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Kony 2012: Invisible Children Gone Viral

On February 20th, 2012 the charitable organization Invisible Children launched a campaign with the release of a 30-minute Internet video on Vimeo entitled “Kony 2012”. The video was released to gain awareness of the many crimes committed by Joseph Kony, the leader of an international (although the video focuses primarily on Uganda) guerilla group by the name of the Lord’s Resistance Army with hopes that this awareness will result in more American support ultimately leading to his arrest.

Despite the video being the subject of this blog post, my goal is to focus on the viral nature of the video and the Kony 2012 campaign, and not to get into a political discussion about Joseph Kony or the Invisible Children organization.

Although the overall the message of this video is important, I am surprised by the amount of viewers given the length of the video. Although “most viral videos are longer than 60 seconds” as cited by GeniusRocket’s 2008 presentation entitled “Emerging Trends in Viral Video and the Implications for Advertising”, I still think they are typically under the 3-4 minute range. In the age of quick video clips, I find it surprising that 65 million people found 30 minutes to view it on YouTube alone. Perhaps this is an old way of thinking, but the old television model bases commercials, placement of commercial breaks, and show plotlines based on the short attention span of its viewers. Although this content is shocking, it is certainly not the typical type of pop culture entertainment many seek online, so I am impressed by not only the amount of viewers, but the short ramp up time required to garner that amount of viewers. The video was viewed by 65 million viewers on YouTube alone in the time span of 2 weeks. Within the first 72 hours, 43 million viewers had already seen the video.

It is notable that this is not Invisible Children’s first attempt at a viral video. However, despite the length, which I feel would detract from the video’s ability to go viral, the organization did a few key things, which I attribute to the video’s success.

Medium Change from Vimeo to YouTube

Although the video was uploaded both on Vimeo and on YouTube where they were successful, the majority of viewers came from the YouTube upload and not from Vimeo which is the player they choose to integrate into the website. I believe that more of the views were on YouTube because it is more widely used and Vimeo is more directed towards a niche audience of artists and filmmakers.

In addition to video sharing websites in particular, large online message boards picked up coverage. Several days after the video’s release it was submitted to Reddit, and after gaining a position on its homepage, the entirety of Reddit’s population had direct exposure to the video. The importance of this placement on the Reddit network in particular is not only its large community but the emphasis on discussion. The discourse of the video among its members indirectly led to more exposure of the video outside of its network.

Targeting Celebrities to Spread the Message/Video

A major part of the Kony 2012 campaign was that it asked not just average Internet users to share, but asked those people to be vocal with celebrities with large internet following to share on social networks like Twitter. When these celebrities with millions of followers share the message it in turn amplified to millions of more people. Examples of notable celebrities that amplified the Kony 2012 campaign include Justin Bieber, Bill Gates, and Senator Patrick Leahy. For example Justin Bieber called upon his 18 million followers to share the video via this tweet:

Controversial Organization and Messaging

The specific messaging of this video also had a huge impact on the viewers desire to share. First, the message of the video promoted that all one had to do to make a difference is share the video, assuming this would increase donations through the purchase of their campaign kit which would be used to spread the word even more. People felt encouraged to share because it made them feel good about themselves and that we were helping the cause through the simple and fast act of sharing.

In addition, because of the controversial nature and media exposure, average people viewed the video to keep up on current events and weigh in on message boards, like Reddit, with their own opinion. This controversy surrounding the video and Invisible Children may additionally lengthened the exposure of the video rather than having it die away more rapidly.

All of these factors, in my mind, helped make this video go viral and become the global phenomenon it has become, it a matter of days. Ultimately, the real question becomes if merely sharing a video will impact legislation to stop Kony. Some feel that bringing attention to an issue is not enough to impact the issue. I feel that bringing attention to the issue will definitely garner donations/support for Invisible children, and that, in turn, will put pressure on political groups to take action. What do you think?

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