Helen Popkin
updated 6/28/2010 4:10:34 PM ET 2010-06-28T20:10:34

Like a “cause ribbon” worn by a celebrity at a televised awards function, the Facebook status update often illustrates the extent of the poster’s civic activism. At least to those of us who gaze with jaundiced eye at Facebook users who post their bra color to spread breast cancer awareness or, say, change their Twitter avatars green to support election protesters in Tehran.

A study by ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day reveals that many young adults think such gestures are enough when it comes to getting involved. “Young adults are changing activism, redefining it," study author Eliza Esquivel told AdAge. "Knowing and talking about social issues to them is now considered a form of activism."

Unfortunately, clicking a “Like” button or cutting and pasting a socially-relevant status update on Facebook probably isn’t enough engagement to change the world. And it’s certainly not enough engagement for corporations looking for support with their social causes. The TBWA study looked into the reasons young adults will and won’t get involved, and skepticism has a lot to do with it.

Time constraints topped the list of reasons that keep young people from getting involved. But many surveyed also citied that they didn’t get involved because they didn’t feel they could make a difference. Meanwhile, many did feel companies should get involved in social causes, even if most doubted a corporation’s ability to make a difference.

The key to getting young adults to get involved? Provide evidence that both they and the company supporting the cause are making a difference. Oh, and make it entertaining.

The study also found that young adults get involved with a cause if it feels fun and social. AdAge cites “mobile philanthropy” as a prime example on combining these factors. The Red Cross raised more than $30 million with the help of its text donation program. It was easy to do, and participants were regularly informed about the amounts raised.

So it’s not impossible to turn Facebook “slactivists” into “activists,” as long as you know the formula, according to AdAge. “Cause-marketing programs need to make involvement easy, convince participants they count, and make it accessible.”

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