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Does Slacktivism Actually Work?

Marcella Vitulli

While social media has profoundly amplified the reach and influence of nonprofits, it’s also created a dilemma commonly referred to as “slacktivism.”  This digital-age phenomenon describes the inaction of supporters beyond simple acts such as ‘liking’ a Facebook page or sharing a call-to-action.  

The efficacy of slacktivism has been a hotly debated issue.

One camp argues that the messaging around a cause and the urgency of an organization’s ask can be diluted by the rapid, superficial spread of marketing content.  It’s even been suggested that one-off engagement creates and normalizes bad slacktivist behavior.

On the other hand, some marketers see the the slacktivism glass as half-full.

Research has shown that merely asking for a retweet actually does increase the likelihood of audience engagement and significantly extends a message’s reach. And while a viral post doesn’t necessarily guarantee a high tangible return, such as a donation or a petition signature, it can elevate your messaging and spread awareness of your cause, two main objectives of any marketing strategy.


Image credit: Startup Stock Photos

In order to turn “slackers” into actors for your nonprofit or cause, it’s important to understand what’s holding them back. Largely, users simply don’t have the time; they’re on-the-go and grabbing a credit card or writing a personal appeal to their followers just isn’t possible.  

There’s also the issue of gratification: users feel real satisfaction when they ‘like’ a post, so taking steps beyond that action doesn’t always seem necessary. It’s the prerogative of your social media strategy to make them feel otherwise.  

Addressing these barriers to action is the first step to your campaign’s success. Here are some examples of campaigns that have done just that.


What kinds of content are your audiences already sharing? Are they most active on a particular social media platform?  In an effort to fulfill its mission to “make the world suck less,” DoSomething.org met its young audience on Snapchat and has conducted several successful content campaigns on this unique platform.  Capitalizing on sharing habits can help you determine which types of content will motivate your followers to action.  Regardless of whether you capture every supporter, you’ll be spreading your messaging more effectively to those participating in and influencing the conversation.


ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

One aspect of the resounding popularity and reported success of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is the manner by which it went viral.  By asking participants to “nominate” their friends and family to accept the challenge and donate to ALS, users are prompting each other in a public forum and holding one another accountable to follow through.  If you can create a strategy that employs this kind of accountability, it can free up more time for your marketing team to focus on creating great content.


Image credit: Anthony Quintano | Flickr


FCB Mayo

Speaking of great content, it’s important to incorporate both the good and bad habits of your audience into your online marketing strategy in new and creative ways.  For example, by playing on YouTube viewers’ tendency to quickly skip ads once prompted, one environmental agency in Chile was able to capture the audience’s attention with a creative spin on a typical video ad, and attract users to take a positive action for its cause.  Users are more likely to engage with you if you’re able to pique their curiosity.

from FCB MAYO on Vimeo.



Eliminating the barriers to participation is a must.  The appeal of “push-button” forms of  advocacy has prompted organizations to make donating or acting as simple as liking or retweeting.  FastAction has responded to this demand by creating a secure, one-click solution to sharing contact and payment information the organizations you support.  If you can establish an painless process for a supporter to answer your ask (and tell their network about it!), you’re positioning your social media campaign for success.

While slacktivism may have determined the new pace of online campaigns, it doesn't need to dictate the success of your next online campaign.


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