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.