On July 25, 2007, Mary Madden, Senior Research Specialist for the Pew Internet & American Life Project, said, “Young adults are the most ‘contagious carriers’ in the viral spread of online video.”  On Mar. 15, 2012, a new report on the viral “KONY 2012” video by Lee Rainie, Paul Hitlin, Mark Jurkowitz, Michael Dimock, and Shawn Neidorf for the Pew Research Center found the same pattern.

The 30-minute video released on Mar. 5, 2012, by the San Diego-based organization Invisible Children called for action against Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony.  It also provided striking evidence that young adults and their elders at times have different news agendas and learn about news in different ways. (If you haven’t watched the video yet, you can do so here)

Pew Research: KONY 2012 Viral VIDEO Spread Analysis

According to the new report, those ages 18-29 were much more likely than older adults to have heard a lot about the “KONY 2012” video and to have learned about it through social media than traditional news sources.  In fact, a special analysis of posts in Twitter showed that it was by far the top story on the platform.

Moreover, younger adults were also more than 2x as likely as older adults to have watched the video itself on YouTube or Vimeo.

As of yesterday, the video had been viewed more than 86.58 million times on YouTube and 17.86 million times on Vimeo, making it one of the most viewed videos of all time on those sites.

Social Media’s Critical Role in Awareness & Viral Spread

Special polling and social media content analysis by the Pew Research Center tracked how the “KONY 2012” video and information about it reached so many Americans in a relatively short period of time, and the critical role social media played, especially for adults under age 30.

A national phone survey in the days following the video’s release shows that 58 percent of young adults said they heard about the video, including 40 percent who said they heard a lot about it.  That compares with 20 percent of those ages 30-49 who heard a lot about it; 18 percent of those ages 50-64; and 19 percent of those ages 65 and older.

Internet Most Important News Platform for Young Adults

Even more striking is the way people learned about the story: 27 percent of young adults first heard about it through social media such as Facebook or Twitter and another 8 percent learned about it via other internet sources.  The internet was more than three times more important as a news-learning platform for young adults than traditional media such as television, newspapers, and radio.  Some 10 percent of young adults first learned about the video via traditional media platforms.

For those ages 30-49, the mix of news sources was about even: 22 percent first learned of the “KONY 2012” video from internet sources – 15 percent via social media – and 21 percent learned from traditional media sources.  Those 50 and older were much more likely to have learned of the video from traditional sources, especially television: 29 percent of adults ages 50-64 heard from television, newspapers, or radio, compared with 12 percent who heard via the internet.  For adults age 65 and older, 47 percent learned about it from traditional sources and 5 percent learned from internet sources.

All the figures above apply to all adults in those age cohorts.  If one examines the adults who had heard about the video, the numbers shift even more dramatically for social media as the top source for young adults.  The figures suggest that perhaps half of adults 18-29 learned of the video from social media and, overall, nearly two-thirds heard first about the video from some online source.

Word-of-mouth was also a noteworthy source for those under age 65.  Some 9 percent of young adults learned of the video by talking with someone, 7 percent of those 30-64 also first heard of it during a conversation, and 2 percent of those 65 and older learned of it that way.

Young Adults More Likely to Watch KONY Video:

In addition to hearing a lot about the video, young adults were much more likely than older adults to have watched the video: 23 percent of adults ages 18-29 watched it, compared with 11 percent of those 30-49, 8 percent of those 50-64, and 13 percent of those 65 and older.

Social Media & Twitter Promotion

Invisible Children’s effort to promote the video using social media was very successful.  The group noted that one of its goals in launching the video was to capture attention for it through campaigns in social media to encourage celebrity Twitter users to post about it.

Those who did tweet included Oprah Winfrey, Ryan Seacrest, Justin Bieber, Alec Baldwin and Taylor Swift, and the campaign was saluted by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who said President Obama offered his congratulations for calling attention to the campaign to stop Kony and his army.