What makes digital activism effective?

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What makes digital activism effective?

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Earlier this month I shared some research that explored the relationship between supporting a charity on Facebook and supporting them in slightly more meaningful ways, by donating time or money for instance.  The research found that when people were liking a charity online, they were significantly less likely to do the more meaningful things.

“Charities incorrectly assume that connecting with people through social media always leads to more meaningful support,” says Sauder PhD student Kirk Kristofferson, who co-authored the forthcoming Journal of Consumer Research article.

“Our research shows that if people are able to declare support for a charity publicly in social media it can actually make them less likely to donate to the cause later on.”

These findings make interesting reading alongside a new report into digital activism by the University of Washington.  The report, written by Philip Howard, UW professor of communication, information and international studies, looked at around 2,000 cases over a 20 year period, albeit with a particular focus on the last two years.

It’s at this point that things go slightly awry because the research was derived purely from the review of news stories written by citizen and professional journalists that described digital activism campaigns around the world.  So it’s not all that academic in form, and does cast doubt on the findings to an extent, but here they are nonetheless so you can make your own minds up:

  • Digital activism campaigns tend to be more successful when waged against government rather than business authorities. There have been many activist campaigns against corporations, but they don’t seem to succeed as well as having the governments for a target, Howard said.
  • Effective digital activism employs a number of social media tools. Tweeting alone is less successful, Howard said, and no single tool in the study had a clear relationship with campaign success.
  • Governments still tend to lag behind activist movements in the use and mastery of new social media tools. They sometimes use the same tools, Howard said, but it’s always months after others have tried them.

So, activists and non-profit organisations are using social media heavily for their work, but of course, what is not included in this study is how effective that is.  With the research mentioned at the beginning of this post casting doubt on the real merit of social media activism, it’s rather unfortunate that this report by WU didn’t do more to delve into this rather than rely on third party reports.

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