Been on YouTube or Facebook this week? Then chances are you've heard about KONY 2012 - the nonprofit organization Invisible Children's newest campaign to galvanize support for the capture of Joseph Kony, a war criminal and the leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in Northern Uganda.
In terms of virality, the video has been a smashing success. It has garnered millions of views and even seemed to overshadow the release of the iPad 3, the internet's second biggest news story for Wednesday. But what has absolutely astounded me was the huge reaction against KONY 2012.
I'll avoid musing on my own opinions regarding the campaign as there has been plenty said by more qualified people already, but I do think that the blowback KONY 2012 saw yesterday can be used to help teach everyone who utilizes social media as a means of advertisement and campaigning a few things about dealing with criticism.
The last thing that Invisible Children Inc. likely thought was going to happen was the huge backlash they experienced. But they should have expected it for the very reasons they espoused at the beginning of their video. The internet has connected us in ways never before thought possible. They relied on YouTube for their message, and it isn't very difficult to open up another tab, go to Wikipedia and find problems previous people have had with the campaign.
Trust me when I say that users can and will do the same exact thing when they hear about your company's campaign. I've talked about the need to respond openly to criticism online before, and this is exactly why. All it takes is one person to put a microscope on your past campaigns, advertisements and, God forbid, slip-ups. There was a picture taken of the three founders of Invisible Children holding weapons in a camp they were staying at. According to everyone involved it was a gag photo to take back home, but having a photograph of the three founders of a movement dedicated to ending the fighting around Uganda holding weapons does not convey the best message to people who don't know the context of the photo. So it was dredged up and used to fan the flames.
Be aware of what is online about you and know the common criticisms you encounter at all times, whether you're offering up a viral video and trying to get the support of millions of power players or simply trying to attract a few more customers. Chances are you will not see the volume of responses that were volleyed KONY 2012, but there will be some. Even if your promotion is something as simple as a sweepstakes or giveaway, there are going to be users who take it as an opportunity to confront you about any inconsistencies they see.
Don't let someone else point out your organization's blemishes - if criticism has begun being flung your way, cut them off and use your social media outlets to respond. My own company was criticized for hiding fees in a giveaway promotion we held a few months back and now I make sure we have a response to fall back on if that critique comes back. I never expected that my little business would have ever made anyone mad, but at one point it did and I want to make sure that we nip the problem quickly. Quickly being the key word there.
Invisible Children did eventually respond to the criticism, but they had been eclipsed by the massive amount of people countering every Facebook post, Tweet and Youtube video with a handful of links to sites criticizing the organization. The criticism was nothing new as the main complaints had been made before, but it still took too long to make that page. Even though it hasn't been on our radar long, the campaign seemed to really peak Wednesday, right along with the criticism. Had that response been a priority, the campaign may have had a greater impact. Maybe they thought their grassroots activists would fight back a little harder than they did, but the issue with online activism is the ease in which users can be swayed one way or the other. It is easier to link a page than defend a position.
What works in the macro scale works in the micro scale, so even if you would never think that your own social media campaign could ever be received with this level of reaction, it is better to be safe and prepare a response just in case. Even just a handful of new customers are monumentally important for a business, and the last thing you want is for them to go elsewhere because someone on Facebook made it a point to criticize the way you do business.