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Kony 2012: Social Media ‘Slacktivism’ at its finest

Jul 5, 2012

By Christian Williams, Social Media and Visibility Specialist

slacktivism  /’slaktiviz(ǝ)m / noun, informal: actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social networking website

Alright, I’ll admit it. I’ve been a slacktivist. I think many of us are guilty of that.

In early March 2012, after watching a 30-minute Kony 2012 documentary produced by non-profit organization Invisible Children Inc., I posted the video on my Facebook page with the following statement: “Two words: I’m in.”

The following day, I hopped into the campaign to stop Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony. I made plans to attend a screening of the documentary on my college campus. I joined Facebook groups dedicated to the cause. I debated and argued with skeptics who thought the campaign was a sham. I even offered to organize a Cover the Night event in the Coral Gables area with huge Kony 2012 posters.

April 20th came, and I was not in Coral Gables. I was in my residence hall at FIU, finishing a paper. From what I could see on Facebook, barely any of my friends that had previously ‘dedicated themselves to the cause’ were putting posters up at neighborhoods around Miami-Dade County. They were at work, at home, dancing it up in nightclubs.

In other words, they weren’t engaged in the Kony 2012 cause.

The viral video garnered over 86 million views of the video on YouTube, and the Twitter hashtag #StopKony was a trending topic for weeks. The video especially hit a chord with college students like me. Yet Kony 2012 soon became known as the internet sensation that took the social media landscape by storm, but then failed to deliver the action it was supposed to create.

So what happened?

Life happened.

A quick poll of my friends on Twitter gave me some insight as to why they – personally – dropped the campaign.

“It was fake. A set-up, I believe.” (@__Mo)

“[The] publicity for it died? There was no constant flow of information on what they were doing.” (@MsJanisV)

“[Jason Russell’s] public display of affection if you know what I mean.” (@katinreallife)

A couple of different reasons played a factor in ultimate demise of the campaign, and the lessons learned can be valuable to any non-profit.

We couldn’t see the issue. According to Invisible Children’s Wikipedia page, “the group seeks to put an end to the practices of the [Lord’s Resistance Army], which include abductions and abuse of children, and forcing them to serve as soldiers.” But because the conflict is happening in Uganda, many people outside of Africa – especially in Europe and the Americas – don’t see the conflict going on. People are willing to work for causes that they know affect the community around them. They can donate to the organization (the Kony campaign generated millions of dollars in donations), but there is little they can really do to contribute to the cause in other tangible ways.

The planned ‘action’ was too far away from the call. The Kony 2012 video debuted in early March, and the date set for the Cover the Night events worldwide was April 20th. That is a full month-and-a-half gap in between the call to action and the actual event; it is very easy to lose interest in a cause when the planned date for action is so far away. The events would have been dramatically more successful if they would have taken place before the hype died down.

The video’s creator went off the deep end. In the media industry, anything you do is open for the public’s viewing pleasure… or displeasure. So when the Kony 2012 documentary’s director, Jason Russell, had a very PUBLIC meltdown on a San Diego street just two weeks after the video was released, it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. While the reasons behind the meltdown were unknown at the time, the meltdown was publicized and everyone that had seen the Kony video heard about it.

So what lessons can nonprofits learn from Kony 2012? It’s very clear that social media can help causes – but it can also hinder them.

Make your mark locally, nationally, globally. Take great care to ensure that the people you are recruiting to assist in your campaign are educated and invested in your cause. A 30-minute video won’t cut it. Get them to come to a workshop, or send them more information by email or snail mail. Get them to solidify their support.

Make your mark fast. If you are planning an event for your cause, make sure it takes place soon after your social media campaign. There’s no point in your campaign if it doesn’t get them to the event.

And, whatever you do, make sure your figureheads don’t have a public meltdown.

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