Slacktivism at its Finest

by Bridget Pooley, Manager of Engagement

This past month has been one of bad news, accompanied by the feeling of having too much negativity to choose from: Ukrainian and Russian conflict, MH17, the murder of James Foley, discord in Ferguson, ISIS, Ebola… the list goes on.

Amidst the gloom I’ve found a glimmer of positivity shining through in the form of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge. By now, just a week shy of a full month of challenges, it seems that everyone has taken the challenge, donated to ALS, or hopped up on their Facebook soap box to voice their opposition to the challenge. And the challenge is actually working; earlier today the ALS Association announced donations have reached $53.3M, with support coming in from 1.1M new donors. This is without a doubt exciting and revolutionary, but what I find even more sensational is the level of awareness the general public now has for ALS and the ALS Association. Prior to the #icebucketchallenge, ALSA cited American awareness about ALS at about 50%, and chances are that number has skyrocketed, thanks to the challenge.

ALS #IceBucketChallenge, Slacktivism at its Finest

The ALS challenge features an easy action in a shareable form; it incorporates positive peer pressure, and is being used for good…and fun.

The challenge serves as an excellent case study to illustrate findings on slacktivism from a study conducted jointly by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide. Americans who support causes most often by utilizing promotional social media (e.g., posting an ice bucket challenge video) participate in more than twice as many supportive activities (both online and offline) when compared to their non-social media promoter peers.

If that’s not enough for you, slacktivists are:

  • twice as likely to volunteer their time (30% vs. 15%) and to take part in an event or walk (25% vs. 11%).
  • more than four times as likely to encourage others to contact political representatives (22% vs. 5%), and five times as likely to recruit others to sign petitions for a cause or social issue (20% vs. 4%).
  • equally likely as non-social media promoters to donate their money in support of a cause (41% vs. 41%).

Suddenly, the ice seems to be melting.

Viral Lottery: What the #IceBucketChallenge Means for Nonprofits

 Schuyler Lehman, with Mission Advancement, uses a great metaphor when he explains that ALS Association’s success is as if they’ve “won the lottery.” And I don’t think he could be more spot on – the world of social media is one of a viral lottery. It’s nearly impossible to predict what will catch on and what will sputter out – or worse, which social initiatives take on a life of their own, in a completely unintended direction (who can forget the #McDStories disaster).

Instead of trying to generate your own ice bucket challenge, consider taking this opportunity to evaluate how you engage your slacktivist supporters – embrace and cultivate them! The ice bucket (or cold water) challenge has been circulating for months without much pick up until two ALS sufferers named it as their charity of choice and sparked a movement.

The lesson here? Let your supporters take their own direction, build your relationships with your slacktivists and empower them to support your cause.

One final point, given my post last week, while there is admittedly not much of an authentic connection between dumping a bucket of ice on your head and the experience of ALS, ALSA didn’t come up with the challenge, so in this case, I think they get a pass. Read my blog post from last week about #UberMADD and the importance of cause alignment.