MEDIA: Important Lessons We Can Learn From The Kony 2012 Campaign‬ Rap News Episode 12: YES WE KONY. It's March, and the Internet delivers 2012's first globe-consuming meme: the unstoppable, Stop-Kony 2012 video, which has highlighted the plight of African child soldiering like never before. But is it really good? Is it really bad? Or is the world really more complex than 'good guys' and 'bad guys'? Whatevers; one thing's for sure, this is momentous: never had a 27-minute video devoid of both cats and boobs ever achieved such virality. Is this a demonstration of the internet's ability to instantly inform and engage tens of millions; and a hopeful sign that there is a willingness among those millions, to engage passionately with something more meaningful? Or does Kony2012 just mark the dawn of a rapacious new era of viral humanitarian marketing? Join your charitable host Robert Foster - and our special guest, General Baxter, direct from AFRICOM - as we delve into the dark heart of the matter.

Juice Rap News: written by Giordano Nanni; lyrics and performance by Hugo Farrant. Produced by Farrant & Nanni in a back-yard studio in suburban Melbourne. 

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My Heart's in Accra


Useful reads on Kony 2012

Two important reads on Invisible Children and the #Kony2012 campaign:

Gilad Lotan of SocialFlow has been crunching the data on the spread of Kony2012 on Twitter and has some very interesting preliminary results. (He’s also been at SXSW this past week, so this is an impressive effort, as he’s been doing analysis while appearing on panels, including a panel on the Kony campaign.) I’m hoping to work with Gilad on some further data-crunching, but his initial findings are fascinating.

Gilad’s visualization of the first 5000 users to tweet about Kony2012

Some takeaways from Gilad’s analysis:
- The Kony campaign was really, really big. Not only did the video reach 100 million views on YouTube faster than any other video in history, it thoroughly dwarfed traffic on #sxsw hashtags, which generally dominate Twitter during the interactive week of that conference.
- A core of highly connected users seem to have been key in launching the social media campaign. Gilad sees evidence that these users were clustered in a couple of communities, notably in Birmingham, Alabama, and sees evidence that many of these users identify strongly with their Christian faith. This aligns with explanations of the viral spread of the video, which point out that Invisible Children has done great work organizing a core of supporters who they were able to mobilize to support this campaign.
- The Invisible Children strategy of influencing celebrities appears to have worked, both in involving actress Kristen Bell (who has half a million Twitter followers) in the early campaign, and in influencing other celebrities like Ryan Seacrest and Ellen DeGeneres.

Gilad concludes by observing that, whatever we think of the Invisible Children campaign, this level of mobilization is literally unprecedented, and extremely worthy of our attention and study. Following along the same lines is this excellent analysis from from communications professional Jason Mogus, titled, “Why Your Non-Profit Won’t Make a Kony 2012“.

Mogus notes that he’s less critical of the Invisible Children campaign than some have been, and goes on to argue that even if you’re a critic, you should pay attention to what the campaign did well. He offers six keys to success, phrasing them as critiques of other advocacy organizations. Those organizations, he warns:

- Haven’t met their supporters
- Don’t have a “twitter army”
- Speak to too many audiences
- Are too influenced by their policy staff – and present too nuanced a message
- Have too many campaigns and calls to action
- Aren’t aligned towards the social web

Mogus makes a compelling case that Invisible Children is the opposite of all these critiques – deeply knowledgeable about the group they want to influence, knowledgeable about the medium they’re using and focused on a single, simple goal. I see Mogus as answering my questions about the campaign and oversimplification by arguing that too much policy nuance and too many campaigns and goals will inevitably dilute the power of a social media campaign.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I think organizations will be unpacking the Kony campaign for months to come to understand what Invisible Children got right. To summarize from Gilad and from Mogus:

- A viral campaign starts from a group of committed activists who you can reach and ask to represent you. These networks often have an offline component as well as an online one.

- Influencing celebrities – “attention philanthropy”, as I’ve been calling it – seems to work

- Simple messages tend to sell. It’s still an open question for me just how much you need to simplfy and just how much nuance can still go viral.

