With the various social networks attracting so many people, it seems hard to resist the urge to get on them and attempt to both engage with existing stakeholders, and of course attract new ones. That most networks allow organisations to do so for free only adds to the allure. Nowhere is this more so than in the non-profit sector, with charities of all types flocking to setup Facebook accounts or Twitter handles.
Could these profiles be doing more harm than good however? Are accusations of slacktavism grounded in fact or an unfair reflection of the role social media can play? These were the questions posed by some new research exploring the impact social media was having on charitable work.
The researchers invited participants to engage in an initial act of free support for a particular cause. These ranged from accepting a poppy, signing a petition, or joining the charities Facebook group. The participants were subsequently asked to donate either time or money to that same cause.
The study found that the more public was the token of endorsement, the less likely those people were to offer more substantial support later on. If the initial act was a more private one, such as signing the petition for instance, then they were actually more likely to give time or money later on.
The researchers believe this phenomenon occurs because much of our charitable behaviour is less to do with helping a good cause, and more to do with looking good in the eyes of others, and therefore the public display of support satisfies that desire, thus reducing our need to offer anything more substantial.
When the support is given in private however, it’s more likely that people will perceive that their values are aligned with that of the charity and there is no need to have other people witness it.
“Charities incorrectly assume that connecting with people through social media always leads to more meaningful support,” says Sauder PhD student Kirk Kristofferson, who co-authored the forthcoming Journal of Consumer Research article.
“Our research shows that if people are able to declare support for a charity publicly in social media it can actually make them less likely to donate to the cause later on.”
So it seems that engaging with people on social media may be doing more harm than good for charities hoping to do more towards their chosen causes. It also underpins the rather unfortunate accusation that social media breeds slacktavism.