Tag Archives: advertising

Kony 2012

The unintended consequences of going #viral

Kony 2012When you craft a message, you generally have a target, or audience, in mind. You probably also have an agenda, or goal, that you wish to achieve, such as awareness, education or a call to action. And both the message and the agenda are typically driven by both your own ideas and those embraced by your target audience. Your message must match your audience, or it’s difficult for them to embrace it.

If all works well, your message is received by your audience and your agenda and goals met by their actions and response. But we live in the age of pervasive communications where your message has the ability to go viral, to spread like wildfire around the globe – not just through one medium, but through many. It may be shared on dozens of different “new media” social networking sites, it may be emailed around the world, it may even be featured (or the viral spread of it) in traditional media (broadcast, print) or their online hybrid counterparts (tra-digital media).

Reaching an audience beyond your intended audience has consequences

In the end, your carefully crafted message goes well beyond your target market and reaches a much larger group of people that you never intended to be part of your audience. If you are trying to build/energize a community, you may find yourself with a mob, on a global scale.


Take the case of the Kony 2012 campaign. It’s a documentary film about Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Liberation Army (if you haven’t seen it, you should). Starting in Northern Uganda, Kony (a man  indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court) has, over a period close to 30 years, maimed, killed and enslaved children (some put the estimate at 66,000) into military service to support his cause. His reign of terror has moved well beyond the Ugandan borders into the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, and the South Sudan.


The documentary was created by the Invisible Children organization with what appears to be all the right intent, including a humanitarian agenda, a desire to raise awareness of, and funding for, those who suffered at Kony’s hands, and to ensure (from the Kony 2012 website):

  • “That Joseph Kony is known as the World’s Worst War Criminal” and
  • “That U.S. and international efforts to stop Kony are bolstered with a more comprehensive strategy for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR).”

The target audience of the documentary, as evidenced by both the narrative and the logo (featuring the U.S. Republican and Democrat symbols), are centered in the U.S. and the political arena. And within that target, it had its desired result. But it didn’t end there.


This documentary, and the horrific crimes it highlighted, hit such a sensitive nerve with people (within its intended audience) that they leveraged pervasive communications to do what humans have always done since the beginning of time: THEY SHARED!

What started as a focused, but relatively unknown movement, went viral as the Kony 2012 documentary began to spread throughout the U.S. and the world. The Twitter hashtag #kony2012, for example, became a top trending item on Twitter at the peak of the viral distribution while Facebook showed an equally amazing number of shares and likes for the documentary (not to mention the publicity and momentum it gathered when national and international traditional media outlets began reporting on the viral spread of the documentary). In the process, it gained a level of global fame well beyond the producer’s original expectation as well as a global audience that didn’t fit the “target profile” of its original audience.

The result? A response that the producers were unprepared to handle (or at least well beyond what they expected to have to deal with). With increased awareness came both massive support (good) and increased scrutiny and negative pressure (bad). They also faced a global audience that was viewing a documentary film that wasn’t intended for them in the first place (including those in Northern Uganda). Yes, it was intended to help them, but culturally, it wasn’t intended for them to consume.


The western-oriented message simply didn’t fit the various non-western cultures that had access to the Kony 2012 campaign through its viral spread. While it has done a tremendous job at raising both awareness and funds to help Kony/LRA victims, it also became, for many, the wrong message for the wrong people, leading to questions about intent, accuracy and a resulting impact that was very different from the original, anticipated goal.300px-Ugandan_districts_affected_by_Lords_Resistance_Army

What started as a unified U.S. base of positive support has also led (through increased scrutiny) to those (and it is their right) who claim it oversimplifies a very complex issue, and takes mind-share away from other, more pressing problems that Ugandans, and others in Africa, face today, such as the debilitating nodding disease that is striking an alarming number of children in Uganda and the ongoing slave trade in Mauritania.  

It has also had a direct, non-desirable, impact, and intrusion, into the personal lives of those involved in the creation of the documentary.


This phenomenon will likely become increasingly common – especially when the primary means of distribution is social media – a content distribution & sharing medium that by its definition and role in pervasive communications knows no borders. None.

Content no longer knows or respects borders

If an idea, a documentary, or a story has the ability to generate a massive emotional response (either positive or negative), pervasive communications allows it to spread – to go viral -and there isn’t any way to stop it (again, this includes traditional mainstream media, digital/social media and tra-digital media). If the consequences of this viral spread are unanticipated, what begins as a proactive messaging activity can quickly become a reactive damage control operation.

