If you haven’t yet seen the famous Kony2012 documentary video, where have you been?
Its aim is to draw attention to atrocities surrounding the kidnapping of young boys (to be used as child soldiers) and girls (to be used as sex slaves) by Joseph Kony, leader of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) in central Africa. He has evaded arrest for over 20 years. The reality is that this is about children who are forced to kill their parents and fight in a war they have no idea about.
Well done to IC for drawing attention to the plight of these invisible children and fuelling this debate – what is happening is barbaric and it is unacceptable that we sit by and let this happen. But we do because we don’t know anything about the LRA. Ok, some of us do, especially those living on the African continent and mainly outside the USA.
If you’re going to do this, do it well
There is no argument that the campaign packs a punch. Their great website and overall design of all materials is consistent and beautiful.
Lesson: Get a good design and marketing agency on board. You need specialists with a solid strategy.
It’s truly integrated – from video on YouTube to a take action website, celebrity and policymaker involvement (only the creme de la creme of A list celebs here! If Bono says it’s OK then it’s OK), a poster campaign, the obligatory charity bracelet, emails, direct mailing donation kit, signing a pledge – the action list goes on…
Lesson: make sure you have these separate components integrating and supporting each other and that people know what to do – make all actions clear – let them choose what suits them. Also which celebs are you working with to help influence their fans and promote you?
Create a sexy cause
It’s an Obama campaign on steroids – so now is it sexy to support this cause? Does it give you cool credentials?
Lesson: In this instant gratification, shallow world we live in, what gives your cause its cool credentials? Maybe you need to give your cause a possible facelift especially when appealing to new and younger supporters. Remember you need to stay relevant to an audience who is fickle and sometimes superficial and shallow – that’s just the way it is now. Sorry.
Its simplicity and consistent messaging is the key to its success. It’s targeted at mainly younger people who have short attention spans Kony2012 is all about 1 thing – bringing Joseph Kony to justice.
Lesson: can you distill your message down to it’s most basic? Remember the KISS principle?
Flip the myths
It’s turned the myth about the optimal video length being less than 3 minutes on its head – it’s a whopping 29 mins long and people were still riveted and sharing like crazy.
Lesson: sometimes you have to just try something to see if it works. Test test test…
Be clear about what you want to achieve
It’s achieved its objective of raising (global) awareness – and we are told that Invisible Children must be thought of not an aid organisation but as an awareness organisation (see finance issues below).
Lesson: be clear from the start who you are, what you do and where the money goes.
Know thy influencers
An examination of the spread of the Kony video suggests the success of the viral spread of the video is because Oprah Winfrey tweeted: “Have watched the film. Had them on show last year” on 6 March, after which the graph of YouTube views of the video shows it just taking off! She has 9.7 million followers on Twitter.
Lesson: who can you reach out to to help you spread your message? Who holds the clout that you need?
Be prepared to be scrutinised
The video has received significant backlash from organizations and publications questioning the authenticity of Invisible Children. Many of the negative critiques have been targeted at Invisible Children’s practices as an organisation and so the message of Joseph Kony and children in conflict is being drowned out.
Lesson: always make sure you are squeaky clean – so that your message doesn’t become distorted or people so distracted by the wrong things. Keep people focused on the issue.
Where does the money go?
Many questions have been raised around the transparency of Invisible Children’s finances - the three highest-paid employees made between $87,000 and $90,000 in 2010. The $90,000 figure is just at 1% of total expenditures – apparently this just sits within the acceptable threshold that charity watchdogs say is appropriate for Non-profit CEO’s to be paid.
Lesson: again, can you withstand the scrutiny? And are you legit?
Have you done your research?
Only 32% of money raised gets to (the Ugandan army first … and then) the children in Uganda – some have said that aid but awareness is the main goal so if you don’t feel comfortable funding 3 movie makers then rather donate to other organisations like UNICEF who provide more aid to the affected children and community. The LRA is no longer in Uganda. Yet the film makes out as if this is still happening in Uganda, whereas the LRA have moved onto Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
Lesson: Do your research properly and provide substantiated facts – especially if you are working with stats.
Do you know your audience?
It’s a complicated situation – and the “slick” video sometimes dumbs down the issues and is a little condescending. There is a gap between what is portrayed on the video and what is happening on the ground.
Lesson: Know your audience – IC have done this very well – they appealed to the idealist, US college student (in most cases) “clicktivist” who wants to change the world. They also didn’t have massive attention spans but they are motivated once you hook them.
How emotionally connected are your audience to your cause?
IC have been accused of promoting “Slacktivism” or our new favourite term – “Clicktivism”— the idea that sharing, liking or retweeting will solve a problem — across the social web.
Lesson: understand the social web and how you can exploit it – IC’s objective was to create awareness – they achieved that. The challenge for other charities is how do you engage with a clicker after the sharing is over? How many people would rather push a button than get close and emotionally involved with your cause? How well are you then telling your story?
Be prepared to be drowned out
For South Africans, there are causes closer to home that are now being drowned out. That’s not a failing of Kony2012.
Lesson - there will always be a news or PR event or natural disaster that will sometimes overshadow what you’re saying and when you’re saying it. Be prepared now for how you could possibly capitalise on this awareness explosion if it’s something that’s in line with your cause. An example is how today UNICEF responded with a much more balanced view about global child conflict.
How are you financing your campaign?
The campaign is bold and multi-faceted – it requires a lot of effort (and money) to ensure that this now global audience mobilise themselves.
Lesson – do you have a plan to finance a big campaign like this? What is your plan to move these supporters from the “wow I must share this, it’s so cool” stage to “I have to buy the donation kit” to “I will join people for a Cover the Night event – 20 April 2012 – in my city and plaster posters all over the place”. It will be interesting to see how they keep up the momentum.
Will Kony2012 become a template for how charities should be using social media? Will we see a flurry of copycat campaigns? It certainly is a brave and clever campaign …and it’s gotten our attention. You now have to grab attention – cleverly and the masses are not responding to campaigns or information presented like this anymore.
It is a reality of today – there are too many causes and not enough time. So do you take what you can get? While great for creating awareness and leveraging off an audience (some of whom just follow their friends and don’t have to think too much – aka Sheeple), does it create legitimiate supporters who you can call on later for other phases of the campaign?
We think that what has been proven is that slick production, a consistent message and appealing to a younger, social media savvy audience will create a stir – it’s what kind of strategy you have in place to follow through and drive this campaign to achieve what it’s meant to that will lift you to glory.
Extras to view
For more clarity on their finances, watch this video from Ben Keesey, CEO of Invisible Children. He touches on all points raised over the last week about the way money is raised and spent.
The video that started it all:
A breakdown of their expenses: