Are you Slacktivist?

by Freya Samuelson-Cramp

Helping the world one ‘like’ at a time – The rise of the slacktivist*

* please note these are extracts from conference paper to be submitted as book chapter (details can be found below)

Over the last ten years social media has become a buzzword in all things business, psychology and global change. The Charity and Non-profit sector has adopted social media as one of their core engagement and fundraising tools showing the great power of the online community, however, the extent to which this is benefitting the sector is debateable. Is liking an organisation on Facebook is equal to donating money? A consumer interaction with charities and non-profit businesses by sharing and liking campaigns is based around the notion of ‘Slacktivism’. To date, studies on ‘Slacktivism’ behaviour in the social media context are limited with Rotman et al.’s (2011) study discussing a process framework for slacktivist and activist behaviour on social media, however, with no empirical evidence obtained to illustrate framework. Adopting theories of reasoned actions and planned behavior together with Goldberg’s big five personality factors, this study aims to investigate the motivations and interactions of social media users towards non-profit social media campaigns, with particular interest of studying ‘Slacktivists’. This study reveals no highly significant difference between all supporter types. Slacktivists and activists were found to be the most similar on personality traits and motivations, however slacktivists were less motivated by altruism. Interestingly, the emotional and psychological motive was found to not influence any of the groups in their support towards charities on social media, which differs to research not conducted on social media, suggesting social media facilitates a relationship between supporter and charity which is instantaneous or unemotionally involved and subsequently uncommitted to the cause. On the contrary to existing research (Seidman 2013; Pillai et al. 2015), this study found (1) the subjective norm to have the strongest correlation with slacktivist behavior and, therefore, suggests slacktivists are somewhat influenced by the perceived pressure those around them; (2) neuroticism (low rating on the emotional stability scale) does not influence slacktivism. Moreover, empirical evidences shows that slacktivists are strongly motivated by the familial link and by the emotional and psychological motive. Hence, it is not surprising to see that this study found no relationship between attitudes towards charity-related social media (ATTCH) and slacktivist behaviours. If those who are slacktivist are not emotionally engaged with a charity and do not have any real attitude towards their social media campaigns, they may just be engaging with content out of boredom or because they have been prompted to by a peer. Overall this study highlights that when communicating via social media Charity and Non-profit sector deals with diverse categories of audience, hence, objectives and communication tactics should be mapped against each individual category.

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Helping the world one ‘like’ at the time, photographer: Freya Samuelson-Cramp, model: Freya Samuelson-Cramp

Theoretical Background

Over the last ten years social media has become a buzzword in all things business, psychology and global change. Guo and Saxton (2012) claim that social media platforms have paved a way for reaching and mobilising new networks of community actors. These platforms further give a voice to issues that might otherwise have no airtime on traditional media (Lovejoy et al., 2012).The Charity and Non-profit sector has adopted social media as one of their core engagement and fundraising tools showing the great power of the online community due to its vast reach and cost effectiveness (Lawrence, 2013). However, the extent to which this is benefitting the sector is debateable.

Is liking an organisation on Facebook is equal to donating money? Grummas (2014) reports that online supporters are not effectively changing anything but are merely showing tokens of appreciation by liking and sharing online charity-related campaigns. A consumer interaction with charities and non-profit businesses by sharing and liking campaigns is based around the notion of ‘Slacktivism’. ‘Slacktivism’ is defined as “a willingness to perform a relatively costless token display of support for a social cause, with an accompanying lack of willingness to devote significant effort to enact meaningful change” (Kristofferson et al., 2014, p.1149).

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Are You Slacktivist?, photographer: Freya Samuelson-Cramp, model: Freya Samuelson-Cramp

To date, studies on ‘Slacktivism’ behaviour in the social media context are limited with Rotman et al.’s (2011) study discussing a process framework for slacktivist and activist behaviour on social media, however, with no empirical evidence obtained to illustrate framework. Lee and Hsieh (2013) conducted study on online petitions for and against gun possession and found that slacktivist behaviour deters consumers from taking further action as they have already satisfied their altruistic needs, however, no other similar studies were conducted to demonstrate generability of results.

Whether slacktivism is seen in a positive or negative light, it is important to explore and understand the reasons behind the phenomenon so that non-profit organisations can either encourage or discourage this behaviour to their advantage. Adopting theories of reasoned actions and planned behavior together with Goldberg’s big five personality factors, this study aims to investigate the motivations and interactions of social media users towards non-profit social media campaigns, with particular interest of studying slacktivists.

Figure 1 provides full conceptualisation of existing research which will help to study slacktivism behaviour.