I’d add another quick observation – giving people something they can do, online, seems to be a key component to a movement. This isn’t just Evgeny Morozov’s slacktivism observation, though I think some of his critiques may apply. People are moved by a video or another prompt and they want to do something. Giving them a chance to assert their influence through social media is a way they can feel involved. In this case, it seems to have been a part of the pathway to generating major media attention to a story. I suspect that this takeaway – give people something they can do once you’ve aroused their emotions – is going to be a very useful takeaway from the Kony campaign.


One Response to “Useful reads on Kony 2012”

  1. Thomas Bruce Says:

    For me, it’s a not a question of how much you need to simplify. It’s a question of how much simplification of such issues is ethical. No, causes don’t typically raise money by making nuanced, complicated statements. On the other hand, some simplification verges on misrepresentation. I mean, why not abandon facts altogether if it gives the message more impact? That seems to be where we’re headed. And when what we’re attempting to raise is not money, but awareness of complicated issues, then I think the game is altogether different.

    Like everything else in American culture, good causes are now overmarketed to the point where they may no longer be so good.


    Ethan Zuckerman's musings on Africa, international development
    and hacking the media.







[Data Viz]



See How Invisible Networks

Helped a Campaign

Capture the World’s Attention


If you’ve spent any time at all on Twitter and Facebook over the last week or so, you’ve undoubtably heard about KONY2012. The campaign by the nonprofit advocacy group Invisible Children centered around Joseph Kony, the Uganda warlord and leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a guerrilla group with a long and violent history that includes the kidnapping of children. With striking and dramatic imagery and Hollywood-style editing, the campaign video presents an utterly compelling message in the age of “social” media: by simply clicking “share,” you can make a difference in the world.

And “share” the world did, the video racking up 100 million views YouTube in only six days (the fastest campaign to surpass that high bar after Susan Boyle did it in 9, and Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance took 18 days). The preliminary YouTube data paints a picture of a youth movement: the video was heavily viewed from mobile phones and is most popular with 13-17 year old females and 18-24 year old males.

The campaign’s seemingly overnight success brought with it a wave of criticism, too, from commentators from around the web who wonder if the message doesn’t oversimplify a complex issue. We recommend Ethan Zuckerman’s critique on over-simplification, as well as this Jenkins & students piece that adds much needed context.

Of course we were curious about the volume and spread of the message from a data perspective. How and why did the message spread so fast and was it truly out of nowhere? What we found may surprise you:

  • 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.
  • Attention philanthropy tactics activated celebrity accounts and drew substantial visibility. Invisible Children enlisted the help of their supporters in barraging celebrities to come out in support of the campaign, making it incredibly easy to Tweet at Taylor Swift or Rihanna within two clicks. Once celebrities came on board, the campaign was given multiple boosts. 

The story unfolds in a volume of mentions 

Looking at the Twitter data, it’s shocking to see just how much attention this campaign brought to the subjects of Uganda and Joseph Kony. For example, if we compare the usage of the #Kony2012 and #StopKony hashtags with the #SXSW hashtag which was extremely active over the past week, we see almost 20x difference in traffic at the peaks. #StopKony had 12,000 tweets per ten minutes at the height of the events, while #SXSW only 900.

If we plot out the number of appearances of the words Uganda and Kony we see very similar spikes. With close to zero references of Uganda or Kony on Twitter before the start of the campaign, we see an incredibly steep rise after the video started making the rounds, reaching 25,000 tweets referencing Kony within a 10 minute interval.

Having the Right Networks in Place

Contrary to what many people may think, all of this attention didn’t happen overnight. In looking at the data, we detected that a pre-existing networked infrastructure was already set in place, triggered at the start of the campaign. Invisible Children has already been building an on-the-ground network of young supporters across the United States, activating them all at the same time, as the campaign began. The data makes this clear.

The graph below represents the initial 5,000 users who posted to the #Kony2012 hashtag. Each node represents a Twitter user, while the edges represent their connections, effectively who follows whom. The more red a node, the earlier it participated in using the hashtag. The graph is organized using the OpenOrd layout algorithm which places highly connected users in close proximity, identifying major clusters within the graph.

The data reinforces what we suspect about the organization. The organization’s formal profile (@invisible) is central to their activity, also represented in the graph. In the top-center, we see the Invisible Children founder Jason Russell (@JasonRussell) and other employees  of the organization. We can also see Kristen Bell (@IMKristenBell) who was very much involved with the organization from early on. The most interesting aspects of this graph are the other clusters that appear. These are highly connected groups of users who were posting to the cause from very early on.

