The Most Viral Video Of All Time: What Can You Learn From It?

african child holding hand up

A few weeks ago the internet was buzzing about the most viral video ever. Not only was this video getting millions of views in its first couple days, but it was doing it without cat antics, bad music, or someone experiencing an epic fail!

The most viral video of all time was a 30 min. video about a warlord name Joseph Kony.

Kony 2012

Within 6 days the Invisible Children‘s Kony 2012 video hit over 100 Million views. That’s faster than the Susan Boyle video, Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance“, and yes it even beat out Justin Bieber’s “Baby“. So what in the world made it so viral? Moreover, what can you learn from the campaign about creating something viral?

I discovered 7 components that contributed to the record-breaking viral success of this video. In this post I’m going to break them down one by one.

kony 2012 stats
Successful campaign? I think so.

First, if you haven’t seen the video, it would be helpful if you actually watched it. It is 30min. long, but it will help you grasp what I’ll be talking about more firmly. On top of that, it will bring you out from that rock you must have been living under for the past month.

Seriously? You haven’t seen it yet?!

I was already familiar with the organization behind the campaign– the Invisible Children. I am a fan of what they are doing, and I believe they are doing an amazing job.

While watching this video I was thoroughly impressed by what I saw. Whether they were intentional or not, the following are the components I saw that contributed to making the video the most viral campaign of all time.

1. Allure of a social experiment

There’s something about a social experiment that is alluring. People are drawn to discovering new things that have never been tried before. Maybe its the creative inside us that wants to explore something new. Or maybe it’s curiosity partnered with the security of being a part of a group. Whatever the reason it works.

I’ve tried this before myself. I actually love participating in social experiments, and I love creating them. They’re just plain fun– unless of course they go terribly wrong or if they involve Ashton Kutcher and a bunch of hidden cameras aimed at you. That might not be so fun. However I do welcome you to test me in that Mr. Kutcher.

For the Kony 2012 campaign, the allure of a social experiment just plain worked.

2. Emotional connection

Although some may look poorly upon campaigns that pull emotional strings, it’s not uncommon and not always a bad thing as long as it’s genuine.

In fact, every good film maker knows that if your audience isn’t emotionally connected to your main character, they won’t care to watch. In order for you to be engaged enough to watch a film, the director knows that they have to make you care about the main character. To do this they somehow get the character to “save a cat“.

Saving a cat is writers slang for “make this character do something noble that makes people want to root for him“.

The Kony campaign was begun out of a desire to help people in need. They showed the audience immediately that they were out to save some cats– lots of cats. Jason Russell does a fantastic job of making an emotional connection with the audience by showing how deeply noble his cause is.

3. Created with social media emphasis

This video was made with the intention of going viral and put full emphasis on social media. The goal was wide-spread social engagement and they made it very clear that they were looking to take the social media space by storm. Furthermore they gave specific direction for how viewers can use social media to propel the campaign forward.

They were very clear, very direct, and gave practical instructions.

4. World-changing vision

The creators of this video were not afraid to dream big. They had a world-changing vision that they cast for everyone watching. If a lack of vision causes people to perish (Proverbs 29:18), an abundance of vision will lead people to thrive.

5. A time-sensitive call to action

On top of the fact that they gave a clear vision, they made the time sensitive calls to action. They gave a clear date and time for when they want to see these plans through. If they hadn’t had such a clear-cut plan with a definite date, it may not have seen the success that they did.

There was urgent call to action that had a time limit on it. This was probably one of the most significant reasons why it spread so quickly. Don’t miss that!

6. Ability to track progress of the campaign

This part also blew me away– they actually gave a clear way to track the progress of the campaign in real-time! This satisfies our need for instant gratification and our desire to see the fruits of our labor. Brilliant!

7. Loaded with empowerment language

The entire video is absolutely loaded with language that empowers the viewer. Transferring ownership and empowering others drives action.

As a whole, the Kony 2012 campaign was beautifully done. Well crafted, well executed, well thought-out, and will cause a great deal of change.

Is it perfect? No. Are the people involved perfect? No. Will this one campaign make everything perfect if it is successful? No. Our world is fallen, dark, and broken in more ways than 1,000 viral social-good campaigns could remedy. However it shows that we can’t just sit by and ignore the atrocities that are happening around us. It shows us that we can use social media to make an impact on the world around us.