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Figure 1. Conceptual framework – Slacktivism

Research method

Self-administered surveys were deemed the most suitable method for collecting data for the research due to ability to delve into what the participant thinks and believes to explain cognitive processes like opinions and behaviours with more validity (Maylor and Blackmon, 2005). This type of survey also accommodates the use of anonymity and confidentiality, which is imperative to the research as questions surrounding charitable support and donations can be quite intrusive in nature. This may have provided the research with more genuine responses from participants as they would not be affected by social desirability bias which can create issues of validity in the results (Fisher, 1993). This was important when exploring participants’ relationships with charity and donations as there is a lot of social pressure around supporting charities (Reyniers and Bhalla, 2013).

Survey was distributed online via Facebook. The research was based on interaction within this platform and, therefore, needed respondents who use this site. The survey was designed using PollDaddy.com as it allowed the use of images, a larger number of questions and range of survey styles compared to other providers. Participants have been accumulated using a combination of two non-probability methods, a convenience and snowballing sampling methods. Overall, 154 usable surveys were completed. Respondents were 34% male and 66% female and 78% aged 18-34 with varied income levels (41% of the sample in the <£10000 income bracket; 18% of the sample in the £20000-30000 income bracket; 31% of the sample in the >£40000 income bracket).

The survey employed the use of a 48-item questionnaire to identify demographics, personality, social media use and constructs based on motivation and processes formulated from the literature reviewed.

Findings

In terms of categorisation by supporter types, overall, 118 participants showed activist behaviours, 92 showed slacktivist behaviours and 53 participants showed non-conformist behaviours. Each supporter type rated very highly across all personality traits, of which there was a high agreement to portraying the openness to experience trait. Drawing from the lack of ‘low’ ratings on personality traits it would appear that participants may have not wanted to portray themselves negatively, however, there was more agreement to the neurotic trait (low emotional stability). Previous studies have claimed neuroticism to be higher in females than males (Goodwin and Gotlib, 2004; Johnson, 2003; Farmer et al., 2002; Lynn and Martin, 1997), which could explain our results, as the sample was predominantly female. Activists rated the highest on emotional stability and extraversion compared to the other supporter types, which would be expected of someone who wanted to be physically involved in altruistic behaviours and partake in fundraising events. Slacktivists were the most open to experiences, agreeable and conscientious, which would suggest they do feel a moral right to help but perhaps are encouraged to act by others requests or from the excitement of doing something new. Non-conformists did not rate higher than the other supporter types on any positive traits however did have the highest percentage of people who were low in conscientiousness and openness to experiences. This is predictable as non-conformists do not partake in supporting charities online, which could be owed to a lack of caring about moral duties and need to be involved.

Comparisons between motivations and supporter types show that all supporter types believed they were not influenced by emotional or psychological motivations to support charities on social media. This could be an effect of the media channel used (social media) or perhaps participants are cynical about emotional or guilt marketing (Cotte at al., 2005). Contrary to our beliefs slacktivists rated higher on altruistic motivations than activists. However, predictably non-conformists disagreed the most to being motivated by altruism. There was little agreement to being demonstrably motivated across all supporter types, especially for non-conformists who gave no agreement. Familial motivations were the strongest influencer of supporting charities on social media which may suggest this type of behaviour is used to create a supportive community for a friend or family or support is often given in honor of a passed relative.

It was found that the demonstrable motive was the only significant variable to impact on attitudes towards social media. The familial motive proved to have the most significant relationship with the attitudes towards charity-related social media. The second most significant motive in impacting attitudes towards charity-related social media campaigns was demonstrable motive.

Finally, we found no significant relationships between attitudes towards charity-related social media campaigns and the slacktivits and activists behavior. Those with activist behaviours were the most influenced group by the attitudes towards charity-related social media campaigns.

Our findings reveal no highly significant difference between all supporter types. Slacktivists and activists were found to be the most similar on personality traits and motivations, however slacktivists were less motivated by altruism. Interestingly, the emotional and psychological motive was found to not influence any of the groups in their support towards charities on social media, which differs to research not conducted on social media, suggesting social media facilitates a relationship between supporter and charity which is instantaneous or unemotionally involved and subsequently uncommitted to the cause. On the contrary to existing research (Seidman, 2013; Pillai et al., 2015), our study found (1) the subjective norm to have the strongest correlation with slacktivist behavior and, therefore, suggests slacktivists are somewhat influenced by the perceived pressure from those around them; (2) neuroticism (low rating on the emotional stability scale) does not influence slacktivism. Moreover, empirical evidence shows that slacktivists are strongly motivated by the familial link and by the emotional and psychological motives. Hence, it is not surprising to see that we found no relationship between attitudes towards charity-related social media and slacktivist behaviours. If those who are slacktivist are not emotionally engaged with a charity and do not have any real attitude towards their social media campaigns, they may just be engaging with content out of boredom or because they have been prompted to it by a peer. Overall this study highlights that when communicating via social media Charity and Non-profit sector deals with diverse categories of audience, hence, objectives and communication tactics should be mapped against each individual category.

