Joseph Kony wasn't exactly a household name a week ago, but now more than 100 million people know his sweaty face and many of his dirty secrets.
The Ugandan warlord responsible for displacing and murdering thousands was featured in a controversial 30-minute video by Invisible Children (IC), viewed more than 112 million times around the world as of Monday—faster than any video to date.
The footage, which summarizes part of the central African human rights battle, has angered millions and stirred many millions more. Analytics company Visible Measures labels it the “most viral video" ever.
Invisible Children’s aim is to make Ugandan guerrilla warlord Joseph Kony and his crimes "infamous" by asking viewers to use social media and contact influential U.S. figures.
Guilt, accusations and political stances aside, what made this video spread faster than wildfire?
The plight of Uganda, Sudan and other African countries engaged in civil wars isn't new, but unlike many nonprofits, Invisible Children seemed to consider fame more valuable than a monetary donation. In less than 24 hours, Kony and IC were the top trending topics on Twitter and wreaking havoc on blogs worldwide. The entire campaign, from the website to the opening shot of the video or the trending topics (e.g. #STOPKONY) beg the viewer to ask “What is going on?”
The entire movement has taken on the appearance of a presidential candidate’s campaign and released the Monday before Super Tuesday.
This movie was written for media-consumed Americans, not Africans (which is probably why it was so offensive and “holey” to many central Africans). The story was quick, dramatic, and encouraged a few small steps for the viewers to make them feel a part of the action. It’s undeniable that appealing to the heartstrings of social savvy Americans began a tidal movement that may not have been possible without a culture immersed in media.
Invisible Children was hoping to “inspire Western youth to do more than just watch.” In reality, IC asked millions of people to do exactly what they already do all day long—use social media—for a cause. The success is in making the viewer feel accomplished with minimal “cost," a classic marketing move: share the link, e-mail, tweet a celebrity, retweet, donate, buy a kit, show up to Cover The Night, contact a politician, sign a pledge or talk to friends. All of these things cost the viewer or participant a matter of seconds in some cases, which is an ideal setup for creating a reduced viral loop cycle, or “the steps a user goes through between entering the site to inviting the next set of users.”
As and social apps have proven, peer-to-peer sharing is the most effective type of promotion, rather than paid promotions and advertising campaigns directly from corporations. We trust our friends and if they invite us to watch something, we’re actually very likely to do it.
According to social media guru, Dan Zarrella, “In social communications, typically trust comes from authority (a well known news source) or social proof: obvious signs that many of a person’s peers also trust the message.” As more and more people post about a topic, the more people begin to take notice and feel it is acceptable to support the movement. And according to the film, "there are more people on Facebook than there were on the planet 200 years ago," of which IC has made good use.
Already, Invisible Children seem to have proven their opening words. An idea can be powerful indeed.