There's a place for both new and traditional channels in cause engagement

The digital revolution's impact on the way Americans engage with causes and social issues has not yet reached its full potential.

The digital revolution's impact on the way Americans engage with causes and social issues has not yet reached its full potential. Despite increasing opportunities for supporters to help out through social media, historically prominent ways of supporting a cause, such as donating money or volunteering, remain the first and "most often" means of involvement.

A study by Ogilvy PR's social marketing practice and Georgetown University's Center for Social Impact Communication found only 15% of Americans mentioned a promotional social media activity, such as posting a logo to a social profile or contributing to a blog, as how they most often engage with causes.

However, there are increasing opportunities for PR pros to broaden cause engagement via social media - particularly among women, Gen X and Y, African Americans, and Hispanics. These specific groups are more likely to learn about and engage with causes through social media and will respond to social media components that extend the reach and impact of other activities.

For example, create an online community via Facebook to allow event participants to connect with each other and share ideas leading up to and after the event or establish a scavenger hunt via Foursquare that encourages supporters to visit cause-related sites.

Such activities foster a sense of community and generate word of mouth that reaches broadly into supporters' social networks.

In making strategic use of social media, you need to go beyond the "hot tool" and combine multiple strategies to offer supporters a wide variety of opportunities to engage. Integration is the key in a world where social media is expanding and opening new venues for involvement, but, at the same time, the traditional forms of cause engagement remain critical.

The historically prominent ways of supporting a cause - donations, volunteering, petitions - and the traditional channels of communication - TV and print media, personal relationships, and websites - remain the top ways Americans engage with causes. Therefore, when designing strategies to raise awareness about causes, the traditional forms remain very relevant.

Bottom line: the most appropriate channel depends on audience and objective. By banishing thinking about online versus off-line engagement and integrating a variety of approaches based on audience research, expanded touch points, enhanced opportunities for engagement, and greater success are achievable.

Jennifer Wayman is an EVP with Ogilvy PR Worldwide's Washington office, where she leads the social marketing practice.

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