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.