Example of a Picture-perfect, Social-based Launch
You’d have to be living under a rock over the past week if the Kony 2012 viral video did not cross your path. This video has broken all YouTube records- in under a week. If you are just climbing out from under that rock, it describes the evil currently being committed in Uganda and has sparked a myriad of reactions ranging from groundswell support, to harsh criticism of the accuracy of the content, to accusations that the nonprofit organization behind the video is being less than forthright with how it is handling the funds it is helping to raise for the cause.
This brief post will sidestep all the controversy and, instead, share some insights we have discovered that we believe should be required reading for all New Market Entrepreneurs. It offers a textbook example about how to launch a product leveraging the social web. It should also serve as an eye-opener for how people can be manipulated into following the herd, which we have written about in the past. While there is no single recipe for success, and the gameplan described below will not apply to all, there’s something to be learned for all of us.
In “The Power of Youth: How Invisible Children Orchestrated Kony 2012″ the post’s author, Danah Boyd, sketches a compelling tale for how a non-profit pulls off a brilliant social web-based launch. Click over and read on to learn how…
- Setting up pre-existing networks helped create the viral spread
- People targeted celebrities to garner “attention philanthropy”
- “Attention philanthropy” is the new lighter-fluid to fuel viral sharing
- The role targeting youth played in the success of the social media launch.
Some key excerpts for the time-challenged:
Invisible Children knew that it was targeting culture makers and youth. And Twitter users no less. Indeed, check out the list of “culture makers” that they encouraged youth to target. It’s an interesting mix of liberals (George Clooney, Ellen Degeneres, Bono), conservatives (Rick Warren, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly), geeks (Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg), big philanthropy names (Oprah, Angelina Jolie, Warren Buffett), and pop stars (Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Jay-Z, Justin Bieber). Plus others. They also recommended contacting political figures. (Interestingly, they start with G.W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice and don’t list Obama at all.) As Lotan points out, these celebrities got pummeled with thousands upon thousands of messages from fans, predominantly young fans. And many of them responded.
When celebrities receive this kind of onslaught from their fans – and, especially their younger fans – they pay attention. And so they post out about this. This is exactly where the fuzzy feelings towards attention philanthropy kick in. Young people feel like they did something by getting a celebrity to pay attention to a cause. A celebrity feels like they’ve done some by talking about the cause to a wide audience. And, voila, Invisible Children taps into the attention economy to get their message out.
Yet, there’s more to this. It’s not just anyone who’s paying attention or a small cluster of people that are paying attention from which things radiate. This tag cloud from the SocialFlow blog represents the words that were in the bios of the accounts of those who posted about #stopkony or #kony2012.
Now, check out this network graph of the tweets:
The initial tweets that came out came from seemingly disconnected youth living in Midwestern and Southern towns who frequently refer to Christian values in their bios. In other words, these tweets appear to be coming from communities that Invisible Children had already activated prior to launching Kony 2012. Not only did they then each turn on, but they spread the messages to their friends. This allowed the conversation to “pop” and then spread. The one profile that does have a lot of cluster is the Invisible Children profile, highlighting how their audience was indeed ready to respond to them. But you also see tight clusters that geographically disparate who bridged from the organization and then spread in their local community with a level of intense density. With this kind of graph structure, it’s not surprising that it quickly became a trending topic on Twitter. And then, it could easily spread. Attention begets attention.
I’m especially intrigued by Gilad’s note on the role of religious youth in all of this. Gilad has only begun looking at the data so he doesn’t have a good scope on all of what’s happening, but I’m not surprised by the presence of religious language in the accounts of those who tweeted this message. I very much suspect that a lot of what made this pop has to do with strong pre-existing Christian networks. I’m always surprised at how often people in the tech community regularly underestimate the power of religious networks.
Architecturally, this is a brilliant campaign. It’s really too bad that the message is so deeply flawed. (Again, if you haven’t read Ethan’s post, read it now.)
Key take-aways– while your New Market Launch may not be targeting youth or be able to leverage an “attention philanthropy’ hook, think hard about how you might be able to ‘pre-seed’ your message in clustered, complementary networks designed to organically germinate at launch-time. Similarly, as we have blogged about here, when you are able to build social sharing features directly into your user experience, you will compound your viral potential. While not mentioned above, it is precisely because a YouTube video has social sharing features built right into the user experience that the Invisible Children organization was able to enjoy such tremendous lift from their brilliant social-based launch campaign.
Social media uniquely offers New Market Entrepreneurs an opportunity to tap into the sociology of your target market – at low cost. All it requires is hard work centered around 1) understanding what makes your market tick and the elements associated with rousing delight in them when they experience your product and 2) building social features into the DNA of your product to make it ridiculously easy to share, and 3) setting up mechanisms to reward those who share. We will continue to explore this topic in near-future posts.