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Study reveals the six types of humanitarian support on Facebook


Last week I looked at some research that explored the power of a Facebook connection.  It asked participants in the study to like a fictional person, before then revealing their thoughts about that person a bit later in the experiment.  It turned out that the portion of the group that had liked the fake person thought significantly more of that person than the portion who had not connected with them online.

Does the same apply for organizations?  That was something a new study from researchers in Norway hoped to find out.  They surveyed over 400 Facebook users about their behaviour on the site, and in particular what prompted them to like a particular humanitarian organization.

The survey revolved around three main question:

  1. Do you believe that liking a cause on Facebook actually supports that cause?
  2. What motivates you to like a cause?
  3. Why do you unlike a cause?

The research revealed that there were six primary reasons behind an individual choosing to like a humanitarian cause on Facebook:

  1. A sense of social responsibility
  2. An emotional connection
  3. Looking for more information
  4. Liking for the sake of it (what’s to lose?)
  5. Liking out of routine
  6. Social performative liking

“The majority of the respondents believe such likes help in promoting humanitarian causes,” the team says. Interestingly, only a few users had unliked such causes. “It is important to note that people like a cause on Facebook because they want to support it and encourage others in their network to support it as well,” the team adds. “The like button not only provides an opportunity to support a cause, but also enables users to engage with the site as a self-presentation tool.”

“Despite the controversy about slacktivism, many Facebook users in this sample believed that ‘liking’ a humanitarian cause could make a difference,” they continue. “This is strengthened by the fact that socially responsible ‘liking’ is the most common motivation and for the perceived motivation for liking a humanitarian cause.”

Of course, just because people believe that to be the case, doesn’t make it so.  Research from last year found that the more public the display of support for a charity, the less likely that person was to offer more substantial support at a later date.

A second study was slightly more optimistic, arguing that whilst support may not be as deep online as via other channels, the sheer scope of Facebook often meant that the charity was still gaining from the shallower levels of support received there.  It concludes by arguing that even these small, often flawed, signs of support are better than offering none at all, and that these small contributions form part of a larger and more complex network of interactions that all contribute to our perceptions and behaviours.

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