The Myth of Slactivism
“What about all those people who retweet your fundraising campaign but don’t actually donate? They aren’t helping, right?”

“Do you worry that social media encourages people to resist engaging as on-the-ground activists, and instead to just sign online petitions?”

“How much is a simple “Like” on Facebook worth to a nonprofit? Why bother?”

You heard it here first: Hands down, the most popular questions to ask a social media expert working for social good relate to slacktivism: what it is, why it is, and how to get rid of it. While researching my new book, Twitter for Good, I encountered this phenomenon in spades.

And I’m here to say, once and for all, that I’m not sure what all the fuss is about.

Slacktivism Didn’t Start with Social Media
Unmotivated donors didn’t materialize out of the ether when social media started taking over the world.

There have always been individuals who are willing to volunteer 30 minutes of time to call up donors, but who are not willing to write you a check. There will always be an urbanite ready to pass off a half-eaten sandwich to a homeless man instead of buying him a sandwich. As I learned when starting Hope Runs, there will always be someone who wants to donate a pair of used running shoes rather than cut a check. 

This is the way the nonprofit world works, and this is just fine.

There are thousands of causes in the world. Some donors support many organizations and yours isn’t their priority—hence, they look for a less engaged way to help. Some aren’t moved by your cause but feel obligated to do something small. Some donors aren’t really donors at all—for your cause or anyone else’s.

Social media hasn’t changed this.

What social media has changed is the ease with which you can create weak ties with people who may be interested in your cause. This is the crux of the concept that some have coined “friendraising.” Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and many other platforms make it easy to share your message with the world in a new way. First, they allow you to target a mass audience, making the possibility for viral spread far more viable than ever before. Second, they allow you to connect with influencers in a way that wasn’t possible before—for example, on Twitter, you can technically send an @reply to any influencer out there. Tweet a hundred and one might respond.

One law of nonprofit support is that inevitably some early supporters who first make small gifts turn into big donors later on. For every hundred people that send their dirty, worn-out running shoes to help the Hope Runs athletic programs in Africa (nary a $5 bill for international shipping enclosed), one just might one day send a check to support an educational scholarship. It’s just the way it is, and nonprofits accept this. The same law holds true for supporters you connect with on social media.

Social media hasn’t created slacktivism anymore than Charity Navigator has created nonprofit financial accountability, and it’s time to rethink our plague-like fear of the big, hairy slactivism beast.

The next time someone likes your campaign but doesn’t give you money, think about the upshot: Never before have you been able to spread a message so easily to so many potential supporters.

Today only: Download the electronic version of Twitter for Good free via a number of outlets, including Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

If you miss that window, you can still download the first chapter for free.

image Claire Diaz Ortiz (nee Williams) leads social innovation at Twitter and wrote Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time. Follow @ClaireD on Twitter or read her blog.