One Year Later: The Lessons of KONY 2012

Two weeks ago, everyone was doing the Harlem Shake. Last week, we all laughed at goats bawling pop songs. Today, evidently, a moonwalking Shetland Pony is social media's darling. 

But a year ago—March 5, 2012—a different kind of Internet meme was launched: Invisible Children's KONY 2012 video, which urged the capture of Joseph Kony, an indicted war criminal who is accused of abducting children and turning them into soldiers and sex slaves. 

Within 72 hours, the video "went viral," tallying more than 40 million views, and spurring countless conversations among school-age children and parents. Joseph Kony went from virtual obscurity in developed countries to one of the year's Top Ten most searched people on Google. 

Today, despite increased efforts to capture Joseph Kony, he is still at large and virtually no one is talking about him (that's a Google Trend analysis above). Invisible Children is nearly invisible again and the organization's founder has become more famous for allegedly masturbating in public than for his history-making campaign.

The implications for communicators are profound: Today's viral hit is tomorrow's forgotten memory without a long-term plan for converting ephemeral "likes" and "shares" into engaged support and meaningful action.

Malcolm Gladwell was publicly stoned for his 2010 New Yorker article, "Small Change: Why The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted." But the point he made speaks even louder today: The weak ties of social media cannot replace the strong (and enduring) ties demanded to achieve genuine social change. There are simply too moonwalking ponies vying for everyone's attention.