3 min Read
March 9, 2012

#Kony2012—Can we fix Africa through Social Media?

Meghan Teich

If you have spent seven seconds on the internet this week, you’ve probably seen something about a campaign called #StopKony2012. The campaign, run by Invisible Children, aims to make a Ugandan warlord named Joseph Kony famous enough to ensure his capture and arrest for crimes against humanity.

It took off like wildfire across Facebook and Twitter, and has amassed almost as many critics as views. I could fill up several other blog posts writing about the controversies this video has ignited. Is it the future of nonprofit campaigning? Or just a textbook case of slacktivism? Regardless of how the video makes you feel, there are a few lessons to be learned that can be applied to any nonprofit campaign. Here’s what I’ve learned.

1. Content really is king. With millions of videos posted to YouTube every day, most barely register a blip on anyone’s radar (unless there’s a cat involved). The Kony video is a remarkable 30 minutes long, which breaks every rule in the do-gooder video handbook. When’s the last time you watched a video online that was more than a minute or two? I’ll admit, I didn’t think I’d make it past the first few minutes, but I was drawn in immediately. It’s slick, well-produced, and compelling enough to hold the attention of an astonishing 50 million people (and counting). Filmmaking is their strength, and it shows, but that shouldn’t discourage you from dipping your toes into the world of video – learn from what this video does well, and start small.

2. Position yourself and own it. In an interview with the New York Times, the co-founder of Invisible Children, Jason Russell, said, “We view ourself as the Pixar of human rights stories.” That speaks volumes about the kind of communication they’re producing – and shows them going against the all-too-common trend of nonprofits holding themselves to different standards than for-profits. Why not strive be the Apple of cancer research? Or the Google of immigration reform? There’s a lot our sector can learn from studying some of the world’s most innovative and successful companies and applying their best practices to our work.

3. Show the How. Is there anything more daunting than being told about a huge problem (say, world hunger, or a natural disaster) and not knowing the first thing you can do to make a difference? This is where many nonprofit campaigns fail to make a splash. The Stop Kony video has a very clear theory of change (regardless of how tenuous its connection to reality might be). It states the problem (Joseph Kony is dangerous and needs to be captured), shows what progress has been made (the US has already sent troops to help the Ugandan army), creates urgency (those troops might soon be recalled or lose funding), and tells me exactly what I can do to make an impact (tweet or purchase an action kit to keep the spotlight on Kony). After watching, I felt as though I could immediately do my part in creating change. A problem that might feel overwhelming is suddenly very easy to understand. I’m not saying their theory is the soundest, but it’s certainly one of the best examples of igniting action I’ve encountered in any nonprofit communication.

Want to read more about it? This blog post on is one of the best breakdowns I’ve read so far, and the New York Times has posted two articles about the campaign, which you can read here and here.

What do you think about the Stop Kony campaign? Will you be using any of their tactics for your campaigns?