The So What of Social

By Matter

As PR professionals it’s our job to be on top of news at it breaks. While the news may one day be about Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and the recent death of musical and broadcast legend Dick Clark the next, being in the know allows us to not only understand the world around us and hot topics, but also provides our clients with an invaluable resource.

The majority of breaking news these days comes at us and is collected through social media, in particular Twitter. While social media is a key informational tool for us communications folk, it is also a top priority for many of our clients here at Matter. We are often a major part of the voice, strategy and management team behind a company’s social presence. We know all too well how instantaneously news (good or bad) can spread and multiply on online platforms and communities. This rapid reproduction of news on social channels is where I’ll place my focus on in this post.

If you’re familiar with the name Joseph Kony, you’re not alone. If you aren’t, have you been living under a rock? As you may recall, the name gained international attention in the beginning of March, when the San Diego-based non-profit Invisible Children, released its Kony 2012 video. To say the film went viral is an understatement; to date it has been viewed on the organization’s YouTube channel over 88 million times.

While millions of people have taken to the web to retweet, post about or share the atrocities and crimes against humanity committed by Kony, waging a cyber-battle on one of history’s most abusive men, celebrities like Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber included, Joseph Kony and his crimes are nothing new to me. This viral video and online activism strikes a personal cord.

It does however serve as a reminder that creative imagery, emotional dialogue, time and circumstance play a huge role in the spread of information on the World Wide Web.

You see, for the last five years both of my parents have been traveling to Uganda because of Kony. They have worked with a local (New Hampshire) non-profit organization called ChildVoice International. The organization’s mission is to restore the voices of children silenced by war, through a conviction that children broken by war can be restored in safe communities with loving care, spiritual and emotional counseling, and effective education and vocational training. Some of the mothers that my parents have met and grown to know are just teenagers who were forced to marry Joseph Kony and bear his children. But have you heard of this organization? My guess is no. There has been no social media storm on its behalf.

I’m not going to say whether or not I agree or disagree with the use of social media to bolster Kony awareness, but I don’t think I’m alone in asking so what? It’s believed that Kony and the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) are camping out in the bush of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Will Kim Kardashian’s tweet and 5 million others like it put an end to this elusive warlord? In its most recent push for awareness about the rebel leader globally, Invisible Children has organized “Cover the Night” events, which will take place today in numerous locations.

According to a recent piece, the events are a “broader test case in a debate over whether online organizing can bring about on-the-ground political action.” Yes, the news spread like wildfire socially, but do all the people who were at one point activists online care enough to physically take to the streets? This same article highlights a recent analysis by one of our clients, Crimson Hexagon, which found that while there were over 2.47 million social media mentions and conversations about Kony when the video first went viral on March 7, conversations have since tapered off.

While social media is of course important and will continue to be well into the future, the Kony 2012 campaign serves as a reminder that activism needs to go beyond the social space.

What I’ve learned in my time so far at Matter, especially working with consumer brands, is that social media provides a limitless opportunity to be vocal for the brand and follower alike. However, at the end of the day it’s the physical evidence and brand consistency and continuity on a daily basis that makes the most impact. As PR professionals, when engaging on social media for clients, we should constantly strive for value and be able to answer the “so what” question.