You have seen lots of advertisements for causes or companies asking you to 'like' them on Facebook. In the world of pretend Internet money, a 'like' has value but charities know the cold, bleak truth; once people have taken the action you ask for, they feel like they have done their part for a long time, so asking for a 'like' or a 'Tweet' is going to cost a donation.

A new analysis from scholars at the University of British Columbia adds fuel to assertions that social media platforms are turning people into "slacktivists" by making it easy for them to feel like they associate with or have helped a cause without committing resources to support it. 

They are late to the party. Most media sites knew this already. If you are popular on a social news site, like Reddit or Slashdot, it translates into readers, thousands or tens of thousands. If you are popular on Twitter or Facebook, it will be dozens of perhaps hundreds. People will re-tweet a link to an article based on the title or the person posting it, but they often don't read it. 

"Our research shows that if people are able to declare support for a charity publicly in social media it can actually make them less likely to donate to the cause later on,"  says PhD student Kirk Kristofferson.

In a series of studies, researchers invited participants to engage in an initial act of free support for a cause – joining a Facebook group, accepting a poppy, pin or magnet or signing a petition. Participants were then asked to donate money or volunteer.

They found that the more public the token show of endorsement, the less likely participants are to provide meaningful support later. If participants were provided with the chance to express token support more privately, such as confidentially signing a petition, they were more likely to give later.

The researchers suggest this occurs because giving public endorsement satisfies the desire to look good to others, reducing the urgency to give later. Providing token support in private leads people to perceive their values are aligned with the cause without the payoff of having people witness it.

With the holiday season being the biggest fundraising period of the year, the researchers say it is vital that charities take another look at their strategies and plan appropriately.

Upcoming in Journal of Consumer Research