I’ve been thinking about slacktivism a lot lately. I recently did a guest lecture at The New School on the topic, I’ve had countless conversations with colleagues and friends, and I’ve been capturing ideas and questions to myself on scraps of paper everywhere. Slacktivism, to me, comes down to two crucial points: 1) organizations play an important role in creating and endorsing the level to which people take action, and 2) “slacker activism” is really a gateway to more lasting change. My guest lecture notes cover the first point, and today I want to share a few ideas about slacktivism as a gateway to change.

Call and Response

Some consider Facebook likes and retweets as examples of slacktivism, but we can also view those actions as people raising their hands or signing on with the message that they are here, they are listening, and they are ready to respond. Organizations are putting out calls, and the community is responding. It’s just a matter of shaping your call to action well. Katya Andresen has a great post about some of the “essential elements to a strong call to action.” But I want to add a few more elements that can help change organizations’ calls for response into actual calls to action:

  • Create opportunities that people can personalize. There’s no engagement quite the same as having responses include personal messages, pictures, videos, or even re-worded messages.
  • Create opportunities with multiple levels of action. There’s nothing wrong with asking people to simply share a message, so long as you’re also providing opportunities for others in the network who are willing to do more.
  • Create opportunities for taking action that bridge online and offline, and start moving people on both sides of the computer.

Getting Offline

I’ve had many people tell me that the Internet is ruining society, community, family, and everything else. I personally don’t believe that. I’ve worked with communities to build online spaces where people of all ages, accessibility, and interests can come together to share, learn, and more directly build a community that they can take offline. I’ve also worked with an organization that has created an online portal that helps connect teachers to content about global issues they can use in their class, and that gives students opportunities to take action and to connect with other students around the world.

Those who have worked on organizing and engaging communities will know firsthand that you can’t get people to take action until they feel that they understand the issue, have access to key information, and trust that their action will make a difference. Online connections with organizations and causes can help expose people to information about issues in a much richer, more dynamic, and more accessible (not to mention more scalable) way. That said, we need to make sure we remember that online connections are about more than just getting information.

A recent study from University of California’s Humanities Research Institute, backed by MacArthur Foundation, involved more than 2,500 high school students (the study followed some students for up to 3.5 years!) and “found that younger Internet users become more socially engaged in the real world, not just online.”

Youth engagement in interest-driven online communities was associated with increased volunteer and charity work, and in increased work with others on community issues. The Internet can serve as a gateway to online and offline civic and political engagement, including volunteerism, community problem-solving, and protest activity.

And, as Matthew Ingram posted recently, “A study from the Pew Research Center earlier this year found that being active in social networks and other community-related activities online makes it more likely you will be involved with similar groups and activities in the offline world as well.”

So, what are you doing to connect your online community with offline actions? How are you building information and action into your communications and online engagement? What have you tried that didn’t work or what do you want to try but haven’t yet?

(As I continue to put my thoughts together about slacktivism in the nonprofit and social impact space, I’m looking next at the impact of location and hyperlocal content on slacktivism and engagement.)

Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

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