In Defense of Social Media Slacktivism

In Defense of Social Media Slacktivism

Julia Claire Campbell Nonprofits, Social Media 9 Comments

In Defense of Social Media SlacktivismThe word “slacktivism” has surfaced so much of late that I feel the need to write a defense of the muchmaligned practice.

“Slacktivism” can be loosely defined as sharing a post online, signing an online petition and tweeting a link to a charity’s website.

Cynicism Exhibit A: Brian Moylan wrote a provocatively titled post calling everyone who posted the red marriage equality sign on their Facebook profiles “useless”.

Cynicism Exhibit B: UNICEF Sweden, in a controversial new ad campaign, features a stereotypical, poverty-stricken  child from the developing-world with the captions: “My mom got sick, but I think everything will be alright. Today UNICEF Sweden has 177,000 likes on Facebook. Maybe they will reach 200,000 by summer.” (Rather ironically, they posted this video on social media site YouTube.)

Moylan’s point is that everyone should be out there pounding the pavement and calling their elected representatives if they support marriage equality.

The point of the UNICEF campaign is that people who Like them on Facebook don’t give them money. (Whether or not Moylan or UNICEF have actually researched these alleged connection is not discussed.)


UNICEF Sweden’s campaign against “slacktivism”

I have worked with many nonprofit organizations on their social media strategies. They have dedicated many hours to connecting with stakeholders, engaging community members and educating the public about their cause and their impact on the world.

Moylan’s and UNICEF’s attacks on so-called “slacktivists” (anyone who takes action online) are harmful to nonprofits for several reasons:

1)     It encourages the unhelpful, unproductive and antiquated nonprofit notion that spending time and money on social media is a waste of time. (Educating a fan base and engaging directly with stakeholders is NEVER a waste of time, in my opinion.)

2)     It minimizes the reality that more and more charities are effectively using social media tools to advocate, raise awareness and yes raise money for their causes.

3)     How do they know that people who take action online don’t actually donate money or time to nonprofit causes? Where is this shown with actual, hard data? In fact there is hard data to disqualify this POV: A 2011 study found that “Most evidence in recent years suggests that being active online promotes off–line participation as well. Although this link is not necessarily very strong, there is certainly no evidence of a negative effect from Internet activity.”

4)     Social media efforts cannot exist in a silo. Ideally they should exist hand-in-hand with the marketing, fundraising, community services, human resources and programmatic efforts of the entire organization. Therefore, social media cannot solely be blamed for a lack of donations this year.

5)     This attitude assumes that all nonprofit marketing, social media or otherwise, should be 100% on the bottom line of raising money. This is misguided for several reasons.

6)     Browbeating, guilt mongering and shaming someone into giving a donation may work once, but it is not a sustainable fundraising strategy. This might be the reason for the abysmal donor retention rates in recent years.

7)     Where does it stop? Do we criticize people who give us their email address, right before we email them for a donation? Do we sneer at volunteers who give of their time, if they don’t give us a sizable monetary contribution?

Yes, it is true, Facebook Likes do not directly save children’s lives. (Neither do those posters or that video you created, but that’s besides the point.)

Effective fundraising is about telling a story and showing the donor the impact their contribution will have on a cause that they care passionately about.

It’s about evoking positive emotions – saving children, protecting the environment, building a school – not about creating a shame spiral where your supporters are made to feel terrible.

Rather than fighting the alleged effect of “slacktivism”, nonprofits should re-examine their fundraising, marketing and social media programs.

UNICEF Sweden – If you are really against this form of passive activism, why not make a real statement and delete the Facebook page?

Yeah, I didn’t think so.

What do you think about UNICEF’s campaign? Please share your thoughts in the Comments section. Thanks for reading!

photo credit: slworking2 via photopin cc

Comments 9

  1. Patricia Mandell

    Wow. These are cogent points indeed. Naysayers are often way too quick to criticize. I would agree that social brand awareness and outreach certainly serve nonprofits.
    Bravo for a powerful piece.

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      Julia Claire Campbell

      Thank you, Patricia. Social media as a tool has definite benefits to nonprofits – educating, telling their stories, sharing impact.

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  2. Tim Haight

    I can see it both ways, with a tilt towards encouraging social media activity. On the negative side, there is the long-standing fear that people can confuse knowing about a problem with doing something about it. Years ago, this was dubbed the “narcotizing dysfunction” of the mass media. Social media makes this even more possible, since you might do something that didn’t accomplish much.

    On the other hand, there is social science evidence that even though people don’t say they do things because their neighbors do, it actually is a most powerful influence. This probably applies to online neighbors, friends, contacts, too. And even just signing a petition does contribute to a statistic that may be of some use. Plus, I think all those fundraisers who believe that you draw people in gradually with increasing engagement are probably right.

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  3. Vynka

    I agree with you whole heartedly Julia. As a social media manager for a not-for-profit myself I am constantly promoting the benefits of online communication channels and storytelling to promote ongoing engagement with potential supporters. Every like, follow, friend and email address is a valuable new opportunity to reach out, connect and be heard.

    Using social media to promote awareness is no different to sending a media release, turning up to a rally, or as you say, creating a poster or video. This type of activism is relational, not transactional so while it may not translate into dollars immediately, it forms the basis of future support by giving you an audience that chooses to communicate with you.

    Waggener Edstrom Worldwide and Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication have just released a report entitled “Digital Persuasion. How Social Media motivates Action and Drives support for Causes”. (go to to download) and one of the key findings was that 55% of their survey respondents who engaged with causes via social media have been inspired to take further action.

    The UNICEF campaign is a negative one, and it has certainly given them a lot of exposure so in a way it’s almost clever. I do wonder however if they haven’t bitten the hand that feeds them – time will tell I guess.

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