Slacktivism: you get the engagement you deserve

Slacktivism: n. 1. halfhearted activism.
(Wikitionary see also Slacktivism on Wikipedia)

At the recent Digital Citizens event “Social media for social good”, many worthwhile and interesting  issues were discussed that revolved around how Not For Profits (NFPs) could use social media to raise awareness of their particular issues and use that awareness to try and achieve some substantial change. However, all of the panelists on the night danced around the notion of big online campaigns that attract widespread but shallow engagement. In other words, what about the slacktivists?

While slacktivism is everywhere, it is highly visible is social media. For example, classic slacktivist slacktivities include changing your avatar on a social network (twibbons being the obvious example) or following a Facebook group that professes to support some cause or other.

The personally removed nature of online interactions make it very easy to look engage with little to no effort and indeed little to no emotional or financial cost to the individual. Even ribbons, wristbands or lapel pins (which achieve as much social change as a twibbon) at least require a financial investment that has the added benefit of raising funds for the NFP. Online slacktivism adds nothing but awareness that is fleeting if not followed by action.

You get the engagement you deserve.

People are busy. You are battling competing interests. Frankly, most people are lazy and disinterested in your campaign to begin with. It’s hardly the most supportive environment to bring attention to your cause.

It’s not enough to just drum up support. Simple gestures with low barriers to entry like twibbons, Facebook groups or online petitions are merely a gateway. If you cannot provide a clear road map of action that accommodates different levels of engagement from your supporters, you might as well not have started to begin with. Attention is precious. Don’t waste it.

Slacktivism allows someone to feel engaged while they make empty non-committal gestures that them indicate a basic level of support with having to commit to anything or make any real investment beyond a few seconds of their time.

The depth of feeling and support from your supporters is directly related to the amount of prep work you do for them and what you give of yourself to your supporters in the process. It’s basic leadership: put in the groundwork and map out a clear pathway, people will follow you to the final goal. Slacktivism fills the void that is left behind when an issue becomes stronger than the leadership in the community.

Bringing the slacktivists into the fold

If you are going to use social media to encourage individuals to participate and affect real change, you need to engage with individuals. Getting people to contribute to anything that does not provide them with an immediate benefit  is difficult. You only need to ask the same old faces that man the canteen at your children’s sporting events every week, or those who help out at the homeless shelters or the stand on street corners soliciting donations. Volunteering is often a thankless task with a shortage of people prepared to step in and do their part.

Online campaigns and social media are no different. People are still people, no matter the mode of interaction and communication. Getting people to volunteer real time and real resources is hard. Signing a petition, changing an avatar or joining a Facebook group are easy and, for the most part, very public ways of showing support without even getting out of a chair.

The only way you will really engage with these people is through baby steps. Without a clear plan of progressing such people through incremental action, they will shallowly interact and then fade away.

If you haven’t done the work, neither will they. You get the engagement you deserve.

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