by Aaron Lester

How to Make Your Viral Video Go ‘Kony2012’ Crazy

May 16, 20126 mins
CIOCollaboration SoftwareMarketing

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 s쳮d.

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

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.

To be sure, not every video goes viral. And not every organization that gains some notoriety through a well-made video will be put under a magnifying glass.

But when companies tell personal stories, people listen and listen closely. Companies may even have to withstand the kind of personal and organizational scrutiny Russell and Invisible Children faced in the weeks following the release of Kony 2012.

Being prepared is not a new idea. In many ways preparing for a social media campaign is the same as traditional public relations risk management. But what is new is the speed information travels and the magnitude of people online videos can reach, Engleman says.

Social media–iincluding video–require transparency, Engelman says. “And if you’re going to be transparent, you’d better be buff.”

Be Prepared to Go Viral

“You’ve got to be ready to step into the sunlight.”

Along with transparency, companies launching social media campaigns need to be prepared to accurately measure success and fend off technical glitches that may come with a surge in online traffic.

Viewers of Kony 2012 ignited social networks at an unprecedented rate. The #StopKony hashtag used on Twitter, for example, had 12,000 tweets per ten minutes at the height of the events, according to SocialFlow, a social media optimization and analytics firm.

But pageviews and Twitter mentions shouldn’t be the only measure of success, says Jason Ricci, CIO of the Energy Foundation. “It’s all about engagement for me.”

Along with traditional metrics, Ricci recommends tracking how many viewers watched the video from beginning to end. How many only watched half? Or less? He also says analysts should monitor when viewers click away from the video. Is there something specific in your campaign that’s driving viewers away?

But most importantly, says Ricci, CIOs need to be at the table during the social media campaign planning process. Many times “there’s just not enough coordination between the CIO and the marketing side,” he says.

If the goal is a surge in attention and traffic, the CIO needs to prepare his or her team. There would be no greater failure than to be ill prepared when your video goes viral, Ricci says.

“IT is no longer just a cost center that makes sure the plumbing’s working and the lights are on,” he says. “CIOs can’t be involved with everything, but they’re the ones who connect the ones and zeros with the business as a whole.”

A CIO-CMO Partnership is Key

When a video marketing campaign goes viral, we all jump for joy. Right? You may have reason to cheer, but only if you’ve done due diligence, something easier said than done.

Online video, social media and mobile computing have fundamentally changed the way companies interact with their customers. To harness the value of these innovations, CIOs and chief marketing officers must attain a new level of collaboration.

If the goal of a viral video campaign, for example, is to attract a surge of attention, traffic and even revenue, then the CIO and CMO both need to be in on the planning process. There would be no greater failure than to be ill-prepared when your video goes viral, says Jason Ricci, CIO of the Energy Foundation. But many times “there’s just not enough coordination between the CIO and the marketing side,” he says.

Kony-level social outreach work pushes both IT and marketing out of their comfort zones and forces them to adopt a more flexible approach, says analyst Nigel Fenwick of Forrester Research. But often both departments hesitate to reach out to each other because they think they’re incompatible.

“IT thinks marketing is an art, not a science,” Fenwick says. And IT is often accused of using technobabble. “IT staff need to learn the language of marketing in order to be taken seriously by marketers.”

Another challenge CMOs and CIOs face is that IT tends to work on a much longer schedule. Marketing works in campaign cycles, which have become faster and faster, adapting to the pace of social media. IT is used to moving more cautiously, fearing a systemwide failure.

In the age of the empowered consumer, companies get almost constant feedback from consumers. But the real value of this, says Fenwick, “is being able to connect the dots and drive value for the business.”

Aaron Lester is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts.