If you haven't already seen "Kony 2012," you should—not only because of its message but also because it's probably going to be one of the most successful viral videos of the year.
The video sheds light on how Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa has, for decades, been kidnapping thousands of children—reportedly 66,000 of them—and forcing them to do atrocious things like kill, rape, and maim fellow citizens.
The fact that the video has been viewed more than 69 million times (last time I checked) in the last week is impressive. For one thing, it’s 30 minutes long and YouTube viewers aren’t exactly known for their long attention spans.
For anyone who has a point to make, “Kony 2012” demonstrates the key elements that make a video go viral:
Touch the heartstrings. So many elements in this film do that, from the director’s adorable son to the film’s star, the African boy who chokes up when remembering how his brother was murdered as he watched. Granted, not every cause involves the same level of human drama and anguish, but you can—and should—make your message personal and use real people to tell the story.
Make it simple. Yes, the geo-political story in Africa is complex, but when you tell it to a little kid (as the film’s director does), it seems remarkably simple: There’s a really bad guy out there hurting kids and he needs to be stopped. (It should be noted, however, that some groups have argued that the video oversimplifies the message.)
Give it an expiration date. This isn’t something that’s going to hang out on YouTube forever. 2012 is the year Invisible Children, the charity behind the film, wants to see Kony captured. It’s an effective tactic because it keeps the momentum on this issue rolling. People want to be involved in something happening now, not a stale video that everyone was watching two years ago.
Make it actionable. What’s makes people want to share Kony 2012 is the feeling there’s actually something you can do to effect change, such as stay up all night on April 20 and plaster your city with posters or contact influencers and politicians who can use their leverage to capture Kony.
Make the most of social media. I discovered Kony 2012 recently after somebody responded to my tweet about interviewing an influential entrepreneur. Then I spent a half an hour watching the video. Then my husband did. Then my teenage son did. Then I posted the YouTube link on Facebook. And many, many others are doing the same.
But what’s particularly effective about the Kony 2012 campaign is the fact that the website makes it easy to contact high-profile culturemakers like Oprah and Angelina Jolie or policymakers such as former presidents George W. Bush or Bill Clinton. Just click on one of their photos and you can send a tweet to them. As Kony 2012 points out, when an elected official receives 25 phone calls on an issue they take notice. Imagine what can happen when they receive thousands of tweets.
“We are living in a new world, Facebook world, in which 750 million people share ideas, not thinking in borders. It’s a global community, bigger than the U.S. Joseph Kony was committing crimes for 20 years and no one cared. We care,” says one commentator in the film.