Research & Insights

Social Change

Study Uncovers Motivations for Social Media Campaigns Participation

Social change communicators running social media campaigns should ensure people feel they are able to help resolve the issue and tout the benefits of participating in the campaign to increase engagement, a new study finds.

Although social media has changed the landscape of how people can gather around a cause, little is known about what motivates people to actively participate in a social media campaign. Jungyun Won, Ph.D. student, Linda Hon, professor in the Department of Public Relations, and Ah Ram Lee, Ph.D. student, designed a study to examine what causes people to engage with social media campaigns. They designed a Facebook campaign based on animal protection issues and developed a survey to test the role of different variables in campaign participation. They reported their results in the Journal of Public Interest Communications.

“Networked social movements on public interest issues spread by contagion and viral diffusion of ideas that attempt to raise awareness about social issues and call for social change through collective action such as online commenting, letter writing, petitioning, and fundraising,” the researchers wrote. “However, not all public interest issue campaigns on social media have been successful, especially in moving people from issue awareness to supportive behavioral outcomes.”

The researchers looked at the influence of understanding and relevance of the problem, as well as the perceived ability to help solve the problem, on motivation to participate. They also examined the impact of participation benefits, including functional benefits such as ease and convenience of communication, social and psychological benefits such as building affiliations and feeling a sense of belonging, and hedonic benefits such as pursuing personal values and enthusiasm by helping others. And finally, the researchers probed the influence of strong social ties, such as those to friends or family, and weak social ties, such as those to celebrities or authority figures, on participation motivation.

Participants visited a Facebook page about a fictitious animal protection campaign and then responded to a survey that asked a series of questions to determine the reader’s level of awareness, interest in participation benefits, weak and strong social ties and intention to participate in the social media campaign. The researchers recruited 326 participants to fill out the 70-item questionnaire.

The survey asked participants if they agreed or disagreed with statements on a scale of 1 to 9, with “1” equal to “strongly disagree” and “9” equal to “strongly agree.” Phrases on the survey included items such as “I feel personally close to this issue,” “I feel it is worthwhile to help protect animals” and “My close friends and family influence the way I feel about this issue.”

The researchers found that intention to participate in a social media campaign involves more than simply being made aware of an issue of concern. “Results indicate that participation success or failure may be influenced not only by individuals’ situational awareness, but also characteristics of social networks such as social ties influence and participation benefits gained from the online community,” the researchers wrote. Also, this study revealed that those participation benefits and strong ties influence can lead to individuals’ situational awareness which can eventually lead to participation intentions.

The message for professionals planning public interest social media campaigns: Stress the benefits of participation, and reward people for sharing information with friends and family through their personal social networks which can promote audience’s situational awareness and subsequent participation intention to support the cause through social media.

Posted: June 26, 2018
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