Beyond Slacktivism: What Makes Social Media Impactful?

Best Internet Concept of global business from concepts series.El

Thanks everyone who participated in my poll. The people have spoken, and the people want to know what the deal is with social media activism. Can posting and sharing your thoughts and feelings about major social issues really lead to meaningful change in the world? Well, in a lot of ways, yes it can. A recent study found that nearly two thirds of Americans (64%) said that they would be more likely to take some kind of action on an issue (including donating, volunteering, or sharing information) after “following” or “liking” an organization on social media. Today, I’m going to talk about how you can use social media to amplify the effect of the good you’re doing in the world, not to take the place of it.

But first, a public service announcement… Before I get started talking about how you can make a positive impact online, I first have to address what is becoming an epidemic of misinformation online. So much content, especially viral content, on the internet is not based in facts. As Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post puts it, our fast-paced society “puts people who fact-check at a disadvantage.” As this article points out (same article where Mr. Grimm’s quote comes from), a false story once prompted $60,000 in donations to a private individual. Before you call people to action, please make sure that the information you are spreading is accurate by looking at the source and vetting for any potential bias or incompetence. If you don’t have that kind of time, there’s no shame in looking it up on snopes.com and letting them do the research for you.

Now, down to business… I saw a great article recently for business leaders and nonprofits on how to turn “likes” and “shares” into action, but I’m still finding little advice for individuals looking to voice their support online in a way that is both meaningful and impactful. Here are some tips for sharing content in a way that has the potential to be really beneficial.

In order to have a positive impact, your social media post MUST either A) motivate your followers to actually do something (by calling them to action), B) educate them or inform them of something that will stick with them, or C) BOTH. Let’s explore:

The Call to Action: What is social media good for if not to help people get organized?* One of the best ways you can use your social media network is by persuading your connections to take some kind of meaningful action. Here are some examples of calls to action you could make (be warned: all of my examples are about preventing a zombie apocalypse – quite the noble cause if you ask me):

  1. “Donate to this charity and help us prevent zombies from taking over the world!” If there is a charity that you feel is helping to make the world a better place (for instance, by helping us avoid a zombie plague), don’t be afraid to share it on your page. You can even take this a step further by using a site like fundly to create a fundraising campaign – making it easier to share your story and collect donations.
  2. “The Zombie Apocalypse Task Force (ZATF) is seeking volunteers to help construct zombie-proof shelters for humans. Contact ash@zatf.org for more information.” If you are a volunteer or know of a cool volunteer opportunity, why not share it with your network? Volunteering can be a very rewarding experience, and it is good for charities – a win-win!
  3. “Come to Life After Z: A Benefit Performance dedicated to survivors of the zombie invasion.” Inviting your friends to benefits and other fundraising events is another win-win. Help show your friends a great time while helping to raising awareness and support a worthy cause. You can even organize your own charity fundraiser using sites like eventbrite.
  4. Zombies were people too! Support this legislation giving undead humans the right to vote. [link to zombie voting rights petition or information on writing to your representative].” If you want to support meaningful political change, make it easy for people in your community to take action. Give clear, specific instructions to make navigating the political sphere as easy as possible.

The Awareness-builder: Like a public service announcement, these kinds of messages provide people with useful information that will enable them to improve their own health and/or the health of their community. Examples** include:

  1. “Eating an orange every day reduces your chances of being infected with a zombie plague by 30%. Be smart, be a survivor.”
  2. “If you see a zombie threat, back away slowly and quietly, and call ZATF at 555-5555.”

Here are some examples that both educate and call to action:

  1. “Zombie bites are responsible for 98% of the people that have been turned into zombies. Donate to ZATF and help us put an end to the zombie plague.”
  2. “Did you know that zombies cannot climb stairs? Help ZATF members build stairs everywhere by participating in our Build-A-Thon this Sunday from 10am-5pm.”

A few more tips to help you make your posts really capture people’s attention, help them learn, and encourage them to take action:

  1. Make it personal. Remember, people follow you online because they care about you, so don’t be afraid to open up to them about why this cause in so important to you. If you are comfortable opening up about personal struggles (such as facing discrimination, trauma, mental health issues, poverty, or other things that have impacted you on a personal level), these things have the most power to make people take action. A personal story coupled with a call to action is a great recipe for some serious (inter)action.
  2. Illustrate your points. Research suggests that images get the highest levels of interaction and are more likely to be prioritized on your feed by sites like Facebook. If you’re looking to get people motivated, try using a photo related to the cause you are trying to promote. If you are an awareness-builder, you’ll make your information more eye-catching and easier to remember if you create an infographic.
  3. Stay positive. When you’re trying to tackle large-scale problems, it’s easy to become pessimistic. But, leveraging a large network will make it easier for these problems to be solved. Emphasizing the problem in your posts rather than emphasizing the solution can make these efforts seem hopeless and de-motivate people from helping out. Get the problem across, but don’t dwell on it, and make hopefulness and inspiration the bulk of your message.

Thanks so much everyone who voted in the recent poll! I am always looking for feedback and suggestions, so if you have something you’d like to hear about, please feel free to shoot me a message.

*Okay, don’t answer that question.

** Please note that these examples are all completely make up. Also, zombies. Zombies are also completely made up.

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