Our part in the Kony 2012 narrative

With the heaps of digital hoopla the Kony 2012 video campaign has received in the last couple of weeks, you might think I’ve been passionately tweeting myself into the conversation, engaging in small, but very serious, talk at the office about the video, spending a disproportionate amount of time rallying with my fellow social media enthusiasts as we gaze longingly at the marketing success of such a campaign.

Or perhaps I’ve been standing my ground outside of the virtual IC headquarters of a website, my picket sign that reads “Simplicity is not the answer” in one hand, a copy of White Man’s Burden in the other — all while updating my anonymous aid blog with some knotty hard core critiques of yet another “hipster humanitarian” story.

Neither is 100% the case.

Like the heated discussions that take place over which political party has intentions best fit for America’s future, and like the Christian throwing of verbal sticks and stones over the eternal success of the mega church vs. the small group, I’ve largely sat this one out.

Partly because I don’t believe in exerting my opinion, and thus, stating my position, about a subject that is so deeply divided, I know I’m pointing fingers on either side of the line. Partly because I don’t like to be repetitive of the dialogue that has already taken place. Partly because we’re talking about two very separate businesses (social media marketing and humanitarian aid) here that have found themselves forced together by the rulers of Heaven and of Hell. Partly because no one fights longer than humanitarians, no one fights harder than social media users, and no one fights meaner than journalists.

But mostly because, with an issue as complex and deep as this, I don’t believe the answer is something clear or rosy or maybe even understandable.

Let me say though, any issue complex enough to be challenged over and over is not an evil thing. I believe the tension we wrestle with modern-day poverty marketing and the reality of first world-third world humanitarian aid is one I’ll live with and have to consider in my work daily until the end of my career. This tension should haunt us and dare to forge us into better, more qualified humanitarians and, please God, more qualified and knowledgeable social media voices.

So rather than writing my own review on the Kony 2012 campaign, I’ve instead posted several articles that have covered the subject that I feel offer some good food for thought with a little extra commentary. Thanks to those who’ve tweeted, blogged, Youtubed and Facebooked about the Kony 2012 video — you have challenged and sharpened my thoughts.

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Viral Video, Vicious Warlord// New York Times’ Nick Kristof

You could say I’m getting my seasonal fill on Kristof’s writings — I read his article yesterday and began reading “Half the Sky” last night. There’s some good reason as to why Kristof is such a reputable and highly revered journalist.

In his article, he addresses three of the major criticisms of the Kony 2012 video: The west, one again, believes they can save the rest. The video is unclear, maybe even flawed. The video promotes feel-good philanthropy, but hardly makes a real difference.

Some memorable notes:

  • To me, it feels repugnant to suggest that compassion should stop at a national boundary or color line. A common humanity binds us all, whatever the color of our skin — or passport.
  • Complexity is, er, complicated: It has been a leading excuse for inaction during atrocities — during the Armenian genocide, during the Holocaust, during Rwanda, during the Bosnian slaughter. Each episode truly was complicated, but, in retrospect, we let nuance paralyze us.
  • I don’t know if this initiative will make a difference. But if I were a Congolese villager, I would welcome these uncertain efforts over the sneering scorn of do-nothing armchair cynics.

3 factors that made the world pay attention to #KONY2012 // Fellow humanitarian and social media strategist, Richenda Vermeulen

Richenda looks at the Kony campaign from a purely social media angle — admirable, I think, as this one is a tricky subject to separate. But if we can humour ourselves for just a minute or two and consider the marketing work of IC and the Kony 2012 campaign — we’d all be drooling a little, right?

If you work in the NGO space, you’d be lying to refuse to admit that IC’s fancy video work and documentary-style marketing hasn’t made you blush with jealousy at least once. You don’t have to agree with their work, their tactics, or their campaigns — but from a purely marketing standpoint, they’ve dug gold more than once while the rest of us are coming up with bronze most the time.

IC did what every marketer is trying to do — get the people (and heaps of them) to stop and pay attention to your campaign, then share it with their friends who share it with their’s and soon you’ve gained hundreds of thousands of new Facebook fans and 100 million video views.

If we choose not to learn some marketing (but also P/R) lessons from Kony 2012, shame on us.

Memorable notes from Richenda’s article:

  • Years of cultivating activists paid off in the case of Invisible Children. This is the exact reason I defend of the term “Slactivist.”
  • Good content speaks for itself. (Amen, sister!)
  • They made social media part of the narrative
  • If I were Invisible Children… I would be investing heavily in ensuring quality content and relationship management to keep the attention of this audience. That way… when and if Kony is no longer the enemy, you can take your audience on a journey to understand the plight of other invisible children.

Is Kony 2012 Good or Bad? // Author and blogger Rachel Held Evans for Relevant Magazine

I’ve said it already so many times — Rachel has this way about her that makes me respect her so much, at the top of my blogroll for sure. She is just brilliant with the way she fuses her thoughts with words and her opinions with humility and confidence.

Like she always does, Rachel has put pen to paper with words I wish I would’ve written myself. She’s interacted with the Kony 2012 campaign on multiple levels — first, as an every day humanitarian sharing it on her Blog; second as a piece in the critics conversation, and third, as a voice for justice (ironically,we have to ask ourselves, isn’t that the whole point of being a humanitarian?!).

Rachel also has a post with a list of helpful resources on the campaign.

Memorable notes from RHE’s article:

Perhaps accidentally, the leaders of Invisible Children had started an important conversation—one regarding how we think about and engage social justice.

if we hope to move from mere awareness to long-term activism, we have to confront some realities we don’t like or understand, and accept that not every question has an easy answer.

Brouhaha // From the aid blog “Aid Speak”

I’d be remiss to consider the Kony 2012 campaign from the perspective of a humanitarian response without consulting a few aid blogs, plus I find them informative, honest and not without some entertaining language. Here’s some candid and refreshing few thoughts from a trustworthy aid worker. It would do you well to read the post at length, too.

  • Long, involved messaging works. // (Me) I’d say… long, involved messaging can work.
  • Humanitarians have done a very poor job at helping their constitutent audiences formulated linkages between activism and action. // (Me) Agreed.
  • We need to be careful to not blur the distinction between raising awareness about a problem, and the capability of humanitarians to address it. // (Me). Yessss! Oh, but how? (sigh)

This post reminds me of two things: 1) Indeed, there is a lot of brouhaha (or as I call it, digital hooplah) over Kony 2012 — but if we do the strategic thing and take a step back from the campaign to see its fuller picture, we’ll find there are many holes in the canvas; and 2) we are still in need of ways to address the issue at hand — 100 million video views, some out-of-stock merchandise — have we made any (humanitarian) steps forward? Food for thought.

I really, really like the way Rachel first said it on her Blog before the Relevant Mag article: This is an important conversation to have, and I’m convinced we can have it without questioning one another’s motives or resorting to personal attacks.

If you’re at all engaged in the Kony 2012 conversation, whether deeply involved or an innocent bystander, please consider the campaign and the issues it raises with humility. IC may have produced the video, but we all play a part in this narrative.

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