Over the past week one global campaign has solidified what we all have come to accept: social media has the unparalleled ability to harness people power across the world. The KONY2012 campaign, which is essentially about drumming up the support of Americans for the arrest of African warlord Joseph Kony, has spread across the world.
While the initial thirty minute video raised awareness about the situation in Uganda, subsequent information has sought to deny that the situation still exists to the extent shown in the film which was shot in 2003. Among the onslaught of detractors have been those who criticized the ethics, mission and management of Invisible Children suggesting that the campaign is about oil exploration rather than war and violence against children.
It's easy to take a polarized view of the situation: a noble non-profit seeking to right injustices versus a capitalist-driven thirst for another nation's treasure. But the campaign and the responses which are following should serve as a lesson for, PR practitioners, businesses and non-profits. The film impresses upon us how social and political issues in one part of the world can be brought to the attention of people thousand of miles away.
As public relations practitioners it is unlikely that we will ever have as dramatic a subject as children being dragged from their beds and forced to become killers but there's a lot to said for being passionate about a cause and having the skills and resources to devise a campaign which is so attention-grabbing. Subject matter aside, one of the most compelling aspects of the Invisible Children video is the actual production. The videography stands out and the emotional appeals are effective.
However, the responses to the film and campaign are the other side of the coin. The LA Times notes that this situation is demonstrating that "digital media attention can be a double-edged sword".
"It certainly hits at the strength and the weakness of new media," said communications professor Barbie Zelizer, a fellow with the Stanford Center for Advanced Study who studies news images in the world's crisis regions.
"They are undeniably faster, but they are also undeniably less reliable. It's great when things go fast and they are correct. It's not great when they go fast and they are not correct," she says in the LA Times article.
As time goes on, reactions may get even more attention than the original video. This too is a lesson for those thinking about undertaking social media campaigns. If your argument or proposition isn't sound (and maybe even if it is), it is likely that critics will air their views...loudly. And there is little you can do about it.