Social Media Lessons from the Kony 2012 Campaign

If you have accessed the Internet in the past 48 hours, or potentially even if you’ve turned on your TV or radio, you’ve probably heard about the Kony 2012 social media campaign. If you haven’t heard of this yet, a brief overview: earlier this week, the nonprofit organization Invisible Children released a 29-minute video on YouTube about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, who leads a rebel force of child soldiers and is universally considered a terrible person. As of this posting, the YouTube video has upwards of 55 million views. On Thursday, Twitter users mentioned Kony almost 1 million times.

The video’s virality is impressive, even without taking into consideration that it’s half an hour long, and conventional wisdom says to keep your message under two minutes long. What gives? Although its effectiveness in the long run has been disputed, amid allegations of “slacktivism” and criticism of Invisible Children’s financial practices, one thing’s for sure: these people understand social media marketing. Let’s take a closer look and see what marketing lessons we can take from Invisible Children and Kony 2012.

Keep it upbeat.

“But that doesn’t make sense, Marketing Zen,” you say. “This video is about a guy who makes kids kill their own parents. That’s not upbeat at all.” Yes, you’re right. That is the opposite of upbeat. But this video takes its time to get there, and doesn’t reel people in by opening with that. Kony doesn’t even show up until almost 9 minutes into the video. What happens before that? We learn about Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell and his son Gavin. We see Gavin’s birth. We learn about Gavin’s friend Jacob, who lives in Uganda. We see family, friends, and other warm and fuzzy stuff first.

Play with their emotions.

When your issue involves harm to children or animals, it’s hard not to invoke a strong emotional reaction in viewers. Combine that with a small child sobbing while recounting his brother’s murder? What kind of heartless person wouldn’t try to share that message?

Use more than one medium.

The Kony 2012 campaign, like any good social media campaign, has its own hashtags. For example, check out #stopkony.


There are also plenty of celebrities tweeting with this hashtag. Even Justin Bieber himself.



Include a call to action.

Obviously the “share this video with everyone you know” part of the Kony 2012 video’s call to action has worked exceedingly well. But the major focus of the video shows up right around the 26 and a half minute mark. They want people to sign up and receive “action kits,” which they will then put to use during an overnight “postering session” on April 20 (note: we don’t suggest that your organization adopt public vandalism as a marketing tactic). To receive the action kit, you must commit to a $15 monthly donation. You can also download materials for free and print them at your own expense.

What do you think?

What social media lessons did you gather from the widespread sharing of Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign? Leave us a comment to let us know!

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  1. Informative article! We utilize social media for so many reasons: brand ourselves, brand our businesses, keep in touch with friends, market a product or service, to create a voice- and this is an example of now utilizing social media for the greater good. In the Kony campaign we are bringing awareness to a gruesome situation so that we can stop it. If it weren’t for Facebook I never would’ve known about this event that is taking place in our world today. I am now informed and and will help spread the world.

  2. Check out Lisa Shannon’s guest article on KONY on Nicholas Kristof’s NYT column today @thousandsisters

  3. Excellent points. I think the video does a great job of evoking a sense of responsibility and activism. Primarily because the humanitiarian aspects, but i believe you can accomplish the same things any social media campaign if its targeted correctly

  4. It Seems That Technology Is Basically Like A Double Edge Sword. The More We Evolve And Advance Technologically The More Stupid And Less Humane We Actually Become. What I Gathered From The Kony Story Was That There Are Atrocities Occurring All Over World That Most Of Us Only Recently Hear About Thanks To New Technologies Like Social Media Devices And While Some May Attempt To Help Those People In Need Without A Second Thought, Others Go On To Over Think And Critically Analyze Every Detail And Come Up With All Kinds Of Propaganda Conclusions While People Are Dying.

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