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HOW TO: Turn Slacktivists into Activists with Social Media

HOW TO: Turn Slacktivists into Activists with Social Media

Lazy Panda ImageGeoff Livingston co-founded Zoetica to focus on cause-related work, and released an award-winning book on new media Now is Gone in 2007.

Throughout the non-profit world, organizations struggle with social media’s impact on the volunteer and donor cycle. The rise of “slacktivism” — doing good without having to do much at all — challenges organizations to rethink the way they cultivate their core volunteers and donors.

There are some important social media strategies for transforming those one-click “slacktivists” into fully engaged activists. Here are five tips from some of the best in the non-profit business.

1. Stop Thinking of Them as Slacktivists

The term slacktivism has its own baggage. While social media can drive action on an unprecedented and exponential scale, labeling this previously untapped crop of casual contributors “slacktivists” punishes them out of the gate for doing good. In actuality, the new era of online cause action should excite non-profits.

“It irritates me that we have invented this term as a pejorative way to describe what should be viewed as the first steps to being involved in a cause in 2010,” said Katya Andresen, Chief Operating Officer of Network for Good. “Let’s not whine that people want to do easy things that make them feel they’ve somehow made a difference. It’s okay if someone’s initial commitment is modest -– and it’s truly an opportunity that it’s easier than ever to spread information, create new initiatives for social good, and take action.”

“What the world needs now is far more engagement by individual citizens, not less, and simple steps such as signing petitions or even sharing opinions/tweeting are steps in the right direction,” said Randy Paynter, CEO and Founder of Care2. “As Edmund Burke once said, ‘Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.’ Because small steps can lead to bigger steps, being critical of small steps serves no good. It simply disenfranchises folks.”

2. Steward People Up the Engagement Ladder

Engagement Ladder Image

Social media provides a new first step on the engagement ladder. The methodology of approaching stakeholders and encouraging them to take deeper actions requires acceptance of their current level of activism, and well-crafted approaches towards deeper commitment.

“There are some slacktivists that will become fundraisers, but if you are messaging correctly, they will mostly self-select,” said Dan Morrison, CEO and Founder of Citizen Effect. “But the fastest way to lose slacktivists is to ask them [to do] what they hate doing the most — getting off their butt and [doing] something. My advice? Send out great content targeted at recruiting more fundraisers and driving people to donate, and empower the slacktivists to spread the word for you.”

“It is important to know how to meet people where they are at, and craft your conversation starters and calls to action appropriately so as to match the specific interest and commitment,” said Beth Kanter, co-author of The Networked Nonprofit.  “Organizations need to have good processes and strategies for stewarding people toward ever higher levels of engagement with their causes and campaigns.”

Full Disclosure: Beth is a partner of the author in Zoetica.

3. Reevaluate the Donor Funnel

The new volunteer and donor cultivation cycle changes the traditional “funnel” approach to getting stakeholders to act. Instead of sending out messages and expecting results, non-profits need to participate in larger online social ecosystems where hotbeds of activism are already taking place. Initial economic research shows this work is well worth it.

“Non-donors who take action online are 3.5 times more likely to donate than non-donors who have supplied their e-mail address (say, for a newsletter) but haven’t taken action,” said Paynter. “Donors who also take action are better donors.  Existing donors who’d taken action online were 2.3 times more likely to donate than donors in the e-mail file who hadn’t.”

“Our current funnel goes something like this: Blast out marketing, see who responds, ask them for money, send them a receipt, ask them for more money,” said Andresen. “The new funnel should work like this: Go out to where people are talking about our issue online, listen, reflect back on what you’re hearing, invite small acts of engagement, thank people and tell them the difference their small acts made, listen some more, invite them to speak, then ask for bigger acts.”

4. Shift Your Attitude

A non-profit’s tie to the casual online participant is a tenuous one at best. Their relationship ties are often personal and emotional, embedded in a social network, and conversational in nature. They are often committed to an issue, but not any specific organization, and thus have little incentive to interact. That means non-profits need a new approach than simply asking.

“Value the whole funnel, not just the top or not just the bottom,” said Kanter.  “Non-profits need to get into their stakeholders’ heads and understand what the hot buttons are to trigger their support from one level to the next. Small actions add up … Incorporate some sort of emotional tie – [understanding] that the clicking is a form of self-expression or love or way of helping.”

“I think slacktivists — like anyone else on social networks — need to be cultivated and feel appreciated for their contributions, as small as they may seem,” said Carie Lewis, director of emerging media at The Humane Society of the United States. “We message our cause supporters individually, and respond to (almost) every message that comes into us via social media. It takes a lot of time, but this individual engagement is what has made us successful.”

5. Create New Calls to Action

Protest March Image

Activist behavior and attitudes on social networks challenge non-profits to deploy new forms of engagement. Instead of simple “donate now” links, non-profits must create meaningful and repeatable ways for activists to take small action steps and foster long-term relationship development.

“Nobody joins these ‘I bet this potato can get more fans than seal clubbers’ type groups so that they can be involved in the group,” said Lewis. “They join them to make a statement. Facebook Causes is similar. Yes, some non-profits including us are raising real money. But its more about showing the world you believe in something, and showing your support.”

“Don’t focus on asking them to give, focus on asking them to retweet any and everything you tweet, post on their wall, forward e-mails, etc.,” said Morrison. “Focus on that, because that fits in their behavior pattern. Now, every once in a while, you can make a [money] appeal [to] the ones that [send] you a signal that they may be emerging from slacktivism.  If you build a relationship with them, they will naturally graduate up the value chain. You can give them a nudge, but trying to force them will make them leave in droves.”

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More social good resources from Mashable:

8 Tips for a Successful Social Media Cause Campaign
How Does Twitter’s New Social Good Initiative Stack Up?
How Non-Profits are Using Social Media for Real Results
9 Ways to Do Good With 5 Minutes or $25
5 Ways Mega Charity Events Can Harness the Power of Social Media

[Image Credits: Edward L, Beth Kanter, Fritz Liess]