Kony 2012's social media lessons

Here's how businesses can improve their social media strategies from the runaway success of the Kony 2012 campaign.

 If you had any doubts about just how powerful social media can be then you better take a look at the Kony 2012 campaign, which has not only made a relatively obscure Ugandan guerrilla leader, John Kony, public enemy number one but also managed to steal limelight from Apple’s iPad launch   

The campaign was kick started after a 29-minute video made by a non-profit group, Invisible Children, went viral.

The video has been viewed a staggering 40 million times on YouTube and Invisible Children has even managed to enlist the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Rihanna and Justin Bieber, yes Justin Bieber, to spread the message.

Given the remoteness of the issue from the popular consciousness, grabbing this sort of traction is no mean feat and there are some salient lessons here for businesses still trying to come to grip with their social media strategies.

Simple and straight from the heart

The first lesson is keeping the message as simple and as straight from the heart as possible. One of the strengths of the Kony video is how simple the message is and the fact that it wasn’t packaged as a plea for fiscal aid but rather as an opportunity for viewers to embrace a cause. The impact of this inclusiveness on viewers at an emotional level is profound and often long lasting.

“A lot of people on social media try to do too much, what these guys have been able to do is hone down their message to a single point,” says marketing and social media expert Gavin Heaton.     

“A lot of businesses don’t have a cause or a purpose or are at least effectively articulate the purpose of what they are trying to achieve,” Heaton says.  

Paying attention to production

Unlocking simplicity isn’t a simple process and one of the features of the video is the level of attention that has gone into making the video.

Pressing emotional buttons is a lot simpler when the message is carefully crafted. For businesses that means ensuring that whatever content you are hoping to release is packaged well enough to get people talking.

When it comes to social media haste really does make waste and a half-hearted, shoddy campaign can severely dent reputations.  

Keeping your channels open

Another fascinating element of the Kony 2012 campaign is how the message has been able to migrate across multiple social media channels.

As Sydney-based social media consultant Thomas Tudehope points out most viral videos usually spread across the web on one particular channel. However, the Kony 2012 campaign has taken it a step further.

“While it started on YouTube it has managed to jump across platforms and business need to sit up and take notice of this,” Tudehope says.

According to Tudehope, this level of multi-platform popularity is quite rare and business should look to utilise a similar strategy to gain wider exposure.

Of course, success and failure is still dependent on the quality of the content and its availability to users.

Prepare for the backlash  

The runaway success of the Kony 2012 campaign has inevitably led to a backlash with detractors questioning the ideological motives and methods of Invisible Children. 

According to social media analyst Kate Carruthers, the video is extremely successful in terms of virality but also exposes important issues such as slacktivism, where people feel they have made a contribution simply by sharing a link.

Carruthers adds that the rapid development of single purpose ad-hoc social network activist group doesn’t necessarily bode well for the actual issue.

“There are often problems with how deep the commitment to action and long term engagement on the issue arises,” she says

However, the thing business need to look at is how quickly the organisation has responded to its critics.

Not only does it highlight its preparedness it also reinforces why having a social media policy is absolutely crucial to a business

“If a business doesn’t have one this is good example of why it should have one,” says Heaton.

Creating a contingency plan is more than just about peace of mind it’s about being ready when your content does go viral.