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 (Update: the blog post is no longer available but has been archived here).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.


  1. @brandranter March 19, 2012
    • Timoluege March 20, 2012
  2. @brandranter March 21, 2012
  3. bernardhenin1 April 3, 2012