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.