What is advocacy, really? It used to be that showing support for an environmental or social cause required making a donation or showing up to events. Signing a sheet of paper was the absolute least you could do.
These days, however, most Americans think that just sending out a tweet or a social media post counts as advocacy. That’s according to new research from the 2014 Cone Communications Digital Activism Study, which surveyed over 1,000 adults to get their perspectives on online activism and how it translates to real-world change.
But while calling yourself an activist for sending out a supportive tweet seems a little lazy, there are indications in the study that social media posts do translate to more involved behavior; for proof, take a look at the ice bucket challenge, which raised over $100 million for ALS research.
According to the study, the majority of Americans say they are willing to take a number of direct actions online that go beyond social media postings, including making donations, signing petitions, voting, giving direct feedback to companies, and buying products from socially or environmentally conscious shops. Most people don’t actually follow through on these ideals, however. Among those surveyed, just 35% of people say that they made a donation in the last year, and 29% said they signed a petition.
Unsurprisingly, young people (referred to as millennials in the study) who have grown up with social media are more likely to turn their tweets and posts into real activism. Some 71% of respondents say that they use social media to discuss issues they care about, compared to 52% of the U.S. average. When millennials decide they care about something, they’re also more likely to donate money (80%) than the U.S. average (63%). This segment of the population also cares more about the impact that a brand/nonprofit has (71%) than any familiarity with the organization (58%).
Americans use Facebook as their main social media channel for engaging with issues, followed by YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. Baby boomers are big Facebook users when it comes to spreading awareness about social issues, but don’t use the other social media platforms nearly as much as millennials.
So what do you have to do get someone’s attention for a cause on social media? According to the study, good old fashioned written articles are most effective, followed by video and photos. For younger people, games and quizzes are also effective, but not so much for anyone 55 and older.
Online advocacy is clearly effective for all ages–to a point. But getting people to move beyond a quick tweet or Facebook post into real action is still a challenge.