Showing posts with label Kony 2012. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kony 2012. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 2

Fizzling Out: Kony 2012

While some people are calling Kony 2012 a resounding success to be emulated, others are pointing to what they called a paltry turnout to "cover the night" with Kony 2012 posters last April 20. The campaign failed to move people from the Internet to the streets beyond the gathering of a few people in select areas.

It's one of the failings of viral social media campaigns that fail to redirect interest and energy into a tangible outcome. People might have piled on the campaign online, but only the smallest of fractions took action. Even when April 20 rolled around as the first bellwether of the campaign, the majority of those who took an interest in the online film (or at least the popularity of it) lost interest or avoided it all together. In other words, most people heard the message and then shrugged their shoulders, some in disgust.

None of that means the campaign didn't have its noble moments or that Invisible Children didn't raise some additional dollars or enlist a few more activists that they didn't have before. But for nonprofits hoping to harness the Internet, emulating this so-called viral success story does more harm than good.

How Kony 2012 made people tune in and then tune out. 

While the case study isn't over per se (and Alexa isn't the most accurate measure), traffic spikes to  Invisible Children tell a different story than the one the organization insists happened. They flash a few singular poster shots, inferring that everyone woke up to cities blanketed in campaign material.

The real story shows that the campaign spiked in early March, spiked again when the filmmaker was arrested, and sustained only a fraction of interest on their first event day, April 20, before its awareness entered its final death throes. Invisible Children, in the interim, is attempting to salvage it all.

Having worked on several successful social cause campaigns with Amnesty International, March of Dimes, Acts Of Kindness, and, I immediately knew spikes are all wrong. In those four campaigns (and others), the event day traffic spikes are 100 times greater than the launch, which is indicative of an event that cumulates into a specific action. People participate, take action, and raise more awareness than the campaign launch.

For the Kony 2012 campaign, people were made aware but most didn't take action. Worse, the rationale to the campaign might be best summed up with a study by Relevation Research, which found people who dump a brand online are more likely to distance themselves from the brand after they dump it. Once that happens, it is much more difficult to get their attention again, no matter how important (even more important) the next set of messages might be.

It's not that dissimilar to telemarketing callers and overindulgent direct mail. Consumers are generally receptive to the first call if they have a natural interest in the product or service. But if the telemarketer calls back over and over again (whether the person expressed an interest or not) or the direct mail/email spam begins to pile up, the consumer slides from mildly interested to disinterested to despondent to annoyed to retaliatory.

When controversy is the campaign, it only creates more controversy. 

In studying Kony 2012 as a living case study, there were dozens of details that campaign organizers overlooked. But the most pressing for cause marketers to avoid is centering campaigns on controversy.

Sure, controversy is one proven method to capture media attention. But the problem with controversy is that is cannot be effectively channeled into positive action. Instead, it's like a car accident — people rubberneck to look, are immediately taken by what they see, and then they keep driving.

For Kony 2012, the controversy mostly revolved around the notion that you have to make villains or villainy "famous" before people will take action against it. It's not true, despite being a common premise. Statistically, when people are faced with a problem that is perceived to be insurmountable, they are less likely to take action. Instead, they exhibit signs of learned helplessness.

The people that Invisible Children ought to "make famous" are not Kony and his cronies, but rather everyone else — the individuals taking action to bring Kony to justice and the victims who have become strong enough to move past their often horrific injuries and speak out. Likewise, the organization could do better than talking about what "they" set out to do, what "they" did, and what "they" are asking you to do next.

They didn't do anything beyond making a film and some bracelets to peddle. Sure, that is something. But it's also nothing compared to what some of "you" did. And highlighting specific individual accomplishments around the world would have likely redirected the focus on the better goal — putting an end to the issue once and for all.

This might seem like a small thing, but it isn't. If you want people to do good, the point of empowerment is proven not by the organization but by the collective action of individual people who believe and then demonstrate that the power of one among many can make a difference. But that doesn't seem to be what the Kony 2012 campaign is really about, which is why it is fizzling out.

Monday, March 19

Forgetting Publics: Kony 2012

When the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) recently redefined the term "public relations," it was met with some criticism. Most of the criticism is aimed at three areas: the oversimplification of the definition, the sameness to past definitions, and the litany of terms (a.k.a. jargon) that need to be defined in order to understand the definition.

“Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.”

While there is plenty to be unimpressed about, the one word that generally draws the most disdain is "publics." It rivals the use of "audience(s)," which is used by advertising and marketing, as receiving the most scorn among all words used in communication. And yet, despite confusion, both are needed.

How the neglect of "publics" undermines the Kony 2012 campaign. 

The general argument against using "publics" in defining people is usually tied to the negative sentiment associated with the categorization of people, which is said to dilute individualism and reinforce the old model of mass communication. Ironically, the opposite might prove to be true.

Identifying and prioritizing publics recognizes individual differences, desires, and concerns that various people (employees, investors, regulators, etc.) have about different issues. Knowing how different publics might react to any well-crafted message becomes paramount in how we communicate.

In looking at the Kony 2012 social media campaign, the importance of recognizing publics is crystal clear. While the campaign succeeded in employing tried and true tactics for social media, it neglected how various publics might respond to the well-intended message.

• The Ugandan government has rejected the campaign because it says that Joseph Kony is no longer operating in the country, a criticism initially brought to light by human rights watch groups.

• The people of Uganda, including victims, have had a furious reaction to the campaign after seeing screenings of the film in their country. The screenings have since been halted.

• People who categorize the Ugandan government as repressive claim that any aid will only pop up an unjust government. It could also accidentally destabilize the region.

• Philanthropic advisors have elevated the backing organization as a cautionary tale for donors, especially after several scrutinized the organization's financials and track record for transparency.

• Not everyone is keen on U.S. military intervention: not Ugandans, not Americans. Some critics draw parallels to U.S. involvement in other areas of the world, and fear it could do more harm than good. Some argue interest in the area has as much to do with oil as humanitarian efforts.

• And, not everyone is keen on the way that social networks can propel propaganda so quickly and efficiently that people support it before they have any facts whatsoever.

The examples are starters, but listing them is not meant to criticize intent. 

On the contrary, highlighting critical response is a means to demonstrate the importance of thinking about publics instead of a singular public (e.g.,  social media). If the campaigners had thought through their communication, there would have been fewer detractors. And if the organizers would have thought through their publics, the filmmaker would have been less likely to have a mental break.

Prior to the launch of the video and subsequent social media campaign, Invisible Children would have benefited from public relations and its practice in identifying, prioritizing, and communicating to various publics. What publics? Here are few considerations for starters.

African governments. The African governments of Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan need to be unified in the decision to bring Joseph Kony and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to justice. The LRA exists because it is not bound to boundaries whereas these governments cannot pursue aggressors into neighboring countries.

African people. A real effort to support bringing Kony and the LRA to justice must to be supported by the victims. The filmmakers really needed to consider how they might react to the campaign. Had they educated the people before the campaign and not after, they might not have seen push back.

Human rights groups. Invisible Children could have communicated with other human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and others. By informing of them of the intent, recognizing their parallel efforts, or even partnering with more groups, it would have been less likely for the lead organization to be so scrutinized.

U.S. Congress/political influencers. There is no question that American politics is partly driven by constituent correspondence. And while Invisible Children has had contact with many decision makers since it first began, it would have been prudent to have given politicians backgrounders about the campaign so they could have addressed the issue with intelligence.

Celebrities/public influencers. It's always great to have a campaign spurred on by people who are already in the public eye. But much like politicians, the early success of receiving celebrity attention could have been compounded with advanced notice of the campaign, especially among those with an expressed interest in human rights.

Special interest groups. There are several to consider, which would need to be broken out in any formal plan. But for the purposes of this post, an oversimplified list begins with pacifists (those who object to fighting violence with violence), non-interventionists (people who believe the focus needs to be at home and not abroad), and similar political action groups (opposed to what they call American imperialism or modern colonialism). It's doubtful these groups would become allies, but considering their views prior to the launch could have made the organization better prepared to address their varied concerns.

How communicating to publics in addition to the campaign could have made a difference.

While there is more to be learned from the Kony 2012 campaign, one lesson might be to stop defining a successful social media campaign as one that constructs slick and sharable messages that go viral.

A truly successful campaign is much more than that. It shapes public opinion into an actionable outcome. With Kony 2012, whether or not Invisible Children will achieve its objective is debatable (for now). What isn't debatable is that for all of its successes, the campaign has created new barriers.

