A New Paradigm of Engagement: How Slacktivism Helped Me Understand the True Definition of Friendship

“We call ‘friends’ peers we barely know beyond the shallow roots of the professional connection, we mistake mere mutual admiration for friendship, we name-drop as ‘friends’ acquaintances associating with whom we feel reflects favorably on us in the eyes of others”-Maria Popova, “Reclaiming Friendship: A Visual Taxonomy of Platonic Relationships to Counter the Commodification of the Word “Friend’.”

A few weeks back, I read the above quoted article and found it to be rather apropos and timely, for I have been considering who are truly my “friends.” Given my many civic activities, I am consistently fundraising and friendraising and the article resonated for my own time of reevaluation and who are actual friends in my life.

This tension is further exemplified in my recent research of Slacktivism. “Slacktivism” is defined as “Actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g., signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website.” You can find out more in the following, from the positives and negatives, and the middle road, as well as an entire song that provides examples:

For me, it has proven to be a bit of litmus test in engaging my friends and acquaintances in causes that I care about deeply. This has led to a bit of conundrum. I love to raise awareness and engagement to my friends, but want it to be meaningful and sustainable.

Putting Slacktivism into practice, I’ve performed a few exercises in the last few months that have sought to clarify best practices in my ability to engage as well as keeping stock of my connections, affecting my own causes.

Here has been my process:

Developing a Tribe List

“Tribe” here should be not understood as derogatory, but instead as a means of denoting the social groups in one’s life, whether that is family, bowling buddies, book club etc. As I have become more involved in outreach, I recognize that I need to be respectful of my friends, and not come across as pestering and treating them as mere money banks to be tapped. I began writing lists of friends and family, then making a notation of what cause to reach out to them, not wanting to double-dip. I found it to be incredibly helpful in understanding how to engage my friends and why their value is important. I review it often, adding names as well as swapping fundraising notations based on further conversations or from appeals that arise where I need assistance.

Recognizing that the “Old” Way is generally the Best Way

A few months back I had an individual fundraising page. After seeing the success of the ALS Ice Bucket challenge and a few acquaintances’ Kickstarter campaigns succeed, I thought it would be a piece of cake to raise funds. I posted my page on my social media and quietly anticipated a few donations, a little here, a little there, but fast success overall. I did receive quite a few “likes” and positive comments, showing that I was raising some awareness, but that didn’t translate into donations. I appreciate the stereotypical Slacktivist support but through that was able to see its limitations.

Fast track four weeks later and I found myself over my head, nowhere near my goal. At that point, I started doing some cursory analytics, which was recalling connections that had liked previous shares and posts. I reached out to them directly via text or messenger and was amazed at how much more effective fundraising became. Conversely, going over lists of “friends” from college, grad school, and other points in my life, I realized how little many meant in my life now. We no longer had a close connection or that it hadn’t continued since the respective time in my life. In other words, engaging them could come across as arrogant.

However, I had a few surprises, including classmates I hadn’t talked to in years who were willing to give, totally impressed with the mission and our connection, no matter how minor I thought, worked in appealing to them. In addition, I had close friends who were willing to explain to me why they didn’t give to my cause. I didn’t take it personally, but it did make me more aware of extending invitations for future fundraising and events and what is most important to them.

And so these exercises have allowed me to be more mindful of engagement in the future, to recognize trust and also where to best direct my energy. I am very proud of this time to take stock as well as to develop best practices, to recognize more fully the friends in my life and how to best address them. And indeed, as social media takes on new forms, I don’t see Slacktivism going away any time soon. I have no doubt that the next Ice Bucket Challenge is just around the corner. I hope that this is just the beginning of a conversation of how we engage our true friends while still being authentic and effective.