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KONY2012: Propaganda, public relations and social media sensation



Earlier this month the online world was privy to a viral social media phenomenon in the form of Kony 2012(www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4MnpzG5Sqc). Public relations and communications people everywhere are still shaking their heads at the incredible escalation of the video online. The attention garnered by Invisible Children’sStop Kony campaign is a very clear demonstration of the powerful weapon we wield with the use of social media. What lies behind the propaganda, public relations and social media sensation of Kony 2012.

The documentary style video intends to drum up a movement (of both voices and dollars) in support of the charity, Invisible Children. This charity’s plight in Uganda is to stop Joseph Kony and his army from kidnapping children as recruits for their rebel soldier ranks (read more www.kony2012.com). There’s been plenty of speculation and scepticism about the underlying motivation of the charity’s lobbying and activities (see more Group behind anti-Kony video rebuts criticism, urges public pressure), but we’re not debating the right or wrong of their strategy and incentive in today’s blog. Communications professionals should be interested in the viral dissemination, reach, and influence of the campaign, to understand more about the power of this kind of social media activity.

For all its superficial characteristics, the Kony 2012 video is an unlikely viral champion. It’s not funny or entertaining. It’s not selling a product, nor is it offering something for free. It’s not a short grab of information, and it’s not cute. In fact, at nearly 30 minutes it’s very long, it’s also very serious, and centred on the terrible, perverse crimes of a nefarious warlord. It’s really not the ideal format to become a viral hit…and yet…

But people in public relations or communications jobs should take notice because it turned out to be a meme gone wild. Maybe it’s the slick production elements or stirring call-to-action (especially attractive to the 13-17 year old demographic it seems), but whatever the hook, the early Kony 2012 metrics are incredible:

  • On Monday 5th March, Kony 2012 video uploaded by Invisible Children Inc

  • By Thursday 8th March, Kony 2012 has more than 57million views

  • Also by Thursday 8th March, Kony 2012 has 77.9million aggregate views – according to a “True Reach” method of measurement (read more: On the Unlikely Viral Success of ‘Kony 2012′) which tracks the combination of related video assets across the web and combines the total views from each clip (eg. two online documentaries, plus video responses other users create).

  • So, Kony 2012 clocked more than 70million views in just four days – the shortest length of time ever for a viral video to reach this number of views.

  • By Tuesday 27th March, Kony 2012 video on YouTube alone has 85.4million views.

A third of the world’s population uses the internet and, as Jason Russell says in the video, “More people are on Facebook now than were on our planet 200 years ago”. The figures above demonstrate how far and fast an idea can spread over the globe via new media channels that are beyond the reach and control of traditional media outlets.

The latest news is that not even the creator himself can keep up with the viral impact of Kony 2012. Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children, has been hospitalised after a psychotic episode said to have been brought on by stress and exhaustion from the mass of global attention (read more Kony 2012 director diagnosed with psychosis, says wife).

The Kony phenomena is incredible, but one must look beyond the statistics for a broader understanding of how this has played out in the public sphere. It is arguable that Jason Russell and his organisation, Invisible children are now in a weaker position than prior to the release of the Kony video. This is in part due to the spotlight being focused on the Jason Russell brand and how it has not stood up to scrutiny. It comes back to the strength of yourpersonal brand.

Looking beyond the immediate case of Kony 2012, we wonder who, or which cause, will be next to leverage social media in this way, whether as a publicity stunt or part of a strategic public relations plan.

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#socialmedia #viral #communications #strategy #campaign