How Kony 2012 Went Viral

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If you found your way to our blog, I’m assuming it was through another social media platform. In which case, you most likely have seen the “Kony 2012” campaign making major waves on social networking sites.

Last Monday, the advocacy group Invisible Children posted the video Kony 2012 as an “experiment” in social change through social media. It’s a 30 minute video and, despite its length and lack of piano playing cats, it has gone viral. Some reports are stating that it’s the most viral video in history and is outpacing other viral videos in growth.

The response has mostly been people sharing the video, liking and commenting, and trying to raise awareness of the efforts (#Kony2012). There has been some significant backlash around the organization’s management of finances and questions about the veracity of different aspects of the video. However, the goal is pretty clear: To make Joseph Kony famous and incite public outrage so that pressure will mount for the U.S. government to step in. In this way, Invisible Children has succeeded in spreading the word. While the conversations taking place are often controversial, the overall awareness that this video has generated is impressive.

So, why did this video go viral?

There a certain components that have pushed this video well beyond all others:

A Sense of Urgency

“This movie expires on December 31, 2012.” Viewers have less than a year to get the word out. While this might feel like a good amount of time, setting a firm deadline motivates people to get going. Who doesn’t work better under a deadline?

  • Takeaway: Light a little fire under your viewers’ butts! Providing them a sense of immediacy lessens the likelihood that they will shift attention elsewhere.

Straightforward Call to Action

Throughout the video, the message is “the more who know the better.” At the end, viewers are told to do three things but “Above All Share This Movie Online It’s Free.

  • Takeaway: Tell viewers what you want them to do – tell them to share the video.

Emotional Element

The topics discussed here are very serious and terrifying. The video tells the story of Joseph Kony, who abducts children for use in the LRA, turning girls into sex slaves and boys into killers. There are some images, about 5 seconds worth in a 30 minute video, of the faces of the mutilated victims. Other than that brief part of the story, the emotion being evoked is very inspirational in nature. Rather than focusing on scaring people or making a very depressing video, they focus on the main story: We Can Change This. The “we” being anyone with a voice and that’s everyone!

  • Takeaway: Certain emotional appeals are going to inspire people to share videos. Horror and sadness are not very motivating emotions. Play with awe and inspiration to drive up the likelihood of sharing.

Low Effort, High Reward

The video tells the viewer if they don’t do something today, upcoming generations will be fated to the same horrors. But it also highlights that viewers can be part of the change and that it’s easy to do – “Just spread the word and you can save the world.”

  • Takeaway: Don’t only tell viewers what they should do, but tell them why. The better the reason, the more likely it is that the action will take place.

Celeb Power

Everyone knows if you want a message to go fast online, use a celebrity. The video is tapping into 20 celebrities, athletes and billionaires who have loud voices.

  • Takeaway: Use other people’s voices to share the message, especially loud ones.

Making a viral video (when that’s the goal) is no small feat. Once viral is achieved, it seems like a huge success. But the question remains: Will it drive offline behaviors? On April 20th will the nation be plastered with posters and bracelets? Will Joseph Kony be captured because of this awareness effort? I guess time will tell…

Kony 2012