How Cause Marketing Drives Slacktivism (and Vice Versa)

The following is a guest post written by Jonathan Levi, Co-Founder & CEO of Zadaqa, a website the aggregates social media activism opportunities and rewards users for participating.

In the last year or so, you may have noticed a significant increase in what some would call “slacktivism” – a.k.a. the practice of “liking,” commenting on, retweeting, sharing, or any other social media activity in place of making a financial donation. Friends on every social network imaginable change their profile picture to show support for gay marriage. Your Twitter feed suddenly shows a dozen or so tweets with #VWSharkWeek, and mentions of a $2 donation. You even start seeing some seemingly random “likes” cropping up in your news feed, as your friends participate in exchange for donations to charity. jokingly predicted the "slacktivist" would be Time's 2012 Person of the Year. jokingly predicted the “slacktivist” would be Time’s 2012 Person of the Year.

“Slacktivism” as a practice has faced its fair share of criticism. Most recently, UNICEF Sweden went on an outright tirade, launching the “Likes Don’t Save Lives” campaign to suggest users donate money instead of their social media support. Can this be true? Has all of your social media activism been for nothing?

UNICEF appears to have overlooked an important opportunity in slacktivism – when slacktivist activity is combined with traditional cause marketing or the practice of associating your product with a charitable cause. While UNICEF is absolutely correct that a profile picture change or a “like” will not save a life, when it’s driven by a tangible, committed donation by a company eager to engage consumers, it can do just that – and more.

Nielsen found cause marketing and sponsorships to be as much as 30% more effective than traditional advertising in their 2012 Report “The Global, Socially Conscious Consumer.” This explains why many major brands are more than happy to spend advertising dollars on donations, not only because it drives immediate bottom-line results, but also because it is in line with the move towards transparency and responsibility that consumers demand.  Of course, nobody is arguing that cause marketing backed “slacktivism” should replace traditional fundraising or donation. On the contrary, slacktivist activity can supplement development work and have a number of positive effects on the overall ecosystem of charitable giving.

First and foremost, there’s real money being donated thanks to the partnership between social media users and cause marketers – lots of it. Right now, Varian Medical Systems is running a campaign to donate $50 for every “letter” you write to cancer. Bank of America has set a $1 million limit on their campaign to support wounded troops. Alaska Airlines is donating $100,000 to clean up Coral Reefs, in exchange for downloads of their mobile apps. This is just to name a few.

Resources dedicated to these campaigns are part of a larger shift toward corporations feeling pressure to demonstrate good CSR or corporate social responsibility. These efforts are more and more becoming part of the natural marketing ecosystem. Advertisers are beginning to realize that the golden age of Mad Men style advertising is just about over, as about half of consumers already ignore their efforts (Also Read: Are Advertisers Wasting Their Money?). Celebrity endorsements, funny commercials, and beautifully written copy are no match for TiVo, AdBlocker, and the Mute button. Instead, companies are forced to create branded, emotionally engaging content that we as customers choose to consume.

Furthermore, there are secondary and even tertiary effects to “Slacktivism.” For example, according to  this 2010 study by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication, people who participate in and share these types of offers are 2 times more likely to add their own time or money to the contribution. Many people are being educated and engaged by these campaigns, discovering new causes and charities that inspire them, and choosing to get involved. This illustrates a significant side benefit of having an involved group of slacktivists – awareness.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, cause marketing campaigns like those mentioned above give people – especially young people – a sense of power and responsibility, and a belief that they can actually make a difference by working together, whether or not they have a lot of money or time at their disposal.

So what’s the problem? It’s a good question, and one we are actively working on solving at Zadaqa. We really believe that cause marketing has the power to effect massive, positive changes in the world, and we hope to see more of it. By helping online activists find the campaigns, and providing trustworthy, emotionally-engaging content such as updates, photos, videos, and proof of donations, we hope to elevate “slacktivism” to a new level, akin to the petitioning or civil disobedience of our parents’ generation. Only time will tell how this phenomenon grows and matures, but we know one thing: there’s much more power in your tweets than you may realize.


2 thoughts on “How Cause Marketing Drives Slacktivism (and Vice Versa)

  1. Hi Justin, this is a great guest post and thanks for sharing your thoughts Jonathan Levi. I think it’s a great point you make that slacktivist activity can supplement development work and have a number of positive effects on the overall ecosystem of charitable giving. However, I think its role beyond supplementing development is limited. I don’t think it’s just a matter of helping online activists find the campaigns, and providing emotionally-engaging content such as updates, photos, videos, and proof of donations. I don’t think online activists are equipped to elevate “slacktivism” to a new level like petitioning or civil disobedience. They’re bound together by weak ties rather than strong ties and while this is their greatest strength as it affords flexibility and accessibility, I think it’s also a weakness of online movements and why they often peter out over time after initial gains in momentum. Online activists lack the discipline, the resources and the strategy to bring about real change, they are able to spread awareness very effectively in their capacity to disseminate information but online platforms I’ve found are much more of a marketing tool than a mobilising tool.

    • Thanks for commenting! Did you know “slacktivists” give more, volunteer more, and recruit more supporters that non slactivists? I appreciate your feedback, but statistically, the opposite of what you suggest is true.

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