From June to November, 2009, we hosted a video contest on YouTube. The assignment was to make a video, three minutes or less, that explains “Why Afghanistan Matters.” Congratulations to our winners and thanks to all our entrants, shown below.
We were extremely happy with all the entries, many of whom dealt with the same issues in different ways. Competition was quite close, even in the final hours – we received 1,000 views per day in the last two days! However, as determined by public ratings as of October 31, 2009, the grand prize winner was awarded a Canon Legria HF200 high-definition camcorder. The 3 first prize winners were each awarded a Flip Ultra HD camera with two free accessories! Check out the videos and read more about our results below!
You may also view these videos on YouTube.
|Winner: Amanda Aitchison, United Kingdom||Andreas Zapounidis, Greece|
|Eric Sutphin, the United States||Natalie Carney, Canada|
Our contest winner Ms. Aitchison said she entered the competition “to try and shine a little light (in my own way) on the whole story of what is going on in Afghanistan. Starting from the hardship and heartache of the troops being away from home, and the difficulties they are dealing with daily, down to the joy of seeing progress and change starting to happen as a result of a lot of very hard work being carried out.”
In addition to one Grand Prize winner, three First Prize runners-up were awarded a Flip Video high-definition camera. These lucky winners were Andreas Zapounidis of Greece, Eric Sutphin of the United States of America, and Natalie Carney of Canada. Ms. Carney’s winning entry was filmed during work she was doing to promote the plight of refugees in Afghanistan. One of three videos she entered, her video on the Kufa Orphanage and its challenges was the entry that won. Ms. Carney has indicated she will donate the prize to the orphans, so that they can hopefully document their own experiences.
The “Why Afghanistan Matters” contest was conducted in an effort to promote transparency by empowering those who have seen the situation in Afghanistan first-hand to explain why the work we are collectively doing there is so important. By facilitating the “boots on the ground” imagery, it was expected that the contest would stimulate public dialogue on a topic which has only become more important as the contest progressed. In addition, the resulting videos contribute to an overall NATO Afghan narrative.
Of all the entries received, a number stimulated public interest and discussion. In particular, the winning entry by Mr. Zapounidis highlighted the role of Alexander the Great in Afghan history, and portrayed current efforts as an extension of ancient efforts to bring democracy and peace to Afghanistan. As the number of views on the YouTube channel reached nearly 1,000 per day and the lead changed three times in the final 48 hours of the contest, Mr. Zapounidis’s video received over 150 enthusiastic comments and over 400 ratings.
In all, the contest’s YouTube channel received over 11,000 views and 1,000 ratings.
This has been NATO’s first video contest, in an increasing exploration of the use of social media to broaden the discussion beyond the violence often preferred by the traditional media. In addition to using YouTube, the contest employed a web site with a blog component, the microblogging platform Twitter, and a page on Facebook, which boasts more than 250 million users – nearly 1 of every 5 internet users in the world.
These efforts were not without controversy. The contest’s open invitation to deployed personnel to participate caused some concerns and national debate about security, although all entries were screened prior to public viewing. In spite of these concerns, however, public interest was quite diverse. On Twitter, over 1,000 followers from various nations signed up for regular updates on the contest and general news on Afghanistan. The Facebook page attracted over 260 fans, mainly but not limited to the United States. And the contest web site, promoted on nearly 20 blogs, received nearly 10,000 “hits” from 94 countries – led by the United States and closely followed by Germany.
JFC Brunssum is currently exploring follow-on initiatives to make further use of social media, stimulate additional dialogue on Afghanistan, and capitalize on the growing “brand recognition” associated with “Why Afghanistan Matters.” For many in NATO and the military in general, social media represent largely unexplored terrain. However, closing the perception gap between those doing the work in Afghanistan and the home publics may require new tools. As our contest winner stated concerning her own video, use of these new tools may help the “Allies in NATO do their best to turn the sad and difficult situation in Afghanistan round into a positive result, which will be a happier and more peaceful country.”