We see a lot of activism in our social media feeds, but what does it take for a movement to really take off - to go viral? And what effects does virality have on the long term goals of a charity?
In the era of online social media, "network contagion effects" allow social causes to reach a large number of people fast, efficiently, and at low cost. Some social causes go viral and garner significant support very quickly; others are less successful. Understanding the nature of viral altruism and its core behavioural characteristics can help us sustain positive social change.
So how do you make a campaign successful? A strong consensus on what to do, moral conviction, a cause that stokes empathy and a way to convert this momentum into real-world actions are the keys, according to a recent study from the UK.
The study explains this using an acronym - SMART.
"SMART criteria, where SMART is an acronym for campaigns that successfully leverage social (S) influence processes, establish a moral (M) imperative to act, inspire (positive) affective reactions (AR), and are able to translate (T) and convert social momentum into sustained real-world contributions."
Social campaigns that use the influence of social networks like Facebook tend to do better, as encouraging others to join in makes the campaign part of the social norm. However, due to their nature, viral campaigns – like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – tend to be shortlived.
While the 2014 campaign involved 28 million people and raised US$115 million dollars for the national ALS Association, in 2015 they only raised 0.9 per cent of this amount. The 'act now' consensus of these campaigns is what gets them the numbers, for viral altruism to stick (like the Movember movement) people need to feel a deeper, personal engagement with the issue.