Koko the gorilla has a social media problem.
"Actually," you're probably thinking. "She went viral as hell this week." And you're right. A video of her adopting two kittens for her birthday was uploaded to her YouTube channel Tuesday and already has over a million views. If you haven't seen it shared by every member of your family and graduating class yet, you should check it out. It's very sweet.
The issue? She celebrated her 44th birthday in July -- and the video sat around for four months before it was released. Even weirder, the video wasn't the way her team decided to break the news. 18 days earlier, the September 25 edition of the koko.org email newsletter rolled out a bunch of photos of Koko with the kittens. Then seemingly at random, at 5:00 PM on a Tuesday, they dropped the accompanying video.
Imagine any celebrity rolling out a news item that way. If Chrissy Teigen adopted two kittens on her birthday and wanted to show us pics and a video, they'd be simultaneously debuted across every platform like it was a g-d Apple event. Samsung would probably sponsor it. It's a testament to Koko's relatability that the video reached as many people as it has. No shade to her team at all, but tbh that clip went viral despite how they told the story, not because if it.
But the Gorilla Foundation's first priority isn't PR -- it's research, which makes sense. There are plenty of theorists on Koko message boards who think Penny Patterson, the Stanford psychologist responsible for Koko and the Gorilla Foundation, hasn't been doing enough (read: anything) with Koko for decades, but that seems like a moot point, too.
Patterson developed an entire new language, Gorilla Sign Language, and Koko is the planet's most fluent speaker of it. That's insane! Right now, in 2015, a gorilla can make jokes -- and hope to make you laugh. She can title her own paintings. She can fangirl over Mr. Rogers and tell him about it.
It's not Patterson's mission or responsibility to constantly heighten the experiment or position Koko as some pop culture hypebeast. The missed opportunity here is that they've essentially raised a great ape into a human teen, and they're not letting her blog about it.
Think about it: like most teens who live at home with their parents and are dreaming of something more, Koko has a lot of feelings all the goddamn time but doesn't have the vocabulary or life experience to relate to anyone around her. TV is her only window to wider culture, and she gets crushes on the guys she sees there. She met her current boyfriend by video dating, but they're not having sex yet.
I just want Koko to have the social presence of any red-blooded American teenager locked in her bedroom and pissed off at her mom. So, as a service to The Gorilla Foundation, and maybe also as a job application, here are my (free!) suggestions for how to improve Koko's social presence:
- Get your house in order. Post stuff regularly. Post stuff as it's happening. Part of this is just paying attention to social media, which might mean bringing someone into the office who cares about social media. I'll let you worry about budgeting and logistics. But little one-off opportunities for interaction, like Koko's Amazon Wishlist, are deeply awesome. People would be eating it up if it were easier to find.
- Know yr strengths. She's a gorilla! Who signs! She's a visual lady. Get this bitch an Instagram account and let her take the photos sometimes. It's fine to be on Twitter and Facebook, but those platforms aren't doing her any favors.
- Let her voice the accounts. Let her blog for you. Let her talk to us. The actual magic crazy bananas thing about Koko is that she's proven to us once and for all that apes have perspective. Their brains can process things like, "Here I am," and, "There you are," but more importantly, "I love it when you do that," or, "I'm sad today because I'm thinking about when I was younger." She's spent a lifetime learning how to communicate within parameters that will make sense to human brains -- let her share some of herself with us for a change. Imagine Koko Periscoping with a class of kids who are learning sign language. Imagine Koko giving you a tour of her favorite things by taking photos with an iPad and then dictating the captions herself.
DM me, Penny.