What does this mean for cause-based content in the future? Ultimately, it places a much greater responsibility on choosing the “right” channel(s) within our pervasive communications network, as well as crafting messages that are either by their nature self-limiting or have universal appeal. The case could also be made for non-cause (i.e., commercial) content as well – pervasive communications doesn’t discriminate in its ability to impact a message, regardless of media.

Either way, what the Kony 2012 phenomenon has shown us is that the rules of content distribution that applied only a few short years ago no longer apply. It is a different world that we live in today, and we’re only just now beginning to understand the rules.





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Twitter’s Privacy Invasion (edited update)

NOTE: This is an edited excerpt from a prior post, highlighted here at the suggestion of a few readers who thought it worthy of its own individual post.

For a while now, Twitter has been testing its own t.co link shortener to shorten/wrap long URLs in private Direct Messages sent between users via their website (transparently to the user, btw – you can read more in their June 8th blog “Links and Twitter: Length Shouldn’t Matter“ – a blog that is hosted by Google’s Blogger network and that I doubt most Twitter users don’t even know exists). In a recent email to users, dated August 30, 2010, they explain that the use of t.co will be expanded to all messages, including those sent via 3rd party applications, and that the length of the shortened URL may vary based on the application/device the receiving user is using, to quote:

“A really long link such as http://www.amazon.com/Delivering-Happiness-Profits-Passion-Purpose/dp/0446563048http://t.co/DRo0trj might be wrapped as for display on SMS, but it could be displayed to web or application users as amazon.com/Delivering- or as the whole URL or page title.”

As a primarily TweetDeck user, the advantage is minimal to me – it already has a function that shows you what a shortened URL expands into. There is also a “post-click, pre-connect” malware check to ensure that you are not connecting to a bad site – again a feature that I already have in my browser.

But the way that they internally use the t.co link shortener is what causes me concern. All links, including those in private DMs (as well as those already shortened through services such as bit.ly which will be “wrapped” internally by Twitter in the t.co format), will be tracked on a per user/per click basis, allowing Twitter to create a data repository of what links you click, the type of content you are accessing – from news to product/vendor sites – and potentially who sent them. Their justification is “Twitter will log that click…to provide better and more relevant content to you over time.”

Sorry, Twitter, but I don’t need or want you to provide content to me. I follow people, not you, for content and conversations.  And I’m far from thrilled that you will now start keeping track of the links users click in the name of providing relevant content, which could be interpreted to mean anything from suggested users to follow to targeted advertising to whatever you decide is most profitable (it’s the “whatever” that concerns me, as this is potentially valuable marketing information that could be sold to/exploited by 3rd party groups).

Everybody understands that what you publicly post is public, but there is also an expectation of privacy with respect to Direct Messages that are not part of the public timeline, not searchable and not shared with 3rd-party search engines (a variation on their “protected tweets” theme). The thought of Twitter tracking content in private Direct Messages – which have become an alternative to quick email exchanges for many people – leaves me with a Facebook-like “invasion of privacy” feeling.

Will I stop using Twitter? No, its value still out-weighs its disadvantages. But I will start to view it in a different light and will probably be less inclined to click on sponsored or vendor-oriented links.


Why I think T-Ball and Social Marketing are alike

Sometimes it’s about winning, and sometimes it’s just about learning how to play the game.

My 6 year old son started his foray into organized sports this year with T-Ball. There are 13 kids on a team and everybody bats every inning (they play three). For most of the players, it’s the first time they’ve ever worn a team uniform (my son’s team is the Raptors). For others, it’s the first time that they’ve ever really swung a bat, or tried to catch a ball in a glove. It’s a learning experience for all of them, and more than anything else it’s fun – even when all 13 of them converge on the ball at the same time.

I’m fortunate to be able to help coach the team. I can’t imagine not being there at first base to help teach them the basics of a game that I don’t even fully understand.

But even though we’re not playing competitively at this point (we don’t count runs or outs – that will start next year after they’ve learned the basics), that still doesn’t stop at least half the team asking me every game “how many runs do we have?” or “did we win today?”

And that’s where we take a leap into Social Marketing.

I had the chance to query two companies this past week about their plans for establishing an active online presence in the “social media/network” space (think everything from Twitter to Facebook to LinkedIn, etc.). Both of these firms are well-established with brand names that are known beyond their own industries (i.e., they are not small or in the startup phase), and both have competitors that are already moving into the social space.

Interestingly, neither of these firms are particularly active in social marketing today, but for very different reasons. One has dabbled a bit in the space, but said that they couldn’t find a single instance where they had made money off of their efforts. The other has yet to step into the space at all, saying that they don’t yet understand the market and, while they have several different plans, they don’t want to move on anything until they fully understand the market and can figure out which of their plans is the “best” approach to take.

