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Cyberactivism – Does it really work?

Written by Chris


in Creative Design

Cyberactivism is when when individuals take to the Internet to promote a charity or cause, and utilizing social media is a great way to do it. Everyone has a cause that is near and dear to them, I’m sure you’ve gotten those solicitations via mail, email, text or social media. As a matter of fact, I just got one via text the other day. While many of these appeals are filled with emotion and can spread quickly, the question is are they really effective? When I volunteered for United Way we strongly encouraged people to ask for donations in-person. It certainly has much more of an impact than when you receive an email or text. Admittedly, the text I received the other day was quickly dismissed. And I bet you have deleted an email/text campaign solicitation or two! Had the person asked me in-person or via phone, I more than likely would have contributed.

Do these grab your attention?

October of every year, individuals, businesses and organizations draw attention to National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The Breast Cancer Awareness Foundation has taken a unique approach to creating awareness through the use of memes. It started out as females getting requests on private messages through Facebook requesting them to play along by doing teaser memes to create curiosity which would lead to awareness in theory. The hope was it would create a buzz and it did. For example, women were asked to update their status with a single color which was the same as the bra color they were wearing so they would have their status as their name and bra color. The intent was their male friends would login to Facebook and become confused/curious by the profile which would lead to inquiries resulting in awareness about the cause. Another year they did the location where women were most likely to place their purse so men would see answers such as “I like mine on the floor behind the couch” giving it a sexual connotation. One other example was they would put a number followed by inches of how long it took to do their hair in their status with the understanding they wouldn’t tell the men what it meant to keep them guessing and further creating inquiries and awareness for breast cancer.

Does it really work though?

To me, based on theory there is clear cut mobilization and the technique is warranted in this case, however the use of diffusion makes sense to get their message out to a mass audience but I have to question if it’s effective in this case. Putting out memes with sexual connotation, while creative, would not seem successful at keeping their message on cue. There is too much propensity for the message to head in a different direction, detracting from the cause. According to the Susan G. Koman Foundation they did see increased interest and contributions after they ran the meme promotions. They felt the memes were successful at diffusing the message and getting participation. Individuals did indeed spread this feel good message but is this really cyberactivism? Once again, by definition Cyberactivism is the process of using Internet-based socializing and communication techniques to create, operate and manage activism of any type. So I would have to say yes but it doesn’t mean it’s a good use.


Does this allow people to spread the word? Absolutely. Is it pretty effortless for the people doing it? Absolutely. Is it effective? Questionable. Frankly I had never seen this concept until I wrote this blog. When it comes to a diffusion strategy, as marketers we are trying to get one message out to the masses. Using the type of meme as outlined above may attract attention at first but to me the message gets taken off course real quick. The organization does acknowledge the following:

  • Lack of awareness is not their biggest issue
  • The biggest misunderstanding is it’s not a disease that just impacts women, men get it too
  • The message is oriented towards women, not men

Where I think this campaign falls short is the strategy takes the message off course which may get some results but I would want maximum results. Ultimately you have no control of the message on Facebook. If you’re going to put the effort in, benefit from the results fully. The National Breast Cancer Foundation has found this mobilization campaign may lack awareness or people just aren’t interested in the services being provided. They would benefit a lot more by running an action-oriented mobilization approach where the message transforms the audience into a more interested, knowledgeable advocate for the cause. Also, they acknowledge using this approach takes away the awareness for men. In 2012, two thousand men were impacted resulting in 400 deaths.

In sum, in my opinion they should always do a call to action type campaign which will result in the most benefits – awareness, volunteers and donations. Also, don’t exclude the men who most likely don’t know this disease can impact them as well and could benefit from the message. Pink is clearly not the right color for this demographic.

I would be interested in your feedback. Have you been involved in the meme campaign? If so did you find it effective? Do you think I hit the mark on this analysis or missed it? Please leave your comments!