Toronto | A social media campaign may attract attention worldwide without prompting a commensurate spike in fundraising or any significant action to further the cause, a new study has found.
It is true that once you rely on social media, your message can easily reach people by the millions, said Nicola Lacetera, professor at University of Toronto Mississauga. But then the question becomes ‘What do people do with these messages?’ Lacetera said. Lacetera and colleagues from Johns Hopkins University in US reviewed longitudinal data about and conducted research into the success of Twitter and Facebook fundraising campaigns to determine whether they effectively lead to donations.
Researchers first examined the success of an application created to allow Facebook and Twitter users to donate to charities each time they posted or tweeted, with an upper limit for the total donation specified in advance. Potential donors had the option to broadcast their initial pledges and subsequent donations to their networks. About 16 per cent of the pledges were deleted before payment was actually required.
About five per cent of the original pledges led to additional pledges from contacts, but the researchers were unable to trace the motivation specifically to the influence of online connections. Lacetera and his colleagues used a series of Facebook ads and sponsored stories to encourage users to install an application and donate to a charity. One group of recipients had the ability to automatically broadcast their donations; the broadcast feature was disabled for the control group.
The campaign reached about 6.4 million Facebook users and had a click-through rate comparable to that of most non-profit campaigns. However, although the campaign received many likes and shares, it resulted in only 30 donations. Although there is plenty of visibility on social media, these platforms also provide cheap, alternative ways to express support, Lacetera said.
However, clicking the ‘like’ icon doesn’t save lives. Social contagion tends to work when the activity you want people to do is free of charge, such as voting for their favourite movies. As soon as you add a cost, fewer people participate, Lacetera added.
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