Social charity campaigns generate more buzz than funds due to the rise of 'slacktivism' says study

Popular social media charity campaigns such as the #IceBucketChallenge or the #NoMakeUpSelfie may generate masses of buzz online, but a new study has shown this doesn't always translate to donations.

An experiment carried out by US and Canadian economists has highlighted the illusion of activism, known as 'slacktivisim', when it comes to viral Facebook charity initiatives revealing that in spite of all the hype its actually quite difficult for lesser-known organisations to raise funds online.

To find out whether public support related to funds raised, the researchers used Facebook ads and other methods to encourage users to donate to charity hunger and poverty charity Heifer International. Despite buying £2,800 worth of Facebook ads, reaching 6.4 million users and clocking up thousands of likes and shares, the campaign only received 30 donations. At the end of the trial, the academics had spent £13.50 for every £1 raised.

A related survey sampled 3,500 charitable pledges made using HelpAttack – an app that hosts donations and shares donor activities with their Facebook and Twitter friends.

Researchers found that of the pledges made to a number of big charities like the American Red Cross and Homes for Our Troops 64 percent were fulfilled, 13 percent were partially fulfilled, and 16 percent were deleted. The proportion of deleted pledges was seen to be higher among users who had 'broadcast' their pledges on a social media platform, showing that social buzz doesn't always correlate to sales and that charitable giving nowadays may be related to an individual's concern to be "positively perceived by other people."

"What our findings indicate is that many people may regard online social networks as basically free platforms for personal exchange and much less as vehicles for an activity that comes at some cost to them, whether that cost is of money or time," said professor Mario Macis, of the Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins, which helped facilitate the study.

"In more traditional forms of activism, participants make a tangible contribution. Online platforms, in contrast, provide opportunities for activism that may consist of nearly costless actions," he added.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.