When we dig into the profiles that comprise the clusters, we see some fascinating characteristics emerge. Each cluster represents users from different physical locations. The large cluster on the top right includes users from Birmingham Alabama who were some of the earliest to publicize the video. The cluster is substantially larger than the others, leading us to believe that Invisible Children had strong roots in Alabama. Additionally, the hashtag#Kony2012 initially trended in Birmingham on March 1st, a few days before the video was even placed online. Other clusters in the graph include Pittsburgh, Oklahoma City and Noblesville Indiana (see graph below).

This movement did not emerge from the big cities, but rather small-medium sized cities across the Unites States. It is heavily supported by Christian youth, many of whom post Biblical psalms as their profile bios. Below is a wordle tagcloud highlighting the most common words that appear in their user bios. We easily identify prominent words such as Jesus, God, Christ, University and Student.

Attention Philanthropy Tactics

By using specific tactics the organization got a number of very visible celebrities to publicly support their cause. If you scroll down the Kony 2012 website you’ll see the faces of celebrities and politicians associated with the cause. Users are encouraged to click on the celeb image which then props up an auto-generated Tweet that pings the chosen celebrity and asks them to view the video and support the cause.

The outcome of this tactic were tens thousands of mentions generated by users of the site and targeted at celebrity accounts. Ellen Degeneres (@TheEllenShow), for example, saw over 36,000 mentions from different users pleading her to respond to the cause. So did Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, Oprah and Taylor Swift, amongst many others. Both Oprah and Bieber chose to respond and amplify the cause while Lady Gaga, Jay-Z and Stephen Colbert chose not to.

Here’s an example Tweet posted by Ryan Seacrest after being bombarded by thousands of Tweets:

This tactic obviously worked. Nine celebrities out of the curated list on the website chose to publicly support the cause, drawing substantial amounts of attention. This raises some important questions about the type of tactics used to demand their attention. Is it okay to deploy such tactics to get people to easily ping celebrities? Some services deploy similar tactics that get constituents to call or send messages to their representatives. How is this different?

On the other side of the scale, what are the unintended consequences of drawing attention to a cause one has not completely evaluated? And how can celebrities make the best decision when targeted by so many requests coming from so many directions? Seems like in this case, the loud voice won. Will this type of behavior encourage more to use the same tactics? And how will this change the way celebrities interact with audiences on these platforms?

In part because of celebrity attention philanthropy, over 100 million people have focused their attention to Uganda over the past week. That’s an incredible feat.

The big question is what Invisible Children will do with all that earned attention. We’re certainly staying tuned.

Why your non-profit

won't make a KONY 2012



MAR 13, 2012  |  by JASON MOGUS

There's been a lot of ink spilled about the KONY 2012 video, the most successful cause video of all time (and most viral video ever). But I haven't seen a lot of discussion around the campaign that surrounded the video, that is at least as responsible for its success. And while Invisible Children has faced controversy - in my opinion much more than they deserve - I'd rather turn this into a constructive dialogue on how other causes can learn from their incredible success.

In my view, most of the larger, more well known NGO's won't produce a communications piece this successful, unless they radically change their structures. Here are 6 reasons most NGO's will never make a KONY, and some lessons we can take to improve our campaigns for this exciting new world.

1. You've never met your supporters

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.

Say what you will about Jason Russell, but he's clearly got a deep calling to do this work, and it's infectious. So when he came back asking for help, supporters listened, and they cared.

No doubt your organization was founded by a passionate visionary who had a true calling, but most likely they are now long gone. Non-profits should unlock the staffers who are still driven by a deep personal mission to make change, and who speak eloquently to crowds. Build their profile and get them out of your office more, so that when you go asking for action, they pay attention.

2. You don't really have a twitter army

Let's face it. Your social media peeps largely followed you because it's an easy way to stay lightly engaged in the issues you work on (that they typically care about more than your own brand). Other than a few exceptions, you're not engaged in dialogue, you talk at them. A lot. About every big and obscure policy solution your org works on. You may not even have staff who are equipped or empowered to talk back.

