your viral strategy worked . . . good news or bad news?

It’s been educational to watch reactions to Invisible Children’s viral video campaign, Kony2012. I’m sure that unless you’re just back from a 3-week dog-sledding expedition across Antarctica, you’re up-to-speed on the Kony2012 video.

But just to be sure, here’s a link to the video that started it all. (As I write, the video has 78,176,891 views on YouTube — the views are going up as I’m writing so I’m not even going to try for accurate — just round down to 78 million; and between the time I wrote and posted this blog, the video appears to have been blocked on YouTube due to some question about copyright infringement).

The timeline goes something like this: video released!

Tons and tons of views, press, attention, kudos, Facebook “shares” . . . and then the inevitable backlash. Followed by backlash against the backlash . . . more backlash and the inevitable “fun-poking” backlashing.

Invisible Children responded to critics, fairly well it seems to me (without making judgments on their work).

Critics complained, explained and reasoned.

The video was shown in Uganda, of all places, where apparently it was not a big hit.

And on it goes.

I’d prefer not to debate the validity of the Kony2012 video or the validity of Invisible People’s work or their promotional efforts or the way they allocate their organization’s expenses.

What I do find interesting for the Oneicity tribe is how the more widely the video was seen — the broader the reach — the greater the critique.

I really don’t know much about the issue (still) but I strongly suspect that it’s complex and multi-faceted. The lesson for us is that if you want a viral campaign, something that’s going to reach beyond your newsletter and the typical fundraising/marketing effort, be prepared (and prepare your boss) for a little backlash.

No matter what you do, if you gather attention and get people talking about your cause, they may not say EXACTLY what you want. If you want to control the message, stick to direct mail. Direct mail is infinitely controllable, measurable and safe (we do a lot of direct mail, we know that strategy well).

But if you’re going to swing for the fence and try to get some strangers talking about you, you will not be able to control everything they say. That’s not a bad thing. It’s only a problem if you’re surprised by it.

Here’s a non-Kony example of what I’m talking about. At SXSW, the techno/music/hipster/social media conference in Austin,
human hotspots were featured (these are homeless people who functioned as 4g hotspots (I think they were 4g, maybe 3g, that’s not the point).

No surprise, human or homeless hotspots gathered mixed reactions. Some thought it was great — it brought awareness to an issue. Others thought it was dehumanizing and soul-less.

My point? Homelessness is a complex issue. I know more about this one and I’ll say, it’s not easy, and there are a variety of opinions on causes and solutions.

So, the greater the reach the more the conversation . . . and the more the criticism. Here’s your quotable line: the greater the reach, the hotter the heat.

As you think about taking the conversation about your ministry outside the walls of your newsletter, understand that everyone won’t love you. In fact, some are going to be sure you’re really going about things in the wrong way.

And the only way to avoid that criticism is to just stay in your little box and not make waves. Me? I’m OK making waves. Besides, I really think you can stand a little critique and a little heat. You’re doing good work. But don’t be surprised. In fact, be excited. As one of my buddies in Texas used to say, “Dogs only bark at moving cars.”

What do you think? Did you follow the Kony2012 campaign? What about homeless hotspots? What do you think about that? And finally, what do you think about my thinking that the greater the reach the greater the heat? You know I love to know what you think.


Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: jurvetson)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

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