The “goodness”-industry on the social media battleground

“Keeping your friends close but keeping your enemy even closer” seem to be the mantra that NGO should be following when battling it out on the social media scene.

Kony 2012 viral video

How come that millions can be mobilised in just a few hours on a problem in Africa that have mostly been forgotten for the past 20 years. The Kony 2012 campaign to get rid of the Uganda warlord has at this time (17 o’clock local Copenhagen) reached 55’000’0000 views. More people than all the Scandinavian countries put together and far more views than even the best rock bands can hope to achieve even with the best of songs. How come that in a time where politics and politicians seem further and further away from the people that have elected them, is possible to create a social movement in a matter of hours.

For one it cause is uncontroversial. We can all agree that the rape of children or being forced take up arms against your own family and mutilating others are bad. And when we even have a personification of there atrocities in the form of a concrete named person it makes it even easier for the many to come together. In contrast it would be much harder to create one consistent image if we had had to relate to multiple issues like the ones in Libya, Syria or even Iran. So hating Kony is easy because it does not force us to make nuanced decisions or relate to alternatives that might distort our image of evil.

The media also plays a significant part in the success of the campaign. We have witnessed activist consumers before, like in the case of Dow Chemical in Vietnam or Shell and the dumping of Brent spare in the North Sea. But with social media and the possibilities within viral videos, it is possible to communicate easy, fast and not least with a great deal of media richness to a very big audience. Within normal communication you substitute speed with quality and the amount of information you can put into one piece of communication. However, with the use of social media one can distribute information with high levels of richness at a fraction of what the cost of the media just ten years ago. The trade-off is that within the 30 minutes that you have to communicate, one often does not have room for more than one overall message. (e.g. Evil vs. Good/Innocence)

Social media might make it easy to get your message out. However, it is just as easy for competing communication and not least your competitors to try and top your latest viral campaign. One element of communication, that many forget, is that they are working on a competitive market. That even though that the viral message is out there for all too see, it have to compete with many other messages that in its characteristics looks very much the same as any other consumer market.

The interesting thing about the Kony 2012 campaign is that the video does not just need to survive in terms of competing with other messages out there, but also attacks that is meant to destroy your campaign all together.  Already there are organisations like Red Cross, Action aid Denmark and others who have attacked the campaign for exploiting the African conflict to their own ends. In effect attacking the production of another provider in the “goodness”-industry.

On the commercial market it is only very seldom we see these kinds of initiatives and responses to a product launch. But in the world of NGO, CSO and governmental aid organisations it is more the rule, that when a competing organisation launches a fundraiser or mobilisation campaign that it is immediately attacked. Not from the intended target, but from organisations in the same line of business.

I have no idea if the Kony 2012 campaign will be successful and if the warlord in Uganda will be put to trail. But it is amazing to see that the main challenges does not come from Kony himself or from struggles to get room in the complex media picture, but that it comes from organisations that have basically the same purpose and reason for operating.

These links are just a selection on what is out there primarily debating the sender rather then the message.

6 thoughts on “The “goodness”-industry on the social media battleground

  1. Some facts here: Kony is currently in operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic and South Sudan. The militia originally hails from Uganda, other side of the continent to Nigeria.

    I, for one, do not belong to any organisation which has a stake in Ugandan society nor in the fight against Joseph Kony. I belong to the group of people which Invisible People are targeting with their campaign: educated Western youth who use the Internet. I am adding facts and nuance in my blogpost, much of which is missing in the campaign video. If we can’t have a discussion about the context of social media campaigns, then what is the point of engaging with civil society and trying to get people to care, particularly when the aims of the Invisible Children organisation is add more fuel to a fire in Central Africa which could have even more devastating consequences for the region?

    • Thanks for the input and sry for the country mistake. I quite agree with your comments. I think it is quite strange that you have a good cause with a strong message and then the messenger is attacked. It would seem more to the benefit of all if other organizations supported the invisible children campaign rather than attack.

      The african region have a multitude of issues from HIV/AIDS, famine, floods, civil war, trafficking, etc. the list is sadly very long and is continuing to grow. In order to get people interetsted I think that it will properly be through single cause campaigning, that breaks down the central issues into mentally manageable parts that people can relate to. I think that this is properly the point that the campaign critiques miss when they contact the press in order to get their take on the challenges in Africa.

  2. However there also is the problem that you can simplify an issue down to the bare bones and make it overly simplistic in order to get a strong message. Even what you say above with the ‘African region’ speaks so much about certain problems with the Western conceptualisation of Africa. It is a continent, there are 54 sovereign states some of which are suffering from the problems you listed above, others which are trying their hardest to deal with them and some of them are succeeding.

    The message with the StopKony campaign is that while the overall aim is good and single cause campaigns may be the way forward, this campaign dumbs the issue down, calls for further militarisation and completely contradicts the messages calling for peace-building, rehabilitation and the rebuilding of Northern Ugandan society by other NGOs. Not every NGO or development worker agrees with the solutions being offered by Invisible Children, and can recognise that more is needed for stability in Central African than taking Kony in front of the ICC. Single issues campaigns which can recognise the complexities and nuances of the issue are what are needed, not patronising drivel as in Kony2012.

    Then again, how about we actually ask what Ugandans want instead of directing the resolution of a complicated conflict from the West?

    • Of cause something can be made so simple that the messages gets lost in fancy rhetoric and catchphrases. So its a thin line that the campaign communicators needs to stay on.

      But looking at the campaign as part of a marketing campaign for a single cause (somewhat similar to a single product) it is a very interesting response from the competitors. Instead of coming up with a even better message (or product) they attack the very credibility of the NGO itself. In the long run this means all credibility of future campaigning by NGOs will be undermined because people will no longer believe that single cause campaigning can be trusted. Would you believe in future a message if you knew that the Invisible Children Campaign in 2012 was a fraud? as some its critiques claim. I do not say that one should not critisze if something is wrong in the message itself but that is not what they do. Instead they go after the organization and in turn their own ability to reach the same audience in future campaigns to come.

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