What a shame it would be if the entire campaign renders itself pointless by raising awareness around the world while undermining the means to accomplish the objective at the same time. If the African people and their governments do not want support in bringing Kony or the LRA to justice, then what will have been accomplished beyond the opposite of intent and possibly detracting support from other important goals?

Wednesday, March 14

Setting Agendas: Kony 2012

When most people see the Kony 2012 communication campaign, they immediately think of it as an unprecedented success. With 76 million views and counting (50 million in the first four days), the YouTube video that relaunched a greater mixed media campaign has generated more awareness about the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda than any other time in its 25-year history.

To be accurate, the campaign has had many successes and setbacks, but it has yet to be successful as there is only one measurable outcome: bring Joseph Kony to justice. Everything else is a means to an end. And that is how communication campaigns ought to be measured, regardless of other successes.

A Brief Summary Of The Kony 2102 Campaign.

Employing a communication strategy very similar to that of several early and successful campaigns used by Bloggers Unite to shape public opinion, Invisible Children has set a specific objective that has since risen to become a global agenda. How are they doing it?

• A communication campaign with a clear objective and definitive deadlines.
• A launch point that clearly articulates and humanizes its overall mission.
• A call to action to solicit partner support; benefactors, sponsors, and advocates.
• A visible level of commitment to working alongside volunteer participants.
• A wide range of tools and tactics that participants can choose from to help.

Specifically, the Kony 2012 campaign was initiated with a YouTube video as its primary introduction, which was supported by an existing presence across several social media networks. The intent was to drive visitors to a website where they found a tiered call to action: sign a pledge of support, purchase action kits that in turn can be used as marketing materials in support of the overall campaign goals, and sign up to donate to the campaign organizers, which also run several programs beyond the Kony 2012 campaign.

Some additional tactical components include asking participants to solicit/compel targeted celebrity and policy influencers to get involved, blanketing key urban centers with campaign material next month,  encouraging activists to create clubs and street teams, and continuing to introduce people to the video.

A Brief Summary Of Successes To Date.

Prior to the launch of the film, Invisible Children had succeeded in raising awareness about the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda. Its support contributed to the United States becoming involved in 2010 despite having no real interests in the area. This included sending 100 U.S. combat troops to central Africa as advisors and military trainers. The new campaign is more decisive with a clear measure of success.

Since the launch of the Kony 2012 campaign, Invisible Children has substantially increased awareness, recruited more volunteers than it can manage, obtained several new high-profile supporters, and raised more funds than it has in previous campaign years. It has also earned significant media attention, although not all of it is kind.

A Brief Summary Of The Setbacks To Date. 

What began as a few questions about the initial message — specifically the poor choice of language which calls to make Kony famous as opposed to infamous — has since spiraled out of control for the campaign organizers. Invisible Children is in the hot seat as much as it is being hailed as a hero for heightening awareness.

Criticisms over the campaign have escalated to include accusations of imperialistic meddling, government propping, misguided targeting, nonprofit profiteering, and decentralizing the area by elevating the risk of retaliation. Some of the stiffest criticism comes from other activists, even those who have similar goals. Certain media outlets have pushed the organization out of favor too, especially those with a liberal slant, claiming that the campaign is fleeting and doesn't fit their own priorities.

The World Hasn't Changed; It's Still A Crummy Place.

If criticisms of the Kony 2012 campaign begin to outweigh its success, then this campaign could become a social failing more than a social success story. Invisible Children could find itself responsible for empowering the Lord's Resistance Army (or like-minded organizations) instead of empowering those who might defeat him if any number of other political intrusions disrupt the effort.

And then, even if the campaign does succeed, its own communication (prior to the launch of this campaign) says that it will make little difference. There are many branches of the Lord's Resistance Army that operate with near autonomy. While a singular achievable objective is smart, one is right to wonder if that singular objective is the right one or to what degree foreign assistance is welcome.

But don't mistake those observations as my personal opinion. Personally, I find the campaign backlash more boorish than any mistakes the campaign organizers have made, except one. Like many awareness campaigns, they're letting all of these early brilliant marketing accolades go to their heads before the outcome is achieved and consequences of achieving that outcome are fully understood.

Living case study ahead. Win or lose, the Kony 2012 campaign is worth following for awhile. In addition to other topics, I'll revisit the campaign from time to time to create a communication composite.

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