Slacktivism 101: What It Is And How to Deal

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In March 2012, a short film by Invisible Children, Inc. took over the Internet. The KONY 2012 video spread like wildfire, and viewers all over the globe took up its mission of having Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony arrested by the end of 2012. Unfortunately, the campaign didn’t last long. Today, Kony is still in power, and the KONY 2012 campaign has become a classic of “slacktivism.” Slacktivism, a mash-up of the words “slacker” and “activism,” refers to people participating in campaigns in a way that requires little time, effort, or investment — think signing online online petitions or using a hashtag on Twitter.

Debate rages about whether or not slacktivism is useful or if it’s a waste of time. The great thing about it is that participants are generally very passionate about the cause. The downside is that passion is typically very short-lived. If you want to harness the best parts of slacktivism while avoiding some of the most common pitfalls, remember these pointers:

1. Keep the campaign itself as simple as possible….

Campaigns seem to attract the most attention when they’re backed by emotionally appealing video, photos, a catchy slogan, or an easily-remembered hashtag/ catchphrase. They also seem to do best when there is one pointed, specific endgame. Imagine you’re running a campaign to build schools for kids in an impoverished part of the world. You’d want to create a campaign around the (relatively) simple goal of building schools instead of a more nebulous cause.

2. … But don’t oversimplify the issue.

Connecting with your audience is important, but education is important for long donor relationships. This is where building a campaign strategy for your organization gets tricky. The simplicity that helps many campaigns go viral can also spell their downfall. Take KONY 2012 for example. The original video told a simplified version of the politically complex story Joseph Kony and his army. When Invisible Children, Inc. followed up their original video with another, more thorough film, the public had already moved on. The second film didn’t have nearly the same impact as the first.

Giving your audience a short, sweet campaign is a good way to raise awareness about the issue, but oversimplifying a potentially complex issue won’t accomplish anything. For the schools you’re building, for example, you’d want to attract people’s attention with an emotional campaign that’s backed by a succinct summary of the issues surrounding the schools’ circumstances.

3. Have a strong, clear call to action.

A common pitfall to awareness campaigns is that audiences are aware of a cause or mission but don’t know how to get involved. It’s easy for someone to tweet a hashtag to raise awareness. It takes much more effort to research how to really make a difference. The easiest way to address this is simple: don’t make your audience do the research! Tell them exactly how they can help you. If you just want people to be aware of your campaign, that’s fine. If you need people to donate, call or write their elected officials, collect canned food, volunteer, or get involved other ways, tell them exactly how to help. Remember, you’re counting on your audience’s passion to spread the word about your mission — make sure they know where to direct that passion to achieve the most good.

Internet campaigns are a powerful way to attract attention, raise money, and educate people about your nonprofit’s mission. Being careful to keep people involved in your campaign can help you avoid falling into “slacktivist” territory and, instead, use peoples’ passion to make a difference.

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