Whether or not slacktivists are legitimate activists, it is essential that public relations practitioners pay attention to them. Here’s why.
John Doorley and Helio Fred Garcia (2015) argue that reputation is not only an asset of substantial and measurable value, but it has tangible worth for organisations. Organisations must seek to build strong and positive reputations among their stakeholders to increase trust, brand loyalty and ultimately, increase profits.
The role of managing the organisation’s reputation often falls to the public relations department. A key part of this role is ‘media monitoring’. Public relations practitioners monitor the social, political and cultural environment for any issues that may affect the organisation or its industry. Trends, debates, scandals, popular opinions: these can all have an impact on an organisation if they conflict with its behaviour.
If an issue is not addressed immediately, publics begin to make complaints about the organisation. They may blog about a problem, share angry comments on social media, or start an online petition. These voices snowball and threaten the organisation’s reputation. For evidence of this, we need only to look at examples where companies such as Target and Aldi have encountered the wrath of so-called slacktivists.
Media monitoring includes social media. In fact, if these negative voices relating to the organisation get as far as the mainstream media, it’s beyond an issue – it’s a crisis. And we’ve all seen how quickly this can happen. Often, the mainstream media will pick up on a social media movement if a significant number of people are involved.
So if thousands of slacktivists sign that petition asking an organisation to change its behaviour, the organisation is forced to address it in order to avoid the crisis and protect its reputation.
Slacktivism might not raise any money. It might not even raise awareness. But it can bring about change.
Doorley, J, & Garcia, HF 2015, Reputation management : the key to successful public relations and corporate communication, New York, NY : Routledge, 2015.