Last week, I guest lectured in my friend Farra Trompeter’s masters class, “Online Engagement: Leveraging the Internet and Social Media to Increase Visibility, Raise Money, and Create Change” at The New School in NYC. I joined with some really smart folks to cover a range of topics: Dan Thain, Blue State Digital: Case Study, Hope Not Hate UK campaign; and George Weiner, Do Something: Case Study, Do Something. I talked about a topic that I see both as a hot button issue and one that really pushes my buttons: slacktivism.
The picture here is a screen shot of a friend’s tweet and, whether I agree or not with her specific statement, I think it perfectly captures the frustration our communities feel when we, as organizations, don’t recognize our impact on creating and sustaining slacktivism instead of changing our world. More on that below…
Activism and Information
When talking about slacktivism, I think we need to start by talking about information. Regardless of the era (this isn’t a new phenomena), the emphasis and effort focused on spreading information and raising awareness has always resulted in people doing what organizations ask, even if it’s considered slacktivism. Previously, learning, spreading information, and raising awareness were very passive actions. But, with the raise of social media, we can further confuse the information stage of campaigning or change efforts with the action action.
What’s is so different today?
- citizen journalism vs institutions
- real time vs publishing
- a global-community view vs contacts only geographically close to us
Social media is a tool. It isn’t a tactic or a strategy. Whether you are urging supporters to make change or chronicling the revolution in your state, it is still a tool. But, because social media allows for engagement and personalization of information, it’s very easy and common for organizations to be satisfied with asking for and measuring the information stage.
Let’s step back for just a second and look at how our modern slacktivism came into this information = activism dynamic. Just as social media was really taking off, people and organizations were caught up in a huge focus on new ways to gain brand recognition. The 90s were filled with advocates calling for nonprofits to recognize that they could be just like companies in messaging, recognition and branding. Visibility and information were the keys.
How many people had a plastic bracelet from one organization or another? (If you’re reading this, did you?)
How many people here worked for an organization that created their own? I did! And we were an organization with a staff of 3 and board of 12…yeah.
Why’d we do it? To get into people’s lives; to start working up the touch points towards fundraising asks; to be part of how people associated themselves.
We’ve moved now from a plastic bracelet to a fan page. There’s nothing “wrong” with a fan page. But, as organizations or campaigners there IS something wrong if we praise likes and count followers instead of seeing these people as primed for real action and building opportunities for all those fans to actually engage in something meaningful.
Turning Fans into Changemakers
So, how do we really move likes into action?
As organizations, if we want to move our communities away from slacktivism and into real action, we need to recognize the large part we play. For all the negative talk about slacktivism, people are failing to recognize that there is actually a huge response coming from the community. People are taking the actions we are asking them to take – we are the ones giving them slacker-actions! Instead of crafting a compelling message and asking people to “like” it, we should see all of our “fans” as community members who have raised their hand saying “please give me something worthwhile to do!” and give them opportunities to start making real change.
We are so caught up in social media as a concept, a topic, a cause in itself that we forget to move people up the engagement ladder. We forget to connect to people period.
Focus on shared goals
Regardless of what our organization does, we have a certain set of goals. Our community, similarly, has goals. But they aren’t the same. They probably shouldn’t be the same! There are aspects of our work that the community doesn’t really care about or at least doesn’t care to be involved with. And the same is true for all that the community wants – some parts of it we just don’t want to get involved in. For example, maybe our community is rallying behind a specific politician, and we are working towards a piece of legislation. We aren’t going to join with each other on these specific goals – but bettering our state, well that’s the sweet spot. The sweet spot is where our goals overlap. And it’s the place where we can invest our time and our energy knowing that we are all rooting for the same end. Identifying the sweet spot is an integral part of community mapping and engagement planning. Knowing the areas that you and your community both care about can turn your campaigns, your communication and your engagement efforts into successful community-driven work.
Change your metrics
What we are measuring obviously impact what we focus on. (I gave a webinar on DIY Community Engagement Metrics recently if you’d like to check out the slides and templates.) When the only things we are tracking are the number of fans on a facebook page, or the number of email addresses in our database, we set ourselves up to endorse and call for slacktivism. Instead, look at your goals and build metrics that actually track your progress. Yes, the number of fans on facebook still counts, but it is just one column; For example, you could also track the number of community-generated posts to the page wall vs staff posts, the number of comments from the community vs staff, the kinds of content that generates the most response, and the level of engagement (whether it’s just likes, comments, or outside action).
If we aren’t building shared responsibility for the outcomes of our work into our campaigns and our email messages and everything in between then we are setting ourselves up for a lot of work and maybe also a bit of disappointment. Letting community members step up into leadership positions provides an opportunity in itself to move out of the binds of slacktivism and start more valuable engagement.
Let the community lead
As the organization/institution, you can provide the map, the gas, and even the car, but the community needs to be the driver. That will ensure passion and impact can go into steering, knowledge can help guide the way, and if no one wants to drive you have a pretty clear answer to adoption! The minute you step in as the organization to start driving, you take away the opportunity to go somewhere you’re community wants to go, to engage with the community in an important and formative way, and reinforce that the work is yours to design and implement.
Two quick examples of how things are changing:
First, the ladder of engagement (refer to the slides if you want to have a visual on the steps here). Let’s take for example the fact that the American Red Cross raised $34 million dollars from the text to donate campaign after the earthquakes last year in Haiti. I want to point out two aspects of the way the engagement ladder doesn’t necessarily work as one step to the next:
- On one side, that’s a lot of people that went from bystanders to donors. But how many of them are being encouraged to continue moving up and how many of them were even bystanders of ARC vs the news of the earthquake?
- On the other, how many people in this room are aware of ARC? You don’t have to respond but consider how many of you may have donated. It isn’t about whether you gave money or not, because I imagine you may have instead retweeted or shared a link or post on facebook.
I think that the engagement ladder needs to change to not show a raising level of engagement but instead operate more as a map, showing where someone may have entered from and where they can go next. They might start out as a creator but still have low engagement (not something that really matches our traditional engagement ladder view) and never get to the donation stage, for example.
Secondly, the 90-9-1 rule. I’ve been discussing it with colleagues in different topic areas recently and most people I talk to, especially that are community managers, have found there are far more people contributing consistently, and the ratios have changed to be few that are 1-time, many that are never and consistently, and then a new section for those that rise above into more visible or leadership roles.
- What was the last “slacktivist” action you took; Why did you take it?
- What was communicated to you explicitly or implicitly about the purpose and impact of the actio?
- If you were part of the organization, what would you do to engage people (you!) to take more action now?