Campaign Models & Engaging Audiences – Report from the Skoll World Forum

MBA student Holden Bonwit provides an update from this morning’s session at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, which was moderated by Cathy Galvin of the United Nations Foundation.

Holden Bonwit

In just six days, a 29 minute video had been viewed by more than 100 million people around the world. Bucking the trend for youtube videos, these viewers had watched the long video all the way through.  How did the Kony 2012 video, created by film makers Invisible Children accomplish this?

Ben Keesey,  Invisible Children’s CEO, shared a few reasons he thinks they were able to achieve such success:

1. Recognize that nobody really cares right at the beginning – you must start with a simple, single human, and use them as the cipher to tell an engaging story.

2. Take risks – let people take control, both in developing content before release, and in supporting you after release.

3. Avoid the greatest sin: to be boring – put in the energy to make something engaging and shareable.

4. Show the young people agency – give them a way to help, and the belief that they can make a difference.

5. Remember that building advocacy takes time. Kony 2012 seemed like an “instant success” – but its powerful community of young advocates was eight years in the making. The team travelled to 10,000 high schools and colleges to promote similar films, and engage young audiences. When Kony 2012 was made, these advocates spread the film locally and then nationally via social media. They embraced it and took it to heart. For them, it was personal.

campaign models panel

Cathy Galvin, Ben Keesey, Ido Leffler and Gabrielle Fitzgerald: Campaign Models: Driving Your Audience to Engage

The result of the media campaign was undeniable. (On the ground, effects are harder to measure: though Kony himself was not captured, the effects of the film and movement seem to be real: a 93% reduction in killings.) As Ben posted on his twitter feed: “For every single one that comes out, the war is over- at least for them.”

Ido Leffler of Yes To Carrots used a “buy one, give one” type program to multiply resources and engage consumers of ‘flu vaccines in the “Get a shot, Give a Shot” program with Walgreens.  In just six weeks, the result was three million gifted polio and measles vaccines.  Ido echoed that these projects take a massive amount of work behind the scenes and lots of promotion of your vision. Online campaigns are their lifeblood at “Yes To” –  recently, with a hashtag campaign on Facebook, the company gave away 50,000 meals – but there remain questions around the efficacy of “click activism” or “clicktivism”.

The direct link between hashtags and improved nutrition is tenuous. Ben chimed in that in themselves, the clicks don’t do anything on their own, but on aggregate the big numbers are meaningful, and the Invisible Children team has influenced policy makers with reams of printed online petitions. Further, Invisible Children mines their 3 million followers to find the best of them, to act as community leaders and make a difference in the real world (IRL).

Gabrielle Fitzgerald at the Gates Foundation followed on regarding the “Get a shot, Give a shot” initiative – there are only a few hundred cases of Polio currently, and there is a goal of elimination by 2018. That achievement can only be reached through system building – even the Gates Foundation with its funding can’t achieve this alone, and has formed what Gabrielle calls “catalytic coalitions” including the WHO, CDC, the government of Abu Dhabi, and others at the Global Vaccine Summit. Another strategy she shared was to tie in the joining of “grass top” campaigns with “grass roots” campaigns – funding initiatives that others wish to do, but need assistance to take forward. An example of these “grass tops” were the joining of ministers of sport and ministers of health for the malaria campaign “Nothing But Nets” during the FIFA World Cup tournament of 2010 in South Africa. Although Gabrielle definitely realizes there is more to malaria eradication than simply bed nets, creating a message that was tangible for sports fans was the key to engaging them. To excite fans, they got local sports teams involved from all the participating regions.

Gabrielle shared the three ‘M’s that are a prerequisite for any successful campaign: Money, Motivation and Momentum.

Chris Gebhard at Participant Media  added a fourth factor: serendipity. He stressed that you don’t just need an audience, but rather you need to form a community, and then give them a mission. His latest initiative, TAG was born when people said “we love these films, how can we work with you?”

Questions remain.  Ben is struggling with how to reach a truly international audience through one pipe – his followers are ready to take activism advice, but is that appropriate given that some do not live in democracies? Would that endanger them? How can Ben suggest concrete steps to take when he doesn’t know the intricacies of each system?  — Reach out if you have some ideas to Ben Keesey on Twitter: @BenKeesey

To close up the session, our moderator Cathy Calvin shared a final quote, from Eleanor Roosevelt:

“It is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not to try. For one thing we know beyond all doubt: Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, `It can’t be done.’ ”

 – You Learn By Living (1960); Eleanor Roosevelt