There are more than 11 million Australian users on Facebook. The latest figures (April 2012) for Twitter in Australia puts the user base at 1.8 million. How many are “monthly active users” is one of those perennial questions that plagues strategists and marketers alike. How to take advantage of them and direct their efforts towards good is an even bigger challenge.

The big online activist story of this year was the viral Kony video that in the end racked up more than 100 million views, which is pretty amazing given that the video itself is almost half an hour long. The secret to why that happened is fascinating, and it’s not the celebrities that tweeted it, as reported by many analysing the situation, although that clearly helped. If you look at the data, as Gilad Lotan did over at the SocialFlow blog, you see that the pre-existing networks of young Christians sent the video into the stratosphere first. Then those kids tweeted their heroes, who naturally thought, “well, I’ve received this twenty times today already, looks worthy, I’ll send it on too”.

The Invisible Children team behind the anti-Kony campaign are masters of hashtags, activating pre-existing cells of committed fans, targetted pressure points and compelling storytelling. Pity that only 32% of the money raised actually went to changing the world.

It’s this world that Australian NGOs operate in, and on top of that, one in which the global financial crisis is finally catching up with the country, donations in general are down across the board and people’s emotional response to street collectors (‘chuggers’) is only getting worse.

In America, the response of some charities has been to turn to small enterprise models. Bigger Australian NGOs and charities have been onto this online activism lark for many years, especially since GetUp entered the scene in 2005. GetUp also uses the pre-existing network that can be mobilised on demand to send targeted emails and petitions, but the regularity of the requests risks reducing the effect.

Jeremy Heimans, one of GetUp’s founders, identified one aspect of this when he spoke about ‘green fatigue’ at TEDxSydney earlier this year.

[video_youtube youtubeid=”Nn1E4z33MVE” width=”640″ height=”360″]

What’s needed is what marketers call “cut-through”, a significant point of difference that makes your cause, your story, stand out more than the others.

Put it all together and you start to get a very compelling rush towards a tipping point in the way the Kony video had.

To recap:

  1. Build your audience and keep them connected and invested so that they’re there when they’re needed to save lives, stop or pass a bill in Parliament, block a poor development or raise funds for something wonderful.
  2. Avoid the hackneyed phrases and iconography of your sector.
  3. Tell the story in the most compelling way you can.
  4. Watch online commercial models for clues in building revenue.

I’ll be addressing some of these points in more detail in future posts. Have you run a viral campaign for a not-for-profit? What were your experiences?

(social media heart collage by kdonovan_gaddy)