The Kony 2012 campaign video from Invisible Children broke on March 5, 2012. If you are in another time or on another planet, you may have to look in the Earth Archives for background. With 40 million views in the first two earth days, the video quickly made history.
Millions of picas and pixels have been expended on the Stop Kony campaign in a very short time. You can get a taste for of the issues from Invisible Children’s critiques page, which appeared quickly to address some of the criticism leveled at the film and campaign.
For a broader view, take a look at some of the thoughtful analysis from within the nonprofit / philanthropy community:
- What Kony 2012 Means for Online Advocacy - The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Derek Lieu =
- KONY, Networked Nonprofits, and Transparency- Beth Kanter
- Understanding #Kony2012 as #Video4Change – Rose Anderson and Matisse Bustos of Witness
- KONY 2012: Responding to Emotional Appeals - Jamie Millard and Jenna Salinas of the Charities Review Council
Criticism ranges from oversimplification of the story – especially with regards to Uganda – to mild and stronger accusations of racism, colonialism, misleading information, and more. But the barest fact is: this video has in less than a week reached more people with a little-known campaign than the rest of us can reasonably hope to.
There are a few lessons here for nonprofit communicators:
Video is Good.
Video can be an enormously successful asset in reaching out to people – especially on an emotional level. That’s what video is best at. Use it with intentionality for its strengths and it will be your best friend. Although I could dicker about the style and approach, Kony 2012 is designed and implemented to grab people on an emotional level, and it does.
Honesty is Good.
In the first few minutes of the Kony 2012 video, I felt my manipulation sensors vibrating wildly. The story becomes so far removed from the actual target of the campaign that it can only get back with large leaps of faith. For many (most?) it is incredibly effective. For others it quickly raises suspicion.
My ideal is that honesty and directness take the front seat, and drive the emotion and energy of a video (or campaign, or organization, or person…). You have to draw your own conclusions, and I’m sure this isn’t a new grey area to any of you.
Check your facts, check your emotions, and check your assumptions – both about the issue at hand and about your audience.
Context is Good
Don’t forget that video doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Invisible Children’s audience of millions didn’t just show up: there were years of activism, preparation, and production and months of online promotion leading up to the film’s release. Whatever your desired audience and reach, you need to look at your the entire communications toolkit to build a campaign that includes – but doesn’t completely rely on – video.
Planning is Good.
Of course you can’t predict what will happen with a particular campaign. But you can guess at outcomes, and ask others to help you be prepared. If you feel you’re doing something on the edge, prepare as you might for crisis communications. Invisible Children has done very well on this point – see the “critiques” page referenced above.
As to whether this incredible level of attention will in the end be a boon for Invisible Children and its mission… we’ll have to see. And of course: what will become of Kony and his ilk?
I plan to follow up here on video as a tool to help bring communities together. Let me leave you with a reminder that effective video doesn’t necessarily need a budget – especially if it has heart. Here’s Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire’s reaction soon after the release of the Kony 2012 video:
Another word: it’s easy to talk analytically about a campaign and lose sight of Joseph Kony and the horrible things done by and for him. Whatever the outcome of this campaign, I do believe hearts are in the right places, and that the Kony 2012 campaign will help make the world a better place – in spite of and perhaps even because of some its flaws.