Kony 2012: Awareness is great. Now what?

In the wake of the Kony 2012 viral video I started thinking about the role of awareness, or more specifically, what happens next.

There are more ways than ever to get your name and message out there. However, more and more it seems that just being able to grab eyeballs, even for a second or two is the goal. “Success” is measured by YouTube views, followers and friends.

So although I’m not sure that we need another blog about the whole Kony 2012 thing, I’m going to tackle it anyway. You see I might be in the minority, but I’m not a fan. I’m not a fan of the idea, of the execution or the result.

As agencies mull what they can “learn” from the campaign, and analysts comment on the geo-political and socio-political ramifications, and the hype about the number of tweets and yards of media coverage, I’d like to know what has really been accomplished? Or perhaps all those things are the point?

It sure hasn’t been all upside for the organisation Invisible Children, who sponsored the campaign. The increased scrutiny has led to questions about how they use their funds, which in itself is a lesson for organisations – when embarking on public campaigns it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve got your house in order because people will look.

And just this week the very public meltdown of one of the founders of Invisible Children has shown yet another downside of the “fame” video he produced has bought – with his personal actions now also considered “news”.

Those questions aside, my biggest issue is with the promise the campaign makes. Getting young people, who are notoriously reluctant to engage, to pay attention to something not pop culture based, is quite a feat. Getting them to put aside their micro-attention spans and keep paying attention past the next “viral” thing will be a challenge. Getting them out from behind their “devices” and actually taking action (as opposed to checking out YouTube) may prove next to impossible.

So when nothing changes, when in six months or 12 months Kony is still alive and kidnapping children (because in all likelihood he will be), what then? When the next warlord on the list gets his turn in the sun, when the next atrocity is highlighted, will people run to their computers to watch and tweet – or will they remember that last time nothing happened and go about their day? The social media equivalent of the “boy who cried wolf”?

When the promise (explicit or implicit) of “come with me and together we can change this” proves impossible to keep, when as US comedian Bill Maher points out, this is just the first step, what then?

A flash of awareness is great. Sustained awareness that translates into action and results is something else entirely (this controversial article by Malcom Gladwell is worth reading). To be clear – I do think 100 million eyeballs are a kind of accomplishment. 100 million people clicked on something and were… mad, surprised, horrified, sad, moved. 100 million people were able to bear a kind of witness to a horrible situation – and that’s important.

But I have to wonder how many will take the next step. Download posters. Actually go out and put them up somewhere (and maybe that’s another issue with the campaign – advocating for defacing public property). Keep the conversation going. Contact their members of government and ask them to act. Take a stand. Man a protest line. Make a donation. Make a real difference.

Because 100 million eyeballs are great. But unless they translate into continued action by the rest of the person attached to them, then all that’s happened is Kony is now a very famous warlord – and Kony 2012 is the Ugandan equivalent of a Lady Gaga music video (which also has over 100 million views on YouTube).

Awareness is great. Now what?

See you next week.


Michel Hogan is an independent adviser and advocate dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes the Brand Alignment blog. You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan.


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