As the KONY2012 campaign continues to storm social networks and dominate the conversation in the cause sector, social data experts have begun analyzing the carefully crafted social media strategy behind it. Since March 5th, the video by San Diego nonprofit Invisible Children (@Invisible) about African warlord Joseph Kony, has been shared and viewed by more than 100 million people worldwide, the most quickly and broadly shared video in Internet history.
How did they do it? Essentially, it was a triple whammy -- extremely engaging video, distributed by highly influential social networks, mostly via Twitter. Here are some very early findings (some obvious by now, some not) by Gilad Lotan, VP of Research and Development for Social Flow, and media scientist Henry Jenkins:
* Celebrity re-tweets played a critical role in early distribution of the video. Invisible Children enlisted its pre-existing social networks to press celebrities and made it very easy, for example, to tweet @TaylorSwift or @Rihanna within just two clicks. "Once celebrities came on board," Lotan says, "the campaign was given multiple boosts." Ellen Degeneres (@The EllenShow), for example, got mentioned 36,000 times on Twitter within the first few hours of the campaign from different users asking her to respond to Konhy2012. Both Oprah and Justin Bieber chose to respond and amplify the cause, while Lady Gaga, Jay-Z and Stephen Colbert did not.
* Twitter focused huge spikes of attention on the subjects of Uganda and Joseph Kony, according to Lotan. "It was shockingly high," he says. "If we compare the usage of the #Kony2012 and #StopKony hashtags with the #SXSW hashtag (for the very highly-tweeted and re-tweeted South by Southwest interactive conference in Austin, Texas, which was happening at the same time KONY2012 was going mega-viral), we see almost 20x difference in traffic at the peaks." Lotan adds that "#StopKony had 12,000 tweets per 10 minutes at the height of the (viral) event, while #SXSW had only 900." References to Uganda or Kony on Twitter were nearly zero before the video was posted on YouTube. Just after it was, tweets referencing Kony began reaching the level of 25,000 tweets per 10-minute intervals.
* Invisible Childen's network of young supporters across the United States were activated simultaneously to help kick off the campaign. The graph, top, represents the first 5,000 users who posted to the #Kony2012 hashtag. Each node represents a Twitter user and the edges of the graph tracks their connections, or who follows whom. "The more red a node, the earlier it had participated in using the hashtag," Lotan says. Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell (@JasonRussell) and other employees of IC are represented, as is Kristen Bell (@IMKristenBell), an early active member of the organization. (Russell has 58,872 Twitter followers and Bell has 573,075.)
* Tight-knit clusters of 'superfans' have been essential. Clusters of highly-connected individuals indicate that the viral video campaign was orchestrated initially by the top influencers in Invisible Children's social network of supporters. Profiles of these clusters show that most of the "influencers" involved in this campaign were not based in big cities geographically, but were instead tweeting mostly from five geographical locations -- Noblesville, Indiana; Oklahoma City; Pittsburgh; Englewood/Dayton, Ohio, and Birmingham, Alabama. Many of the young people involved in early tweeting of their support of KONY2012 identify themselves as being Christian youth who responded especially favorably to the use of the words "love" and "hope" and "freedom" in IC's early tweets promoting the video.
For more on these early findings, see Lotan's blog post at Social flow, and see this post by media scientist Henry Jenkins.
What do you think?
-- Marcia Stepanek
(Graphic, top, by Social Flow of Invisible Children's Twitter network just after the nonprofit first posted the video, Kony2012)