Study Uncovers How Social Media Drives Support for Causes

Seattle (March 19, 2013) — Social media has become a key driver for social good, leading to more traditional methods of generating support and involvement for causes, according to the new quantitative study, “Digital Persuasion: How Social Media Motivates Action and Drives Support for Causes.” The study was released today by Georgetown University Center for Social Impact Communication and integrated communications agency Waggener Edstrom Worldwide (WE)’s Social Innovation practice. The study found that more than half (55 percent) of digitally active, cause-savvy American adults were likely to do far more than simply “like” a cause. Engaging with causes via social media prompted them to donate money (68 percent), donate personal items or food (52 percent), attend or participate in an event (43 percent), and even volunteer (53 percent).

Perhaps signaling a significant departure from previous research, where face-to-face interaction was the primary mode of cause information exchange, survey respondents named social media as their top source of information about the causes they support. This is true even for respondents who only support their chosen causes offline, which further supports this shift.

“More than idle chatter and pop-culture memes, social media is being used as a force for good that leads people to action,” said Denise Keyes, executive director, Georgetown University Center for Social Impact Communication. “The study demonstrates that these tools can go beyond just building awareness and creating connections to compel meaningful, measurable action.”

Among the top findings, the survey revealed the following:

  • Fifty-four percent of respondents indicate they are more likely to support a cause through social media rather than offline.
  • More than half of survey respondents (55 percent) who engaged with causes via social media have been inspired to take further action.
  • Seventy-six percent agree that it’s important to them to influence others to care about the charities and causes they care about.
  • Respondents recognize the growing role of social media in effectively getting the word out about global causes.
  • Eighty-two percent agree that social media is effective in getting more people to talk about causes or issues.
  • The most popular way people get involved in global causes is by supporting on social media (38 percent), followed by mailing a donation (27 percent), and making a donation online or signing an online petition (tied at 25 percent).

“Recognizing what motivates people, and where and how to reach them, is crucial in any organization or cause’s quest to deepen engagement, whether it be online or offline,” said Caroline Sanderson, WE senior vice president, Social Innovation practice. “Our study uncovered that social media can indeed influence people to contribute to a cause and take action. Understanding cause supporters and their online behavior uncovers what drives them and offers further counsel in how to reach them authentically.”

Among survey respondents, four distinct categories of supporters emerged — referred to as Mainstreeters, Minimalists, Moderates and Maximizers. Each group can be extremely beneficial to a cause as long as organizations know how to engage them — and keep them tuned in.

  • Mainstreeters: Active on social media, but only support causes offline.
  • Minimalists: Only support causes online.
  • Moderates: Balance offline support with online actions, such as liking a cause on Facebook.
  • Maximizers: Support an average of 12 different causes — nearly twice as much as any other category — online and off.

The complete findings, which can be downloaded here, provide further insight into how social media is being utilized for cause support — both local and global — and understanding the perceptions, behavior and motivations behind this.

About the Survey
Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication and Waggener Edstrom Worldwide developed the study to gain a deeper understanding of perceptions, behavior and motivations for cause support (locally and globally) among digitally engaged American adults. The survey was conducted online within the United States by Authentic Response on behalf of WE from July 23–Aug. 2, 2012, among 2,004 digitally engaged cause-supporting adults, ages 18 and older. Specifically, qualified participants were online or offline supporters of a charity or cause during the previous 12 months; moderate social media users (as defined by posting content, commenting or liking at least three times per week); and following at least one brand, company or organization on a social media platform. This online survey is not based on a probability sample, and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

For more information, press only:
Kirsten Forsberg, Waggener Edstrom Worldwide, (503) 443-7102,
Julie Dixon, Georgetown University Center for Social Impact Communication, (202) 687-8552,