Do Online Petitions Do Anything?
Online petitions make you feel like you’ve done something, even though they may not do much. This is called slacktivism.
However, it’s important to remember that, if done well, online petitions can still do a lot of good. Here are some of their most essential functions: 1. They focus and engage supporters.
1. They raise awareness.
Petition campaigns are a form of collective action that can help mobilize people to advocate for change. Whether it’s changing a stop sign at an intersection, or reversing data cap fees on a popular streaming service, the signatures of thousands of people show that a problem exists and can be a catalyst for change. Online petitions also offer an alternative form of activism for people who aren’t comfortable participating in public protests. They can also give organizations insight into who their supporters are and what their interests are.
While it’s difficult to credit an outcome – like a new law or a company decision – directly back to one online petition, those who study digital activism and help craft campaigns say that they do play a role. This is especially true if the petition gets media attention and is targeted at someone in a position to respond.
2. They raise money.
Online petitions can be an effective tool for nonprofits to build their audience. Unlike physical signatures, online petitions allow organizations to collect e-signatures more quickly, and they can provide powerful data management tools to help organize and analyze the results of their campaigns. Additionally, online petitions allow nonprofits to reach new audiences by collecting email addresses, which can be a powerful way to keep people updated on the organization’s mission and motivate them to support future efforts.
Petitioners can also ask supporters to donate to a specific campaign or effort related to their cause. This can be a simple request added to the signature confirmation message, or it could be included in an email or social media post.
While some critics label online petitions as slactivism, the numbers behind these campaigns can make a difference in pushing for real reform or relief. Just be sure to pair them with a robust action strategy to ensure their effectiveness.
3. They build support.
Many nonprofits use online petitions to connect with new supporters. When someone signs a petition, they’re added to the organization’s email list and, in some cases, considered a member. The organization can then keep in touch with them throughout the year and ask for donations, just like it would have done in the past when supporters wrote checks to a traditional nonprofit.
Petitions offer a low-pressure form of activism that many people can participate in. They can also act as a catalyst for more action. For example, if someone sees a news story about an issue they care about that your organization is involved in, they might be inspired to sign your petition.
Petition campaigns need to be focused and clear to have any impact, though. Otherwise, signing one can feel like slacktivism that distracts from other, more effective actions that might actually make a difference. Ideally, a well-designed campaign will have a direct path to policymakers that offers concrete steps for progress.
4. They make a difference.
Whether they directly influence policy decisions or simply raise awareness, online petitions can be powerful tools for nonprofits. But the success of these campaigns depends on how they’re crafted.
A successful petition relies on the use of strategic and audience-tailored communication, which is difficult to achieve in an environment where text-based forms compete with audiovisual stimuli under news-feed conditions. This means that information processing is often haphazard and not systematic, making it difficult to influence petition-signing behavior.
Petitions also need ambitious, yet realistic goals to generate media conversation and spark action. These goals can be used to characterize the nonprofit as an authority on the issue and inspire new supporters.
But it’s important to avoid setting unrealistic goals or relying solely on social media targeting and email automation to drive the campaign. These tactics could cause a nonprofit to distract people from other actions they can take to create real change, like writing a letter or calling a representative.