These are just the observations I made while studying the Kony 2012 campaign. Take them and use them for good!

Did you see these components at play in the Kony 2012 campaign? Did you see something that I missed?

Dustin W. Stout Avatar

50 responses to “The Most Viral Video Of All Time: What Can You Learn From It?”

  1. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    No signs around my area and I live in an area just outside Los Angeles so….

  2. Erin Jackman Avatar

    So I just watched the video today. Does anyone know how the poster campaign went? I’m in a small town but I never saw anything… I guess it didn’t really catch on around here. Maybe in Halifax, but not around my area.

    Did you watch any of the videos that critiqued this movement? Some thoughts? I think there is more things going on like this than just in Uganda, but I guess one step at a time. I don’t have a lot to say because I feel a little out of the loop since I just watched the video today and only parts of other videos about it.

  3. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    The site looks great Brandon! Glad you made the jump to self hosted. You definitely have a lot more creative freedom.

  4. Brandon Avatar

    By the way, the new site is:

  5. Brandon Avatar

    For my position, do you think it would be easier (meaning less amount of time) to manage feedburner or mailchimp?

    Right now, I am using jetpack. It is a powered plugin that tracks stats and does the email subscriptions…?

  6. Brandon Avatar

    Yes! South East rocks! 🙂

  7. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    Back to 4am 🙂

  8. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    Geez Dustin…Make the guy look like a heel why don’t ya…lol. I’m sure he has a good reason why he hasn’t watched it yet. I mean 30 minutes is valuable time. That’s a whole Phineas and Ferb episode for me and half an episode or Swamp People! Just remember..when you poke fun at your friends…always remember to get the coding tags right so they know it’s all with love 🙂

  9. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    You are in the South East right Brandon?

  10. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    I think the movement might have gained more traction if they would have had the ability to “give” the kits to a willing army. I know that part of the campaign is to raise funds for the continued effort but if they had been able to partner with someone who could allow them to give at least the posters to anyone who wanted to help distribute them, their mission might have been a little more noticeable yesterday. I would have probably posted one in my yard at least. 🙂

  11. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    My thoughts on going for the “viral effect” is like fads they come and go. In this case it had it’s desired short term effect of getting the campaign out there, but it didn’t seem to get picked up, because I never saw anything about it until he was caught on the street corner. Which in itself could have been a ploy to garner more attention concidering even South Park made a reference to it however negative it was. But I did not se any Kony 2012 signs in my travels today so it appears to have missed the mark a bit in the mainstrea as for staying power. This is what I would fear with any type of Ministry Based blog or outreach. I think as the old adage says…slow and steady wins the race.

  12. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    Did you ever watch the video?

  13. Brandon Avatar

    By the way, I saw a Kony poster today in my neighborhood! haha

  14. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Great point Daniel! I didn’t even catch the “being part of a movement” aspect!

  15. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    I use the actual MailChimp plugin partnered with a plugin that comes with Standard Theme. Most people just use Feedburner and it serves their needs well, but I like to make things look really good so I use MailChimp.

  16. Daniel Avatar

    Love this post Dustin! I was amazed by this video. Isn’t it incredible how the “viral” effect can propel an completely unknown organization/ company into a world wide phenomenon within a few days? You gotta love the days we live in.

    I wonder what this means for us internet marketers. Should we focus more on the “viral effect” rather than spending years of of daily social platform routines only?

    You found some very interesting aspects!
    I’d like to add the “desire for community” to the list. I felt like I was part of a movement just by watching and sharing the video. Everybody wants to belong to a cause and this video made it very easy to feel like you’re doing something for the greater good and joining a global movement. What do you think?

  17. Brandon Avatar

    Hey Dustin. What plugin do you use to get the mailchimp subscribe box (plus the total number) on your right sidebar?

    I am almost done with the basic editing of my site, and I am having trouble finding a good plugin for email subscribers.


  18. Brandon Avatar

    Yeah! I have the site up and running right now, but I don’t want to release it yet because it is no where near finished.

