The term, “slacktivism” – defined as “informal actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement” – has become so common in modern parlance that it was one of the runners-up for the Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of 2014. But the stereotype of a slacktivist tweeting outrage about the kidnapped Nigerian schoolgirls under the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag – and then not doing anything else about it – may have to change, according to a new report that examines the ways technology and social media are altering Americans’ engagement with social and environmental causes.
Prepared by public relations and marketing firm Cone Communications, the “2014 Cone Communications Digital Activism Study” found that when individuals educate themselves about social or environmental issues through online channels, they are more likely to take action. Close to two-thirds (64 percent) of Americans say that after “liking” or “following” a nonprofit or corporate social responsibility program (CSR) online, they are more inclined to support a cause by volunteering, donating and sharing information.
The study, which surveyed a demographically representative sample of 1,212 adults, also discovered that once individuals “like” or “follow” an organization online, they are also far less likely to disengage from the particular social or environmental issue. Sixty percent will continue to read content and engage with the organization, while only 12 percent will ignore content and 6 percent would “unlike” or “unfollow” the organization within the next 12 months.
Americans also turn to social media to discuss causes they care about, Cone Communications found. Over half of all individuals surveyed say they tweet about, post about or otherwise discuss important issues online, while nearly three-quarters of Millennials reported doing so.
But the report revealed a disparity between what people say they do and what they actually do. Sixty-five percent of Americans said, given the opportunity, they are willing to make an online contribution to a cause they are concerned about, but in the last 12 months, only 35 percent of them donated through the Internet. Similarly, 70 percent of survey respondents said they are likely to learn online about changes they can carry out in their everyday lives to make an impact on a social or environmental issue, but only 25 percent reported doing so in the last year.
But rather than view this inconsistency between intent and action as a reinforcement of the slacktivist stereotype, Cone Communications said this difference is “a prime opportunity” for nonprofits and CSR programs to get individuals more involved in their cause.
“It’s no surprise we’re seeing a gap between the actions Americans say they’d like to take online and what they’re actually doing, considering the bulk of online activities offered today are focused on more passive actions, such as watching a video or ‘liking’ a social page,” said Alison DaSilva, Cone Communications’ executive vice president, in a statement. “Organizations can better leverage digital touch points to help consumers make real impact on the issues they care about. The groundswell of support and action around the recent Ice Bucket Challenge demonstrates how Americans stand ready, willing and able to engage online in a variety of ways – if given the opportunity.”
Organizations should still continue to offer individuals more passive online actions, including “liking” and “sharing” content, but they should also suggest more action-oriented activities like giving feedback and committing to change their behavior, the “Digital Activism Study” recommended. The survey data demonstrates that most Americans want to do more to help their favorite causes, Cone Communications said, but they need organizations to channel this desire-to-help into specific actions that make an impact.
The report provides other recommendations to nonprofit organizations and CSR programs looking to better engage their online audience, including targeting specific populations like Millennials and Boomers on the online channels they prefer, as well as exploring new ways to get the message across, such as quizzes, videos and infographics.
Malcolm Gladwell might still be right, when he famously (and controversially) wrote that the revolution will not be tweeted: To effect real systemic change, individuals need to put down their smartphones and tablets and be willing to take on existing social and political structures. But, as Cone Communication’s new report shows, digital activism doesn’t just have to be a fruitless intellectual exercise; it can lead to worthwhile action, or “clicktivism.” And, since the study found that 58 percent of Americans think that tweeting or posting information about a cause online is an effective form of advocacy, nonprofits and CSR programs need to step up their game and make the most of this growing enthusiasm.
Image credit: Cone Communications
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru
Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for various Bay Area cities and counties for seven years. She has a degree in cultural anthropology from UC Berkeley.