What I’ve Got: Kony 2012

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In one of the most unusual twists in charitable history, the Kony 2012 video rocked the world as the single most viral video of all time (“virality” measured by the fastest video to reach 100 million views, which Kony did in an astonishing six days).

So what made this so viral? Like Gangnam Style, there are many speculations, but the biggest key is its ability to tell a story that resonates. There were a number of powerful (and very simple) storytelling elements at work here: the tale of an unequivocally “evil” antagonist, the quick and aggressive theatrical cuts, the added resonance of using a white child as a metaphor for individual impact, the constant references to Facebook (where most people were viewing the video) and the value of spreading an idea, the incessant calls to action to share the video and take action to “finish the story”. Most of all, it was simply entertaining.

The story was powerful enough to sweep you up, and forward enough to draw you into action – particularly since “action” was just a share away. Facebook news feeds became flooded with shares, and you could tell that this was an unusual case of activism simply by the unlikely people who were reposting. This was all magnified by the very specific deadline that gave viewers a sense of urgency in getting involved (and early-adopters a sense of pride on being involved early).

Sadly, though the video might have been timely in terms of its ability to opportunistically tap into the psyche of Facebook users, the timeliness of the content was misguided. Kony had long since left Uganda and his impact was not likely worth the multi-million-dollar manhunt that the video helped spur. Meanwhile, the stress of the viral success led one of the co-founders to go a little bit crazy. Invisible Children may not have been the poster child to attain such rapid success, but it certainly illustrates the potential to create content that engages people to take action for charitable causes.

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