    There is so much to do for a self-hosted blog!

  19. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    Well take care of it…Dustin has made it easy for you. Just press play 🙂

  20. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    Another weak moment…LOL. This is becoming a trend. I may have to start tracking my commenti g habits and post a graphic on it…LOL.

  21. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    Awesome! Can’t wait to see your site once all the work is done.

  22. Brandon Avatar

    Haha! Thanks Dustin!

    Oh really? I might need to watch the video then…I thought it was already over. My brother saw the video, and he told me a little about it.

    By the way, I just bought hosting and my new domain name to start my self-hosted blog today! I’m excited. Everything is being set up right now as I type!

  23. Byron Avatar

    me too!

  24. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    I knew what you meant… just giving you a hard time. 😉

    I’ve edited my previous comment to reveal the “code” behind it. lol

  25. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    But you see if you watch the video you will see that the event hasn’t even happened yet. In fact the big event is only days away and the main point of the campaign was that this was for Kony 2012 ending…well…I will let you watch the video to see what I mean 🙂

  26. Brandon Avatar

    Yeah, I haven’t seen the video…

  27. Brandon Avatar

    Yes! haha…

  28. Brandon Avatar

    I do care about those things. Sorry, my comment may have sounded like I could have cared less. I really meant to say that about the video only.

    I found out about this 1 week or so before the event. I still really don’t know what it is. I just meant that since it is over, there is no use in me watching the video.

    Sorry if the above comment sounded kind of bad.

  29. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    So am I 🙂

  30. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    I guess it depends on how it’s done. I don’t see how anyone could say he simplified the issue but I think after the initial wave a short video to help draw in those who refused to watch the 30 minute video might pull more people in. Just like you post did. If it weren’t for your blog I would never have seen it.

  31. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    I had a weak moment and was online so I popped in…LOL.

  32. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    [guilt trip]So you don’t care about children being kidnapped (if not murdered) and subjected to the most gruesome violence you could imagine? It doesn’t interest you to know about people who are suffering from more trauma and oppression than you will ever experience? [/end guilt trip]

  33. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    I think that may have cheapened the story. Most of the criticism the video received was that they were simplifying the issue.

  34. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    I was the same way at first. I’m glad I took the time to watch it though.

  35. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Let’s hope so!

  36. Brandon Avatar

    By the way, I’m impressed that you are commenting before 7pm! haha

  37. Brandon Avatar

    I agree. That might have been better. I still haven’t seen the video. I don’t plan to! 🙂

  38. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    That was one of the reasons I didn’t watch it before now. Sometimes you just have to sit back and watch though. Perhaps he could have made a short 2 minute video that was impactful and gripping enough that it drew you into watching the longer 30 minute video.

  39. Brandon Avatar


  40. Brandon Avatar

    Yeah…I never watched the video. The 30 min video turned me off right away! haha

  41. Jon Stolpe Avatar

    This is a good re-cap. I think we’ll see videos like this having more and more influence as time goes on.

  42. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    I agree. Before I saw the video I was thinking this guy was a kook but that just proves that there are a lot of people out there that just don’t know what it’s all about.

  43. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Lol! I loved that part!

  44. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    Oh..I completely forgot one of the things I liked most about the video. I love the way he used the Facebook Timeline in the video. Incorporating it as a part of the effects and transitions was really awesome.

  45. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Yea, one of the reasons I delayed writing this post was because of what happened. I’m debating with myself how to respond. I think it’s atrocious how critics responded and to see the stress and the work of the enemy claim a small victory is disheartening. I trust God will work it out for His good…

  46. Dustin W. Stout Avatar

    Thanks David!

  47. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    On a side note it does concern me that he chose to share this with his son. I know he limited what he shared but just the thought that an adult is forcing children to kill people might cause nightmares or trauma for a child of that age.

    I do also hope that the incident that occured recently has resolved itself because knowing now that he has a young child makes me wonder what he was thinking?

  48. David Willard Jr Avatar
    David Willard Jr

    Great stuff Dustin! I had seen the postings about it and had a general knowledge of what it was about but this was the first time I had watched the video. Great insites into how they are using social media to advance the cause but at the same time continuing to spread the message.

Leave a Reply