Drawing from the correspondence analysis results, the majority of those with slacktivist behaviours were found to have the openness to experiences trait (93%). Openness to experiences has been positively correlated to social media use (Correa et al 2010) and so may explain the relationship between slacktivists and social media and why it is their preferred way of supporting charities. Seidman (2013) found high levels of neuroticism amongst those who used Facebook to create an ideal self-image, however, very few slacktivists rated themselves as neurotic (low rating on the emotional stability scale),. This suggests slacktivists do not take part in supporting charities on Facebook because they worry what others think or are trying to create the ‘ideal ‘social media image. Contrary to this, the subjective norm had the strongest correlation with slacktivist behaviour (.234) which suggests slacktivists are, however, influenced by perceived social pressure.

Slacktivists mostly felt motivated by the familial link (36%) and disagreed that they were influenced by emotional and psychological motives (77%). There was no apparent causal link between the demonstrable motive and slacktivists, similar to research by Sargeant et al’s (2006) who found no relationship to the demonstrable motivation in committed giving. Sargeant et al (2006) did find a causal link between emotions and commitment to giving but this study did not uncover a similar link. This raises the question whether it is the difference of support being on social media which prevents it from being motivated by emotional and psychological means, because it is not being used as a tool for committed support. Perhaps the use of social media for supporting causes allows the individual to give quick and momentary support which yields no emotional connection or longevity in their continued support. This may also explain why there was no significant relationship between attitudes towards charity related campaigns and slacktivist behaviours. If those who are slacktivist are not emotionally engaged with a charity and do not have any real interest in their social media campaigns, they may just be engaging with content out of boredom or because they have been prompted to by a peer.

For activists (69%) and slacktivists (68%) alike, emotional stability was the least recognised personality trait, which may mean they are more affected by their emotions than non- conformists. Activists were also most likely to have extrovert personalities, and such personalities use social media to present their ‘real’ self rather than an “ideal” self (Michikyan et al 2014). Extrovert activists appear more likely to support causes they really connect with offline and online, whereas slacktivists (who rated lower on the extraversion scale) may give more thought to engage with causes to improve their image.

It is unsurprising that all supporter types rated as extroverts and most highly open to experiences as these traits are both positively linked with social media use (Correa et al 2010). Agreeableness has been consistently linked to altruistic and pro social behaviour (Caprara et al 2010, Corr et al 2015) and has been further supported by this research. Agreeableness appeared to be the most prominent in slacktivists rather than activists, and this is relevant as it involves being compliant with requests from others (Carlo et al 2005). Sharing posts and becoming involved in viral campaigns such as the Ice Bucket challenge are behaviours that depend on such compliance. The subjective norm plays a part in defining each supporter type.

Moreover, the research also found differences in motivations between all cohorts studied. Like slacktivists, both activists and non-conformists disagreed most to being influenced by the emotional and psychological motivations. This adds further support for suggesting whether it is social media which disengages the user emotionally (highlighted in objective 3) and thus is not a motivator in supporting charities on this platform.

Implications

Drawing from the research and past literature, it is clear that slacktivists can still be valuable supporters and perhaps should be nurtured in the hope that they may give more tangible support in the future. It could be possible that slacktivists are only be held back by a lack of time, money or effort and charities should still aim to build relationships with these supporters so they remembered when these resources become available. The findings suggest to increase the effectiveness of social media campaigns charities should refrain from using emotional tactics but perhaps focus on the notion of supporting a friend or family through posts and videos. As technology and its consumers evolve it is important for charities to evolve also to remain connected and relevant in today’s society.

Further information

This study was accepted for presentation and publication in Proceedings for 5th International Conference on CSR (iCSR). Conference took place on 6-7 October 2016 in Bocconi University (Milan, Italy). Paper titled ‘Helping the world one ‘like’ at a time – the rise of slackticist!’ was co-authored with Dr Elvira Bolat. See presentation slides below. Full paper is now under review to be accepted for inclusion as book chapter as part of iCSR 2016 collection of best papers.

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