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5 Questions with Chris Carver, Chief Operating Officer of Invisible Children

By Ramya Raghavan

YouTube News And Politics Manager

On March 5 of this year, Invisible Children uploaded “Kony 2012” to their YouTube channel. Today, the video has over 93 million views and has made Joseph Kony a household name. We caught up with Chris Carver, Chief Operating Officer of the organization to learn more about how Kony got to be such a viral sensation, the action (and controversy) it inspired, and their new documentary, “MOVE.”

1. KONY 2012 was the most viral nonprofit video ever on YouTube. What is your outreach strategy when putting out a new video?

We’re a grassroots movement so we first reach out to the supporter base we've developed over the past 9 years. A big part of Invisible Children's model is to tour our documentaries for free in schools, colleges and churches throughout North America. We do two tours a year, reaching around 500,000 students each tour. Prior to KONY2012, we had done 14 tours, with over 13,500 free screenings to over 5M students. There are over 500 Invisible Children clubs around the country, and we’ve put on 5 international events with over 400,000 people in attendance. I mention all of this to show how much importance we place on face-to-face interaction. The offline experience is just as important (if not more) than the online experience. Our supporters are truly the catalyst for getting our/their message out and we invest a lot of time cultivating these young, amazing leaders via phone, email, livestream, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

There are so many other factors we consider as part of the outreach strategy when putting out a new film: From the importance of strong branding and design, to clear and concise copy that's synchronized across all platforms, to making sure everything has a very clear call to action.

2. Your new documentary tells the story of Kony. What was your motivation behind putting out this documentary? Why now?

Actually, all of our documentaries focus on Joseph Kony and the LRA in some form or another (11 films total). I think we all got to the point where telling the same type of story year after year wasn’t resulting in the amount of awareness about Kony that was needed to put international pressure on him.

In putting out KONY 2012, we told the story differently. We felt that after 26 years of child abductions, terrible atrocities and mass displacement in central Africa, the time had come for Kony to become famous. Not to celebrate him, but to bring his crimes to light. Although we far exceeded what we ever could have imagined in terms of view count and awareness, we know that seeing a permanent end to LRA violence is going to take much more than that. It is going to take a continued awareness, continued mobilization, more protection of communities from LRA violence and more recovery programs to rehabilitate, educate and create jobs for people affected by LRA violence.

Our new documentary, MOVE, goes behind-the-scenes to tell the story of the KONY 2012 whirlwind, how we made an African warlord famous, and how we’re going to challenge our generation to take a stand for international justice.

3. There were more than 40k videos uploaded to YouTube in response to KONY 2012. Were you able to engage with any of these folks? Did the volume of video replies surprise you?

To be entirely honest, I think almost everything about this campaign was initially surprising. Millions of people responded and our infrastructure couldn't handle the response. I take responsibility for this, but I'm not sure anyone could see this coming. As a result, people couldn't get any context for who Invisible Children was. So although we love the fact that so many people responded with more videos (extending the conversation), it was a loss that we couldn't respond back. We've always tried to make our various platforms a two-way conversation, but we just weren't set up for this much volume.

4. How did the KONY 2012 viewership translate into offline action?

KONY 2012 was/is an awareness campaign, and the international community responded with the most intense period of global engagement in the history of the LRA conflict:

  • March 5: The film went live
  • March 21: the KONY 2012 legislation was introduced in the Senate
  • March 23: the African Union (AU) and United Nations (UN) announced that 5,000 troops will pursue Kony
  • April 19: the European Union (EU) pledged their support
  • April 20: Cover The Night promoted global awareness & service
  • April 23: President Obama extended the deployment of U.S. military advisers to help stop the LRA
  • May 12: the Ugandan army captures Major Caesar Achellam, one of the top commanders in the LRA
  • May 24: U.S. Senate State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee approves $10,000,000 for humanitarian aid in LRA-affected communities
  • June 26: Invisible Children delivered 3.7 Million KONY 2012 pledges to the United Nations
  • June 29: the AU & UN released their strategy to combat the LRA
  • July 31: U.S. Senate Defense Appropriations Committee approves $50,000,000 for intelligence and surveillance of LRA activity
  • August 2: the KONY 2012 resolution that was introduced on March 21 passes the Senate by unanimous consent
On November 17, we’re encouraging thousands of supporters to gather for the largest global summit on the LRA in history. Participants will hear directly from the top 10 global leaders on the LRA conflict, surround the White House for a demonstration of unity, and end the evening by celebrating human connectivity through the universal language of dance.

5. KONY 2012 and MOVE are both quite a bit longer than the average YouTube video - how did you decide that a longer video was right for this subject?

For the past 9 years and subsequent 14 tours, we developed our films to be distributed in person. KONY 2012 was the first film that we released online, and its length was determined by how much time it took to tell the story. Because we knew it was longer than most online videos, we were strategic in making sure that every second held your attention, had a strong storyline, and was less than 30 minutes (clocked in at 29:59).

We took the same approach for MOVE and hope people who watch this time, share the film with the same idea as the first. Where you live should not determine whether you live and we have a responsibility to protect those that cannot protect themselves.