Attacking Social Media “Slacktivists”


Courtesy of The Atlantic

UNICEF Sweden is taking shots at its online supporters who “like” activity the organization posts on Facebook. A recent ad campaign from the Sweden branch of UNICEF is rather bluntly telling its supporters that so-called vanity actions on social networks – the likes, shares, pins, retweets, etc. – do nothing to further the mission of the organization. Literally. (Check out the full story in the Atlantic by clicking here) The ads say a like on Facebook will “vaccinate zero children against polio.” (See the bottom of this post for a UNICEF YouTube spot along the same lines)

The objective of the campaign is to help supporters understand that donations are the lifeblood of the nonprofit organization. Which, of course, is true. The trouble is, donations come from a general awareness of a problem that a nonprofit solves. And awareness – as multiple studies now show – comes from activity on social networks.  Perhaps UNICEF Sweden hasn’t seen the recently released joint study from Georgetown University and Waggener Edstrom that shows social media is, by a vast majority, the primary way digitally active supporters and donors learn of new causes – even for those donors who give money offline.

“Likes” = awareness. Awareness = more donors and dollars

Let’s consider the mechanics behind some of these vanity metrics that are, by and large, worthless according to UNICEF Sweden. For example, a Facebook like. When someone “likes” a post on Facebook, that activity is sent to a large number of that person’s network of friends via their newsfeed. Go ahead, take a second to look at your Facebook feed. In the lower left, you’ll see a constantly-updating scroll of activity your friends are liking. Occasionally, that liking activity appears as a major news item in the News Feed. That leads to more exposure which leads to more new donors joining the cause. Knowing that, it would appear that mission awareness is something UNICEF Sweden does not value.

Know Your Data

Beyond the awareness building capacity of social media, there is evidence that suggests “slacktivists” are less slackerish than one might expect. According to another joint Georgetown study – highlighted in this Mashable article – slacktivists are:

  • Three times as likely to solicit donations on behalf of a charity’s cause.
  • Twice as likely to volunteer their time.
  • Equally as likely to donate as their non-social-media using counterparts (in other words, clicking “like” is not in place of a gift, but in addition to the gift).

All of the above would suggest that Facebook “likes” do, in fact, help organizations vaccinate kids against polio. As a matter of fact, a good argument could be made that a strong Facebook approach could be more effective than the ad campaign against slacktivism that UNICEF Sweden likely paid well into the six figures to create and implement.

To be fair, in the interview with the Atlantic, UNICEF Sweden’s Director of Communications Petra Hallebrant said “We like likes, and social media could be a good first step to get involved, but it cannot stop there. Likes don’t save children’s lives. We need money to buy vaccines for instance.”

Trouble with that statement is, if you look at the data, it would seem that Facebook “likes” actually do lead to money for those vaccines.

To be fair part 2, it’s certainly possible that UNICEF Sweden is trying to use the classic “shock value” approach to advertising as a way of drumming up awareness and support. And you could argue by the attention this campaign is getting in well-respected publications like The Atlantic and far less respected publications like this blog, they’re shock and awe campaign is working. Plus, the YouTube video below has been watched more than 38,000 times at the time of this post’s first publication. That is, of course, also awareness. So Maybe UNICEF Sweden is just much sharper than this author. That said, I would advise against any strategy that openly ridicules your slacktivists social champions. As the data tells us, those highly active social media supporters might just be the key to your organization’s future.

Justin Ware is a fundraising consultant who specializes in online and social media engagement at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To contact Justin, click here.


4 thoughts on “Attacking Social Media “Slacktivists”

  1. Pingback: Attacking Social Media “Slacktivists” | rwudarsky

  2. Pingback: How Cause Marketing Drives Slacktivism (and Vice Versa) | The Social Side of Giving

  3. Pingback: Mixed Links for Nonprofit Marketers May 3, 2013 - Kivi's Nonprofit Communications Blog

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