 18 Campaigns And Your Site Has 35 Calls To Action
  • Your Organization Isn’t Aligned Towards the Social Web

“(…) The founders of IC had spent the last 8 years actually meeting their supporters: presenting at about 3,000 events a year in schools and other hyper local gatherings, and starring in highly personal videos. Their presence and personal stories created a relationship, an emotional one, with audiences. (…) IC is in a real relationship with its followers, responding to their questions, asking for help, giving them real things to do, and reporting back progress on what matters to them.”

There is another that most people don’t mention but which also contributed to the success: the video is really, really well made. It is sleek, well produced and engaging. A lot of non-profit videos on the other hand look cheap because they have been produced at the last minute and with very little resources.

For me, this comes down to two things:

  • Social media is not a job for an intern but has to be considered a business critical task that should be resourced accordingly.
  • Social media does not replace other forms of communication, it amplifies them. Organizations who think they can substitute real-life interaction with Facebook posts will not be successful.

So don’t despair if you are asked to replicate the Kony success. Instead, remind your bosses that it takes time and money to be successful and use the opportunity to lobby for extra resources. Also, explain to them that in the long run, a focus on real relationships with your supporters is more important than quick wins.

That is of course always easier said then done, but the analysis of the Kony 2012 campaign gives you a lot of data to support your argument.

  • @brandranter

    Great post. I think a lot of us who work with brands and social media will find ourselves being asked to "do a Kony-campaign” for months to come.

    I found your post on the LinkedIn group "Social Media for Nonprofit Organizations." I went there expecting to find a lively debate on the subject. My search resulted in your post and one comment on an unrelated post remarking on the absence of KONY 2012 mentions. I checked a couple of other NGO sites and also found little discussion of the matter. Am I just not looking in the right places or do you find a reluctance among NGOs to discuss the KONY 2012 controversy publicly?

    • No, I think you are right. While I saw a lot of very lively and diverse discussions on blogs written by individuals, I haven't really seen much that would come from a more institutional point of view. One of the view exceptions is this post… written by Mercy Corps' directory for policy and advocacy. I'm not really sure why it hasn't generated more discussion in the NGO forums.

  • @brandranter

    Hi Timo, Thanks for the link to the Mercy Corps post. I see his point but his logic seems flawed if you follow the implications. I'm surprised more NGO's are not jumping to the defense of Invisible Children. After all, it could be them next.

    P.S. I referenced you and this post in my latest article on Talent Zoo: KONY 2012: Should Your Brand Still Support It? You can read it here:

  • bernardhenin1

    Thanks Toni, this was an interesting article. I didn't realise how much work was involved years before by IC. Also the fact that the execution of the video was very well made will hopefully open the eyes of the NGOs on the importance in investing in good marketing tools to raise more awareness to their causes.