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Slacktivist is one of my new favorite words. There’s just something about the act of combining two existing words to create a new one that I find really entertaining. Guesstimate, Labradoodle, Brangelina – you get the idea. What I don’t find entertaining about the word “slacktivist”, however, is what it stands for.
Slacktivism has been defined as “the act of participating in obviously pointless activities as an expedient alternative to actually expending effort to fix a problem.” It has also been called “armchair activism”, because you literally never have to leave your chair to feel like you are doing something helpful.
Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes knows that I am very involved in animal rescue, especially when it involves geriatric dogs. While social media has revolutionized the animal rescue world, allowing connections to be made and lives to be saved (we recently rescued a dog from 460 miles away thanks to social media), it has also become a big enabler of slacktivists. Anyone can “like”, retweet, or comment on a post and feel like they have made a difference for a cause they care about.
For example, when someone posts a picture on Facebook of a dog needing to be rescued, this is inevitably what happens in the comments section:
“Somebody do something!”
“I would but (Insert reason here).”
“Please, somebody help.”
And then it eventually escalates to:
“WHY ISN’T ANYBODY DOING ANYTHING???”
At some point, it starts to sound like a country western song: I would help, but I lost my truck, I lost my job, I lost my house, I lost my dog. But otherwise, I totally would. Instead of action, we see the many reasons why someone can’t help, and we see likes, retweets and comments. The slacktivist may think these things are helpful, but they rarely are.
Wait, but don’t we want people to like our Facebook pages and follow our Twitter feeds? Yes, of course we do, but in order to create impact we need them to do more than that. Liking a post, sharing a photo or begging someone else to take action isn’t going to change the world. So what can we, as organizations, do to combat the rise of slacktivism?
We can start by creating more effective asks, which starts with evaluating our current asks. Are we inadvertently telling our constituents that liking and sharing content is all we need them to do? Are we thanking or rewarding them for doing those things, thus perpetuating their belief that it’s the best way for them to help? Or, are we clearly articulating what it is we actually need our constituents to do, and then asking them to take a specific action?
As with any relationship, we can’t expect our constituents to read our minds. It’s up to us to present them with clear opportunities to help, and then make a direct ask for their support. I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of slacktivists out there who would do more, if they knew we needed more. Have you had success turning slacktivists into activists? If so, I’d love to hear from you. Click here to send me an email.