Slacktivism or Tactivism: Online campaigns are often just another tactic in an integrated marketing plan

The term for political participation online could just as easily be called tactivism as slacktivism. Using the internet to rally support for a cause or a candidate is simple marketing strategy. Get them from all sides and give them a call to action whether that be “buy this product” or “vote for this candidate.”

Of course to establish whether a new marketing tactic is effective, you need to measure it and that is never done in Henrik Serup Christensen’s Political activities on the Internet: Slacktivism or political participation by other means? It is an interesting reflection of the different ways society participates in the political process, but offers very little new evidence to help answer his own question posed in the article title.

Christensen cites a number of critics of online political participation who suggest that online activism is typically nothing more than activities that may make the active individual feel good, but have little impact on political decisions and may even distract citizens from other, more effective, forms of engagements. For example, Putnam (2000) contends that the Internet was likely to have a detrimental effect on civic engagement, as the medium was mainly used for entertainment purposes.

Throughout the article, there are many assumptions, predictions, and opinions referenced but very little evidence. It reminded me of the chapter in “unSpun” where Jackson and Jamieson (2007) present case studies of how people interpret new information through the filter of prior beliefs. It would be interesting to do a survey of people who read this article and ask what they thought of online political activism before they read the article and then what they thought following the article. I doubt any would have changed their minds. If facts are filtered by prior beliefs, I imagine others opinions with no evidence will do little to sway the reader.

One of the criticisms that Christensen explores is that slacktivists are unwilling to get their hands dirty and do the efforts required to actually achieve these goals and then goes on to explain that there is no evidence to suggest that Internet activism is replacing traditional political participation. If anything, it is helping mobilize citizens by increasing an awareness of contemporary issues. But again, where is the evidence to show that in fact awareness is being raised.

Since this article was written in 2011, it seems Christensen could have offered more metrics to explore this interesting question of participation on the Intranet. For instance, Obama’s fundraising success in the 2008 presidential election would have been a perfect example. As Delany (2012) explains it in How Campaigns Can Use the Internet to Win in 2012, “he raised close to over half a billion dollars online, two-thirds of it directly from someone clicking the “donate” button in a campaign email. The need to build a base of repeat online donors will be a prime motivation behind many campaigns’ online work.” These are real numbers that show impact of online political activities and they shouldn’t be ignored in this discussion.

Another example is Molly Katchpole’s online petition on Change.org to fight Bank of America’s $5 fee for using your debit card. After 300,000 people signed this petition, including me, the bank backed down and cancelled the proposed fee increase.

There are certainly other examples of campaigns that resonated with people and got them more involved in an issue, and there are just as likely to be examples of people who liked Support the monks protest in Burma on Facebook and then forgot about it the next day.

To truly understand if – and why – some of these campaigns work and why others do not, more research needs to be done looking at all aspect of the campaign, both the online and offline activities, and then measuring the effect.

At the end of the day, effective marketing is based on capturing a person’s attention and inspiring action through fear, emotion, or humor, and repeating these messages on as many platforms as you can reach your target: Television, radio, printed publications, billboards, and of course, the Internet.

Therefore, in order to really answer the question Christensen poses, he needs to do some more research that includes actual measurement of participation and impact and whether the online campaign was successful on its own or simply a part of an integrated marketing effort including a variety of other channels.

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