Ben Affleck, Batman, and Slacktivism

Batman - Social Media LessonsCurrent social media conversations have generated a large amount of interest...and controversy. Recent casting news about Ben Affleck as Batman has generated a great deal of awareness, controversy, and in some cases....online petitions.

And it provides a great cautionary tale for non-profits, social ventures, community organizations, and other social change agents in Chicago.

It's called slacktivism, defined by Wikipedia as "feel-good" measures, in support of an issue or social cause, that have little or no practical effect other than to make the person doing it take satisfaction from the feeling they have contributed" . In non-profit social media circles, it's the ever-popular strategy of "raising awareness", and consists of strategies arranging from liking Facebook pages to using hashtags, from changing profile photos to forwarding videos. It is a valid strategy for building word-of-mouth, but as a communications and engagement strategy, it is sorely lacking in two critical areas.

One is that many campaigns that focus on "raising awareness" never really consider any deeper opportunities for engagement. To use fan conversations, recent discussions about Peter Capaldi being cast as Doctor Who resulted in conversations about ageism and some fans' tendencies towards "gatekeeping" and access. Most other online discussions on casting - like many forms of slacktivism - provide great light, but very little heat. It's a superficial "me, too" approach that emphasizes being in a crowd with actual activity. In short, it is like sharing a video from a pundit on either side of the aisle: yes, you may have good taste in political commentary, but are you hoping to change hearts and minds....or are you merely asserting moral superiority?

(However, changes can result from a variety of slacktivist efforts: although Johnny Depp's recent turn with a crow on his head resulted only in poor box office, generating a lot of online conversational heat led to a controversial author being removed from a Superman comic).

Ultimately, social change agencies, social ventures, and non-profits that engage in campaigns which integrate "slacktivism" do so at the risk of ignoring their mission or purpose. Recent online campaigns by UNICEF and the United Nations World Food Programme focus less on "awareness building", and more on activities that actually drive their overall purpose. Focusing on business and agency goals - using social
media as a communications channel - enables organizations to become more sustainable, better able to do the work that they are pledged to do. Social media for non-profits and social ventures should be like the Batmobile and utility belt: key tools in an overall mission, not simply a cool thing to have for its own sake. Any non-profit marketing consultant, administrator, or volunteer who focuses solely on "building awareness" misses out on a wealth of networking, resource building, and other development opportunities that may arise...much like Ben Affleck deciding to shift gears and direct movies rather than simply pursue acting.

Pop culture fandom can provide many examples of what not to do - two September events will demonstrate how fandom can serve as an example of exceptional advocacy and activity. One is a charity screening of Joss Whedon's Serenity sponsored by the Chicago Browncoats; the other is a Doctor Who-themed lunch & learn on social media strategy. Both show that not every lesson that non-profits, social ventures, and other mission-driven organizations can learn from fandom is a cautionary one.

If you have questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. In addition, you are more than welcome to contact me privately either via Linked In
or private e-mail. And as always, thanks for reading!

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