Commentary

In Praise Of Slacktivism: Even Those Who Just Watch Do-Good Videos Are Making A Difference

I’m not very religious but I like that there’s a time every year that lots of people at least have it in their mind somewhere that they’re supposed to act nice. That song, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" is really a warning more than a sing-along. Radio should start playing it in July.

For all the lousy shots I take at the sturdy banality of YouTube, it’s good I came across Sarah Wood’s much more charitable selection of good things that also showed up there and other places online this year.

Wood is the COO of Unruly, the London-based ad biz that measures viral advertising, and advises how to do it.  A few days ago she wrote a piece  that was a rave review for social cause videos, from feminism to simple charity.

She reminded me of all those Ice Bucket Challenge videos, for example. I don’t care if I ever see another one, but Wood points out, when it’s added all up those videos grabbed a billion views on YouTube and 10 billion views on Facebook. Each one of them at least tangentially reminds the viewer of the anguish of the degenerative disease ALS.

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At Unruly, Wood goes on to explain, Cat Jones, the product director, used Unruly data to determine if just watching and sharing a video--or, presumably arranging a bucket challenge--really means a damn.  The term “slacktivism” implies the opposite: merely watching a touching or funny video about a social cause, and clicking “like” on our Facebook page, is counterfeit caring.

But Jones’s research for an advanced degree she’s seeking concludes that even those simple views have an effect. Wood writes that the data concludes  “the stronger viewers’ motivations are to share a video to help a cause, the stronger their motivations are to find out more afterwards. It also finds that social videos in the Good Cause sector get shared for the same reasons as other sectors, however, altruistic sharing tends to be associated with stronger feelings of happiness, warmth, inspiration, awe, knowledge, pride, shock and sadness than non-altruistic sharing.”

Wood goes on to reference some of the “best of” those videos. I have never seen a video produced by an Italian non-profit for Down Syndrome titled  Dear Future Mom that has gotten over 800,000 shares since March. It will make you cry and it will make you think. Another ad from overseas, Save the Children UK’s  Most Shocking Second A Day, makes a viewer feel the pain and horror of what it must be like for a Syrian child caught in that civil war, by imagining that child as a middle-class British toddler thrown into that violent world. It ends with the tag, “Just Because It Isn’t Happening Here Doesn’t Mean It Isn’t Happening.” That’s a powerful message, and it’s been share about a million times.

If that works--if a pro football player wearing pink shoes helps the cause of breast cancer research-- I’m all for it. If there’s research that might say powerful videos encourages people to do the right thing, we should watch at least one of them 365 days a year.

pj@mediapost.com

1 comment about "In Praise Of Slacktivism: Even Those Who Just Watch Do-Good Videos Are Making A Difference".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, December 26, 2014 at 8:29 p.m.

    The problem with slacktivism is not that viral campaigns fail to create awareness, but that simple awareness is a ridiculously low bar to clear. It's much too easy to make people aware of a problem and really, really hard to solve that problem. Yet we have so many awareness campaigns to make us feel we have made much of a difference.

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