That said, my response to both firms was pretty much the same: marketing into the social space today isn’t really about scoring sales, it’s about learning the game. If you don’t play today, you won’t be able to play tomorrow, and let’s face it, social networks, as a “target”, are still an emerging opportunity for most industries. I don’t think that anybody has solved the complete equation for how it will provide a consistently positive return on investment over the next couple of years – even the social network firms are struggling to solve the positive cash-flow issue themselves.

So at this point, the social space really isn’t about making money, it’s about learning and evolving and keeping pace with the rest of the universe.

Fortunately, the cost of being active in the social space today is relatively low, with the ROI being experience and consumer mind-share – two clear positives in my book. Taking it a step deeper, I can’t tell anybody that they will significantly grow their market share by actively marketing into (or participating in) social networking today. But I am fairly confident that those firms that don’t play today will have a difficult time playing tomorrow, and could very likely lose overall market-share by simply not keeping pace with their competitors in terms of generating positive market exposure in what is clearly one of the fastest growing “emerging” target markets.

So there you have it. T-Ball and marketing into social networks today. It’s that simple. Neither will guarantee that you score today, but both are a necessary, and potentially fun, learning step to playing the game right tomorrow.


Why Twitter Won’t Charge Users


If it doesn’t, it will likely cease to be. But they can’t charge YOU…

A short while back I wrote about why Twitter had to fundamentally shift its model in order to generate positive cash (not to mention ROI). This should be considered a flat-out given.

Over the past few days, there has been much talk about a couple of recent interviews where Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone have discussed some fairly unique ways that Twitter might make a buck or two (and you can’t begrudge them that). [check out TechCruch’s interview, the NYT’s Bits Blog, TechSassy’s commentary or just search Mashable for “Twitter to charge” for an amazing array of money-making options]

Unfortunately, one of my favorite mottos “Viral info can spread just like a virus – this is good. But beware the mutation of information.”, has proven once again to be all too true. There has been an extremely rapid and (unfairly) anti-Twitter backlash against these reports, such as (all real twits culled from the thousands that I got from a “twitter and “charging” search):

  • “what? Twitter is going to start charging? As if I’m gonna pay.”
  • “ok um wow….rumors that twitter is charging $ for making an account?”
  • “WTF!?!? what is this i hear about Twitter is gona start charging??? shit i stop useing twitter in a heartbeat?! :)”
  • “just found out that twitter is going to start charging you cats to post up your shit!!! Haha. im glad im not into this at alllllllllllll :)” [ironic how this guy is whacking Twitter posters with his own post…]

But before we all move to condemn Twitter, let’s take a look at some basic givens:

  1. Twitter is smart enough to realize that they have a valuable commodity in their growing number of users.
  2. Twitter is not foolish enough to try to charge rank-and-file users to tweet. It just won’t happen.
  3. Twitter is aware that cash has to come from sources that both have money and are willing to gain access to users. Millions of them.

So, just where will the money come from? Tossing aside all the talk of “reality TV” or some type of “Twitter-in-the-News” type of program (which might add some revenue, but not enough “ad” revenue to satisfy Twitter’s backers), the most likely source is from corporate-sponsored accounts (where corporations actually use Twitter for things like direct sales, marketing and customer support) or from expanded marketing of their API system. Why?

First, advertising (with open APIs) simply will not work. Unless they are willing to close the Twitter API’s down and stop all the Twitter tools out there from accessing Twitter – like my own fav TweetDeck , Tweeters will simply move to alternative interfaces (unless Twitter replicates ALL of these functions in-house ala Facebook). Sure, plenty of users still use the “web” interface, but the existing interface is underpowered and doesn’t do anything for mobile apps (which are lousy handling advertising anyway).

Second, Twitter has already started to tighten up its APIs and has every right to charge for access to “valuable” assets. Sure, this might mean less alternatives, but Twitter deserves to survive as more than just a $55M experiment.

Third, corporations already recognize the fact that they must play nice with social media networks if they want to have a chance to survive and thrive in the future. The challange here, of course, is in coming up with a definition of just who a “corporation” is – especially given the large number of user accounts that have already found a way to make money off of “marketwing” to other Twitter users.

Finally, I just don’t see a viable market for charging “power” users (ala LinkedIn, which relies much more heavily upon a professional user base). If they go that route, it will just make it easier for firms like Facebook or (I hate to say it) Google to replicate the model.

Ultimately, I may be wrong and way off base. But my guess is that all these “free” add-on applications will start to feel the financial crunch and corporations will be charged to create their own “Twitomains” on Twitter. And no, Twitter will not start charging rank-and-file users anytime soon.