How Social Media has Changed Activism – A look at the benefits of online collective activism

by Heather Kallevig

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One of the greatest problems historically hounding Nonprofits has been marketing. How can an organization with very little funds and a meager budget ever hope to effectively advertise? Traditionally methods included word of mouth, fliers, conventional media – radio, TV, newspapers, etc. These past techniques required a great deal of legwork and hours to maintain. They often required funds, which could be controversial. Many frowned upon a company, whose sole purpose is to raise money toward a cause, using any of those donated funds to advertise. These were difficult days for our idealist world-changers.

Today, thanks to the social Internet, information and communication technologies (ICTs), nonprofits are discovering new techniques and opportunities for voicing their cause. These new technologies are transforming the ways people interact and share information online. Social technology in the form of social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) and content-sharing websites (Youtube, Vimeo, Flickr) are the new platforms for online collective activism. Nonprofits can effectively use these platforms to reach vast numbers of people using e-word of mouth through likes, sharing, comments, e-mail, etc. Information sharing that used to take work for all involved, from the creators, to the sharers, to the receivers, is now as easy as the click of a mouse and a few short words – maybe even 140 characters.

Activism on the technology level is faster and easier than ever before, allowing more people to get involved, and increasing the spread of ideas to a rapidity never before witnessed. For nonprofits this is beneficial. The recent icebucket challenge by the ALS association is a great example. A seemingly silly idea went viral and everyone from children to celebrities was getting involved, either donating and/or letting someone drop an ice-cold bucket of water over their head. I myself was a participant.

Videos, pictures, stories, and events can be used to rapidly gain the attention of millions. Hope for Paws, a small animal rescue in Los Angeles, California gained national attention when their happy ending videos went viral. This small organization has gained much-needed funds and become a sort of mentor for other similar organizations. Here’s a video of one of their rescues.

Social media can also be used to raise awareness and gain support. According to Stacy Grau in her book, Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations, uses social media to raise awareness, raise funds, and enable participation by allowing interested parties to follow a project from start to finish. This encourages interest, donation, and participation.  Little do people know this organization was actually co-founded by Matt Damon.

If a small organization wants to increase their online presence, there are a few small things they can do. First, they can easily maintain a website through wordpress or weebly. Second, hire or engage a volunteer to maintain their various social media platforms. Maintaining an online presence does require regular interaction and frequent posts, so this is where volunteers and the online collective activism can be utilized. Finding supporters to maintain Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube content is essential. The webpage is equally important. If an organization has the funds and spread they can hire a social media manager for $400-800 a month depending on their requirements.

The social Internet can help nonprofits grow by increasing awareness and knowledge. Thanks to the advent of social media, nonprofit marketing is reaching new levels, allowing the opportunity for growth never seen before. They can reach out to people who may not have been in their circuit with traditional activism. It will be interesting to see how this impacts organizations over the next few years as they create, maintain, and grow their online presence.


Grau, S. (2014). Marketing for nonprofit organizations: Insights and innovation. Chicago, Ill.: Lyceum Books.

Lee, Y., & Hsieh, G. (2013). Does Slacktivism Hurt Activism: The effects of moral balancing and consistency in online activism. CHI 2013: Changing Perspectives, Paris, France, Crowds and Activism.

Yuce, S., Agarwal, Wigand, Lim, & Robinson. (2014). Studying the Evolution of Online Collective Action: Saudi Arabia Women’s ‘Oct26Driving’ Twitter Campaign.

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