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. They clearly respect their supporters. So when they asked for their help launching this campaign, they got on board, in spades. The person to person power of these social networks is what launched this video into the stratosphere, with the media eventually getting on board after it got huge online.

3. You speak to too many audiences

IC knew who its audience was, simply, American youth. It speaks in their language, using their cultural heros and influencers. Everything in KONY 2012 from the visuals (Facebook, hip posters) to the tone (hopeful, not dour or depressing) to the emotional hooks (kids, the power of people to tip the world, social media) speaks directly to this audience. Maybe this is one reason why it annoyed so many "institutional experts" over 40!

Invisible Children | screenshot from videoFor good reasons, most non-profits have way too many diverse audiences, even in their own supporter bases, to ever speak so boldly. I honestly don't know the solution to this other than to get to know audience segments more and target stronger communications at each segment, like politicians are so good at doing, which should be easier with modern CRM software and a little creativity.

4. Your policy people would never let this get through

This is of course the #1 criticism of IC's work, that they over-simplified (or manipulated) the issue, lacking nuance on the complexity of the situation. But the fact that they made this video for their audiences, not for their policy specialists, is the secret of their success.

Online cause video specialist Michael Hoffman said in "the challenge that many of our (non-profit) clients have is that they aren’t willing to focus so narrowly on a single mission, to ‘dumb it down’ enough to have this kind of very clear and very narrow focus.” Those of us who work in non-profit communications know we're the ugly step-children of the policy experts, who are the real power in the institution. We're not typically able to "mess with the raw facts" to take bold positions like this.

What IC has really given its supporters is not information or policy precision, but hope and a crystal clear theory of change where individuals feel welcome contributing. If more of us truly believed in people-power and put more focus into serving their needs we would have much stronger, more engaged constituencies for our campaigns, not to mention friendlier media messages.

5. You run 18 campaigns & your site has 35 calls to action

Screenshot of Kony site with simple actionsIt's a fact of life in most NGO's there are multiple, often competing priorities, because there's lots of work to be done. Groups like IC and even open themselves up to criticism by being so focused, however having such a clearly positioned brand is also how they are connecting with people in this busy, tuned out, over-complex world.

IC does pretty much one thing: raise awareness, which, let's face it, most NGO's are at best mediocre at. Should IC also be a policy shop and an aid agency, just because they work in Africa, as some of their critics suggest? Wouldn't that dilute the one thing they are clearly really good at?

Their website is entirely focused around this ONE message and one action. Take a closer look, not only at its hip design, but the way the site funnels you to take that one action (view the video) then share it with your friends, then put pressure on policy and "culture makers". Don't let its simplicity fool you - a lot of thinking and UX planning went into a design this smart.

Non-profits can improve their action rates by first simplifying what they actually want supporters to do, and picking believable actions that may lead to something meaningful happening. People are smart, and if they don't believe your theory of change, they won't engage. And if you wear them out with one "crisis" after another, week after week, they tune out. Next, simplify your site, stripping down all actions or content that detracts from that core action. Then, focus all of your channels and messages on that one action. Report back progress. Repeat.

6. Your organization isn't aligned towards the social web

This is probably the biggest reason most NGO's won't produce something as successful as the KONY video. "Network orgs" like IC tend to have similar attributes that are fundamentally different from how most NGO's are structured and staffed:

  • They specialize in doing one or two things incredibly well (typically not policy work)
  • Everyone in the organization (or at least a critical mass) is aligned around their main goal or campaign. And everyone knows how to use the web to grow their movement
  • Communications is a core capacity, it's not seen as "not the real work" and doesn't have to fight for resources
  • People power lies at the core of their theory of change; it's not an add on, it's why they exist
  • There are actions and support programs for the less engaged (clicks) medium engaged (often real-world events), and super-engaged (help us lead and campaign!)
  • They are close to their supporters, asking what they want, constantly testing ideas with them, and sometimes even following their lead

Newish institutions such as Invisible Children (and their cousins in the for-profit world) are the ones driving the most innovation right now, and producing the game changing campaigns that are blowing all our minds. Love them or hate them, if you want to win like them, it's wise to study some of the underlying structural and cultural frameworks they're using to grow so quickly.