How to Make Your Viral Video Go 'Kony2012' Crazy

That Kony2012 viral video achieved historic numbers. But if your CMO is gunning for big-time online marketing campaigns, they need the CIO's help to succeed.

By Aaron Lester
Wed, May 16, 2012

CIO — Anyone who has spent time trolling social networks, reading a newspaper or just browsing the Internet recently has probably heard of Kony 2012, the mega-viral cause, marketing video that seemed to pop up out of nowhere and captured the attention of millions.

What made the Kony video go viral? What is the return on investment? And how should CIOs prepare for a social video campaign?

Why Kony Worked and Why it Didn't

Kony 2012 was the brainchild of Jason Russell, filmmaker and cofounder of San Diego-based Invisible Children, a group whose intent is to end the violence of Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony through mass awareness--in short, to make Kony a household name.

By that measure, the so-called social documentary was an unqualified success. In just six days the video garnered over 100 million views, making it the most viral video in history, according to Visible Measures, a social video analytics firm.

But in the days following the video's viral explosion, Invisible Children took hits from critics who said the video misstated the facts about the current level of violence in Uganda, and the relative threat of his militia forces, among other claims. And because of the personal nature of the video, Russell himself took some fairly personal hits.

Then Russell suffered from what his family called a "brief reactive psychosis" brought on by extreme exhaustion, stress, and dehydration. The episode was caught on video and plastered on the gossip website TMZ.com.

Though it's unclear the details behind Russell's unfortunate public episode, it is certain that the success of the video placed him in the public view in a way perhaps he was not expecting.

Along with Invisible Children's long-cultivated throng of young supporters who were more than willing and able to share the video across the Web using social networks, like Facebook and Twitter, the success of Kony 2012 as a film hinged on three factors, according to Michael Hoffman, chief executive of See3 Communications, a firm that specializes in activating audiences through online video.

First, Russell told his own story. He made it personal. Second, he made the story simple. And last, he made the viewer the hero.

"Kony 2012 reflected back to us what we want to see in ourselves," says Hoffman. And what we want to see in ourselves is passion--the passion to do what is right. "Every company should have that passion," and be able to share that passion with their audience, he says.

But if you're going to tell such a personal story, be prepared, says Dorothy Engelman, senior partner at Q Communications in Toronto.

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