Did KONY 2012 Cheat To Get Views? (And Does It Matter?)

By 03/14/2012
Did KONY 2012 Cheat To Get Views? (And Does It Matter?)

Last week, a video from the human rights advocacy group Invisible Children hit the internet with unprecedented hype, bringing in over 71 million views and generating more than 2.8 million Facebook fans in less than a week. But were all those views real or was something else going on?

KONY 2012’s publicity has without a doubt generated a huge amount of attention, though some have argued, that attention may have been directed in the wrong places. Nevertheless, many of us are left asking: how did they manage to do it?

Tubefilter asked two viral video experts, Tony Chen, CEO of Yellow Thunder Media (who served on our Tubefilter Hollywood Meetup panel last week, Creative Marketing In Online Video), and Sarah Wood, COO and Co-Founder at Unruly Media—which created the Viral Video Chart, to weigh in. Here are their thoughts:


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Tony Chen


Tony Chen
CEO, Yellow Thunder Media


I don’t think KONY 2012 was seeded. In summary, the success of this campaign has been due largely to two main factors:

  • Good, emotionally-charged content with a shareable and actionable “call to action”
  • Owned media—leveraging large existing fan bases

As Bill Gates said back in 1996, “Content is king.” The way in which the video is presented encourages viewers to share it and be a part of a bigger movement. There is a clear statement that you are not alone in helping.  It has a clearly stated goal, with step-by-step instructions on how to end the issue. With a strong Call to Action and Sharability, this video went viral. Many who shared the video on Facebook encouraged others to do the same, most explicitly telling friends “Let’s make this go viral!”

Now comes the main question. How did the video really go viral? How did it get the initial boost and traction? The answer is simple: Owned Media.

1. One main activation of initial views to the video was from YouTube subscribers. The Invisible Children channel already had approximately 200,000 subscribers.

2. The other main instigator was leveraging celebrities. After the video was released, the campaign appealed to and leveraged celebrities like Oprah, who has 9.6 million followers and was one of the first to tweet the video. Other celebrities, such as Justin Bieber, Rihanna, Will Smith, J.K. Rowling, and P. Diddy all posted the video, encouraging others to spread the word, which generated a huge spike in traffic in a very short window of time.

3. Once the video was syndicated through owned media through celebrities and channel subscribers, the video began to get a substantial amount of premium placements across blogs, sites, YouTube, and major press outlets.


Sarah Wood
COO and Co-Founder at Unruly Media


1. The share:view ratio of the video is astonishing, but not unprecedented.
The share rate of KONY 2012 was a phenomenal 13%, meaning nearly 1 in 7 people who watched this video felt compelled to pass it on. While amassing 55m views and 6.78 million shares in 3 days is amazing (approx. a 1:7 ratio), charity/social activism social videos generally have staggering pass-on rates. (For example, David Cornfield Melanoma Fund’s Dear 16-Year-Old Me video saw 1.3 million shares to 5.4 million views, a ratio of 4:1. Australia’s GetUp! community advocacy org’s It’s Time to Get Up video earned 1.12 million shares to 5.2 million views, a ratio of 4:6.)

For KONY 2012, I think it is more the sheer volume of shares in such a small space of time that we have not seen before. In fact, we’ve been tracking videos at Viral Video Chart since 2006 and we’ve never seen anything like it.

2. The social video sharing ‘triggers’ were spot-on: It was shocking and extremely moving
This is a far cry from the slapstick fails or cute cat videos that people usually associate with online video. So what got people sharing KONY 2012? The content is shocking and extemely moving—two triggers that are often used by brands and charities to great effect. While public safety videos like Embrace Life and Dear 16 Year old Me are designed to shock people into wearing seatbelts or wearing sunscreen, the difference with KONY 21012 is that it’s on a truly epic scale. It’s a deliberate attempt to make the plight of invisible Ugandan people known around the world, a strategic move to stage a global social coup. Watching the video is an intensely emotional experience and the more heightened the emotional connection, the more likely someone is to share a video. It’s not at all surprising that the video has been so popular, despite its 30 minute runtime.

3. Video is the most powerful medium we know
To stimulate emotions, motivate behavior, galvanize movements, tell stories, and so on. Every generation re-discovers this “truth” in the context of technological advances that make the moving images more compelling—from advances in filmmaking to television to digital video and mobile platforms. Social media behavior elevates videos such as KONY 2012 into a real-time cultural, political and social force for change.

What are your thoughts? Join the KONY 2012 conversation on the Tubefilter Page on Facebook.

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