The Kony 2012 Video Forces Us to Pay Attention: What Nonprofits Are Learning

By on Thursday, March 22, 2012

There is an interesting article this week in the New York Times about nonprofits learning from the overnight success of Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 video. With 84 million plus views, the video has netted donations, media attention and actions for Invisible Children, and even a response from Ugandan government. Here’s the video:

The video is long at about 30 minutes, but it holds attention because it tells a very human story with universal elements that many can relate to. It showcases the desire to make the world better for one’s children, grief over the death of a family member, a promise to make things better that are unjust, and an invitation to join a movement for change that is time-limited and offers a solution.

The video has also sparked a flurry of discussion and criticism – with dueling bloggers on Huffington Post arguing over whether the video can spark real change, opinions columns and blog posts galore, tabloid coverage of the filmmaker’s bizarre mental break, and yes, the envy of the nonprofit world (noted in the New York Times).

What does it have to teach nonprofits?

  • Personalized storytelling is highly effective at pulling viewers into a story – showing the journey of one activist and one survivor – showing a bigger issue through their lense – helps people understand the passion behind a cause. If people can understand how a bigger problem impacts one person, they can understand how it impacts thousands of people.
  • You don’t always have to be short – we would typically advise a nonprofit creating a video for YouTube to stay under 10 minutes, even under 5 minutes. This video is nearly 30 minutes long and it’s captivating because of its narrative.
  • Tell people why they should care  – This videos talks about a big problem that may seem far away to many of the people it’s trying to reach, but it connects people to that cause – both thru technology and thru appealing to a generation and ultimately, who the viewer aspires to be, as a person. It’s powerful stuff.
  • Outline action steps people can take to help – It’s not enough to just raise awareness about a problem. People need concrete steps that they can take to do something, after they are interested in helping.

Is the film simplistic? Yes. Does it offer real solutions? It certainly leans more heavily on a military or political solution, but it does talk about helping child soldiers build new lives through education. Does it come across as neocolonial? To some people, yes. Does it stir people out of apathy and into connection with a cause greater than themselves? Yes.

Come what may – the film is doing what it was intended to do – getting us to sit up and take notice.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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