Tag - Invisible Children

Action Cascades Over Viral Videos
Invisible Children’s Missed Opportunity
The Release of Social Citizens (beta)!

Action Cascades Over Viral Videos

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 12.15.52 PMInvisible Children announced yesterday that it is closing its doors. You may not know the organization, but you almost certainly know their signature effort, the Kony 2012 video.

The video is very long, 30  minutes, on an obscure topic and was an instant viral sensation. It now has over 100 million views on YouTube. The video was an amazing piece of storytelling, alas, it was filled with half-truths. Moreover, the organization however was a mess roiled by mercurial and incompetent management.

All organizations should be managed better than Invisible Children or risk rightly going out of business. But there is another lesson here worth considering.

In Matterness, I discuss the need for organizations to shift their thinking from viral videos to action cascades. A viral video is a stand alone event. It certainly feels good to have lots of people watching what you have produced and sharing it with others. But there needs to be something to do baked into it. Max Siderov took the viral video of Karen Klein being bullied on a school bus outside of Rochester and turned it into an action cascade by raising money for Karen on Indiegogo. [Note: I put the link to the video of Karen being bullied here for context, but I don’t recommend watching it, it is cruel and shouldn’t be honored with a viewing.]

Organizations are too often rushing to create content that they hope will go viral without enough thought of giving people quick, easy and meaningful things to do to support an effort.There is no  way to guarantee that something will go viral, but there are ways to ensure that people could take constructive action as a result of watching it. The best actions to encourage are very specific ones. Not just share the video, but send it to three friends and ask them to do the same.

The Ice Bucket Challenge was an action cascade. The effort spread so widely not because of the videos, but because of the personal challenge to other specific people to do the same or donate within 24 hours.

My advice to people creating stories is to make sure the story is emotional and well-told, but also make sure it is connected to bite-size actions to turn it into a cascade of doing.


Invisible Children’s Missed Opportunity

Invisible Children’s effort to capitalize on the phenomenal success of KONY 2012 this past weekend with a worldwide outpouring of support on land called Covering the Night fizzled.

One news report on the fizzle described it this way: But paltry turnouts on Friday at locations across north America, Europe and Australia left cities largely unplastered and the movement’s credibility damaged. “What happened to all the fuss about Kony?” said one typical tweet. “Kony is so last month,” said another.

But I don’t think it’s a lack of interest in the cause, or that it’s so last month, or that there’s a backlash against Invisible Children. I think the organization overlooked a fundamental tenant of networked activism: do what you do best and network the rest. Invisible Children has spent years honing its expertise in online organizing. And it showed in the initial outburst of support associated with the video and tens of thousands of people signed up to participate Cover the Night (for instance, 30,000 signed up in Toronto alone.) I think it fizzled because on land organizing is simply not what Invisible Children does best. A better approach would have been to partner with an organization with the core competency of on land organizing, a group like Oxfam perhaps.

Too often, organizations that gain some momentum expand sideways and add new functions to along with their new found success. It’s a mistake and will inevitably tax their resources. An organization gains momentum because of what they do best, and very few organizations do everything well, particularly if the subject is worldwide organizing. Part of losing control and becoming more networked is to understand when it’s smart to partner with other organizations rather than try to everything alone. And, in the long run, it will be that much easier to contract, when things calm down as they inevitably will, rather than lay off staff.



The Release of Social Citizens (beta)!

The release of Social Citizens BETA today is very exciting for what it isn’t – and what it is. Late last year, Kari Dunn and Ben Binswanger of The Case Foundation asked me to write a paper for the Foundation about the emergence of Millennials, 15-29 year olds, as activists. They wanted to know more about how these young people are using all of their widgets and gadgets for causes.

And that’s when we talked about what the paper isn’t.

We decided to go beyond a simply litany of the ways that young people are using blogs, social networks, and videos to share information about their favorite causes. We wanted to go a step further and ask harder “so what” questions. What does it mean to Millennials to have the ability to become an advocate for their cause instantly, broadly, inexpensively, and what does their ability to do so mean for the rest of us?

The Foundation provided me with an opportunity to cast a wide net across the real of Millennial activism; from Facebook to the Red Campaign, from the presidential campaign trail to the human devastation in Darfur, from Gossip Girls to Invisible Children, a documentary about the difficult lives of the children of Uganda. I followed the trail of email, blogs, YouTube videos, websites, donations, Tweets, and IMs around the country and even across the globe. I interviewed over thirty people, read many articles, papers, books, and websites, and examined the data on who is doing what for causes. And what I found was astounding for its scope, scale, and idealistic intentions.

Marnie Webb, a key informant in the paper, asked, “What, if anything, does all of the clicking, blogging, and “friending” add up to in the end?” And my answer is, “Far more than I imagined, far greater than I had hoped.”

Millennials are doing more than pinging and poking and sharing information about causes. They are radically altering the very notion of what it means to be an active citizen in the process, and that’s why we’re calling them Social Citizens. They are viewing their responsibility to their larger community solely through a cause lens. They are clicking, buying, running, hammering, petitioning, and sharing information with their friends.

And, you, my careful reader, have noticed that there is a “beta” on the end of Social Citizens in the title of the paper. This is to remind that this field of youth activism is changing at breakneck pace. American humorist James Thurber said, “It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” And certainly, in this case, we know that there are lots and lots of questions without answers yet — and this is fantastic news to folks like me and my colleagues at the Case Foundation who like having conversations with other people who are interested in increasing the number of people who are actively engaged in trying to improve our world.

However, as encouraging as this news is, their activities raise serious questions. Is it possible to envision a very large generation of citizens who lead their lives at a great distance from government, even lives infused with causes, volunteering and a hopeful outlook about the world. Can government really be irrelevant to their lives, and, if so, is this a good thing for society? Is it important that young people are engaged in public policy advocacy? Is our tendency to connect only with like-minded people using our on line and on land social networks a good thing for activism or a critical bottleneck to the effective scaling for causes? Are social change institutions critical to the future of Social Citizens and their causes or are they becoming old-century anachronisms of top-down hierarchies that can’t survive much longer?

So, what do you think? I hope you’ll read and enjoy Social Citizens BETA, and I’m looking forward to our upcoming conversation and your ideas, thoughts, comments, and questions about Social Citizens.


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