The flag of Uganda

I didn’t know who Joseph Kony was when I woke up yesterday morning, but chances are you will by the end of the week. You’ll hear his name on the news. You’ll see the #KONY2012 hashtag on Twitter. You’ll see campaign posters papering your city streets. And eventually, I hope, you’ll take half an hour to watch this video. In just three days since posting, it has over 10 million YouTube views.

What is KONY 2012?

Kony, as the video describes, is the world’s worst war criminal, responsible for the abduction of more than 30,000 children in central Africa. He forces these kids into his rebel army – boys as soldiers, girls as “wives” to his men. In forcing children to rape, mutilate, and kill civilians, he’s displaced at least 2.1 million people.

Provoked by citizens’ support, Congress sent U.S. military advisors on a time-limited mission to help local troops stop Kony and disarm his army. But if public attention dwindles, the mission will end. KONY 2012 aims to make Kony famous through social and grassroots outreach, “not to celebrate him, but to raise support for his arrest and set a precedent for international justice.”

The rise of the socially-empowered society

The campaign’s compelling, emotional narrative and activism-inspiring cause alone make it worth promoting here. But beyond KONY 2012 is a broader idea: that the social web connects people everywhere, shattering artificial boundaries of nations and uniting the planet. And with this unity comes new power to influence people, businesses, and governments for the better – or as we at Bazaarvoice like to say, to “change the world, one authentic conversation at a time.”

The KONY 2012 campaign is a glimpse into our global social future. Here are a few customer-centric (really, human-centric) beliefs we blog about, and how they translate beyond brands to socially-empowered societies.

Power to the people

Social has given consumers control of brands – a brand is now what customers say about it, not what ads claim. As KONY 2012 illustrates, people today have the power to be louder than news media, louder than governments. Increasingly, viewers dictate content – stories become national news because people are already talking about them, and not the other way around. In other words, social activity can now shape the news.

This bottom-up control puts power in the hands of regular people to connect around interests, spread their messages, and direct the international conversation. Socially-empowered societies will be more informed about things they care about (like KONY 2012), and less subject to the editorial control of mass media outlets.

Crowd-sourced decisions yield better solutions

Customers are a brand’s best R&D team. They reveal exactly what products and features they want, and what can be better about the products they have. In the same way, KONY 2012 encourages international supporters to reveal what they want from their governments – military consultants to help African troops stop Kony; support that would never have come without heavy public pressure. Members of socially-empowered societies can make their views known and affect change based on what real people want, rather than what private interests lobby for.

Recent defeats of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) illustrate this. Social backlash combined with coordinated, intentional website blackouts raised awareness and massive online activism against the bills. As a result, many politicians who originally supported the bills expressed concerns or withdrew their support entirely, and the bills failed.

Responsible entities flourish as the irresponsible fall

Average people are the most trusted marketers, and increasingly, the most trusted activists. They celebrate great brands and products by recommending them to friends and strangers, online and off. Through social, it’s easier to highlight and promote great causes, leaders, and businesses. The day after the KONY 2012 video was published to YouTube, topics from the campaign including “Uganda,” “Invisible Children,” “#KONY2012,” and “#stopkony” took over Twitter’s trending topics. Some are still trending today.

Consumers also share their negative feedback online. Brands that make changes based on it will keep customers coming back – and brands that don’t will lose them. Likewise, when it’s easy to draw attention to irresponsible actions, injustices, and atrocities, the world’s businesses, leaders, and governments will necessarily become more accountable for their actions.

If successful, KONY 2012 will create a better Africa. Through this campaign and in the future, socially-empowered societies will create a better world.

The Conversation Index Vol. 3

7 Responses to “#KONY2012 and the rise of the socially-empowered society”

  1. Hi Lakristinita, thanks for reading. There are a lot of differing opinions on the KONY 2012 campaign, but one thing is sure – it’s been highly effective in its stated goal of making Kony internationally famous, largely through grassroots social efforts.

    This post is about how social gives regular people the power to be as loud as governments, the news media, and brands. Personally, I think that is a great thing.

  2. Lakristinita

    This is just another way for us to go to a country to steal their resources.  Kony has not even been in Uganda for 4 years now.  And the Uganda people are extremely concerned about us going to their country since we have such a bad track record, human rights are not one of our specialties, just check out Iraq.  Ugandans can take care of them selves.  This is just another racist action of white
    America saying that the blacks cant take care of themselves.  It is because of Ugandan grass roots people why Kony is no longer in Uganda,, so why would we be going there now,, now that he is gone?  Obviously for something,, and the Ugandans know this and are not wanting us to go to there country.  We need to respect other people and stop being so arrogant thinking that we are saviors and everyone else are hopeless victims.  This is just another form of racism and there are plenty of people that are not happy with this campaign, especially since it seems to be for Obama to get more votes.  Good luck to everyone,, but please take a minute and see what the people of Uganda want,, as I have heard from them and they are very angry with our actions and how we are portraying them.  Kony has been gone.

  3. That’s true, Mariana_dionisio – however people feel about the campaign, they can’t deny that it’s been effective in its first stated goal: making Kony famous (or infamous). Thank you for reading!

  4. r rgll

    According to physics, the earth is a whole;We are all Earth’s inhabitants ? Earth’s inhabitants are omnipotent ?Brand building business networks in the Earth’s inhabitants. Clear truth;People value?
    OGRHR(Earth’s inhabitants brand business network) Eat people devil communist China’s long-term dictatorship Earth persecution no value!2012 Communist Party of China must be eliminated????????????????????????????????????????????????OGRHR (the Earth’s inhabitants brand commercial network) brand killer to eat people the devil to Communist persecution;

  5. Mariana_dionisio

    Regardless of arguments in favor or against this campaign, the reality is that at least 40million people in the world now know that name Kony, and what he is been up to. This will make other “monsters” like him at least think twice before committing these types of atrocities (lets think Sierra Leone, Sudan….).

  6. Hi chaswhite, thanks for reading. I don’t know enough to weigh in on your first comment, but to your second, I think social will help them with their primary goal: raising enough awareness and support for Kony’s arrest that our military advisors stay. Whether Kony will really be caught this year, we’ll just have to see.

    Thanks for your comment!

  7. Anonymous

    The points are well taken but providing money to the Ugandan Army, guilty of many of the same crimes, would not seem to me to be a well thought out strategy.  The social media thing is cool but not confident about the strategy to effect the change sought.

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