‘Likes’ don’t save lives, says UNICEF Sweden

Passive support on social networks—a.k.a. ‘slacktivism’—is nice and it raises awareness for causes, but the global charity fund needs monetary donations to help those in need.

There’s been a lot of talk on and around social media in the past few years about “slacktivism,” the practice of helping social causes through “liking” a Facebook page, changing a Twitter icon, or sharing a photo on Pinterest.

Some professional activists have praised so-called slacktivists for drawing attention to big issues facing the world, but UNICEF’s Sweden branch started a campaign last month that asserts slacktivism is no cure-all.

The “Likes don’t save lives” campaign boldly states, through YouTube videos and print advertising, that it takes donations, not just social-media gestures, to vaccinate children against preventable diseases and help orphans get out of poverty.

Though UNICEF Sweden didn’t share whether the campaign has actually led to increased donations, copious media coverage of the campaign and nearly 42,000 views of the video would suggest the campaign is getting a lot of attention.

Ongoing debate

UNICEF Sweden and its advertising agency, Forsman and Bodenfors, felt compelled to step into the big slacktivism discussion, said the organization’s director of communications, Petra Hallebrant. Based on some research the organization did in conjunction with the market research institute YouGov, there seemed to be some misconceptions among Swedes about the good a “like” does.

“One in five thinks that a ‘like’ on Facebook is a good way of supporting an organization,” she says. “Two in three have ‘liked’ something on Facebook without caring about the message or issue. One in seven thinks that ‘liking’ an organization on Facebook is as good as donating money.”

The campaign is intended to clear up those misconceptions, as well as bring in extra money for UNICEF Sweden. Hallebrant says she hopes the campaign will drive people with good intentions to rethink the role of social media in creating social good. Maybe if they do, they’ll get more involved in other ways.

Getting out the message

The campaign is made up of TV advertisements, PR outreach, radio commercials, and, of course, social media outreach through UNICEF Sweden’s Facebook page.

Hallebrant says the organization has been careful not to bash Facebook, nor its fans who use it, through Facebook. It doesn’t have anything against “likes”—the UNICEF Sweden page has gotten the thumbs-up more than 183,000 times—but that can’t be the whole process of supporting a nonprofit organization.

“Social media is a very good tool to get attention to a specific topic immediately, to spread the word, and for advocacy purposes,” she says. “It could be a good first step to get involved, but it cannot stop there. ‘Likes’ don’t save children’s lives. We need money to buy vaccines, for instance.”

The organization’s English-language “Likes don’t save lives” YouTube video (there are two others in Swedish that have a somewhat different tone) makes its point with a hard, satirical edge, however. It features an orphaned 10-year-old boy standing in a disheveled room, worrying about whether he’ll get sick, as his mother did.

“Today, UNICEF Sweden has 177,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook,” he says in subtitled Urdu. “Maybe they will reach 200,000 by summer. Then we should be all right.”


Again, UNICEF Sweden didn’t offer donation figures, but Hallebrant says most of the comments the organization has received in response to the campaign have been positive. A few small nonprofit organizations have said “likes” are more important for than they are for UNICEF, for outreach purposes.

The campaign’s English YouTube video has netted 30-plus comments, in an array of languages. Some are jokes about “liking” the video, pointing out the irony of using social media to assert that social media isn’t a cure-all. Others ask about how to donate, or how much of UNICEF’s donations are actually put toward work in the field.

Hallebrant was quick to point out the campaign is limited to Sweden, though it’s garnering quite a bit of worldwide attention.

On a post to the blog The Verge about the campaign—one of many posts bringing attention to it—commenters engaged in a healthy debate about how to help charity organizations through donations and through social media.

“Good on UNICEF,” one commenter wrote. “I’m tired of all these ‘Like this to _______’ posts.”

Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.

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