What Motivates Americans to Engage in Digital Activism?

November 20, 2014

This article is included in these additional categories:

CSR & Environmental | Digital | Direct Mail | Mobile Phone | Non-Profit | Social Media | Tablet

ConeComm-Digital-Activism-Motivators-Nov2014Among Americans who made a donation in the past 12 months, more gave online (27%) than via regular mail (23%), while about 1 in 1 donated via their mobile device, finds Cone Communications in a new study [pdf]. But donations aren’t the only form of digital activism: the report also notes that 58% of American adults believe that tweeting or posting information about an initiative on social channels is an effective form of advocacy and support. So what motivates them?

In exploring the motivations to participate in a social or environmental effort online, the study finds that the largest share of respondents are inspired by:

  • An urgent need for immediate support (79%);
  • Clarity about how their support would make a real impact on the issue (79%);
  • Ease of participation (77%); and
  • The issue or beneficiary being personally relevant (74%).

By comparison, fewer are motivated by rewards for participation (53%) or seeing all their friends participating (48%).

Separate findings from the report corroborate the motive of a sense of urgency: respondents reported being more likely to give online following a major disaster (24%) than around the holidays (12%). In other words, it’s not a case of the time of year, but the urgency of the situation that dictates the response.

The report also has holds an interesting result which speaks to the other leading motivator, clarity in how the support will make an impact. In fact, 58% of the survey respondents said that it’s more important to be able to have an impact on the issue than to be familiar with the organization they’re supporting. This sentiment happens to be stronger among men (65%) than women (52%).

Turning to the different ways in which Americans would be most likely to support social or environmental issues online, the study reveals that most would:

  • Vote to designate funds to a cause they care about (71%);
  • Signing a petition (70%);
  • Learning about changes they can make in their everyday lives to make an impact on social or environmental issues (70%); and
  • Giving feedback to companies directly about their business practices (66%).

While slightly fewer (60%) would like or follow a non-profit or company social or environmental program, the research finds these actions can act as significant “gateways” to other actions. For example, 64% say they are more inclined to support social and environmental issues in other ways – including volunteering, donating and sharing information – after first liking or following an organization online.

There is, however, a disconnect between what Americans say they would do and what they report actually having done. So while 71% would vote to designate funds to a cause they care about, only 17% report doing so over the past 12 months. And while 60% would like or follow a company, only about half as many (29%) did so during the past year.

Of the 11 types of digital activism identified, Americans were most likely in the past year to have made a donation (35%) and watched a video with a social or environmental message (32%).

About the Data: The 2014 Cone Communications Digital Activism Study presents the findings of an online survey conducted August 21-26, 2014 by Toluna among a demographically representative sample of 1,212 adults, comprising 583 men and 629 women 18 years of age and older. The margin of error associated with a sample of this size is ± 3% at a 95% level of confidence.

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