As you might have noticed, many of your Facebook friends became virtual cartoon characters as another Facebook campaign was launched at the end of last week. But just like most social networking campaigns, its rapid following and good intentions disguise its limited impact.
Over the last few days, thousands of Facebook users changed their profile pictures to cartoon characters in the name of stopping violence against children. Google searches for “old cartoons” spiked, and news outlets searched for the source. An “unnamed volunteer” had created a Facebook event page claiming credit for the campaign and linking it to various child protection organizations.
Critics have spoken against the campaign for being vague, for cheapening violence against children with cartoon characters and for general insincerity. One memorable critique claimed the organizers were probably pedophiles trying to gain the trust of child Facebook users. But what really made the campaign unsuccessful was the fact that it didn’t ask its followers to do anything meaningful or concrete.
Facebook campaigns walk a fine line between asking their followers to do too much (and thus getting no response) and asking them to do too little (and not achieving anything). Some of the most memorable campaigns this year – the “color of your bra” and “I like it” National Breast Cancer Awareness Month campaigns – had concrete goals accomplishable by individuals: self-checks and mammograms.
In contrast, this recent campaign is ill-defined. It’s not much to ask Facebook users to change their profile pictures. Supporters have argued that the campaign raises awareness on violence against children and that that in itself is an accomplishment. But how many people simply changed their profile picture because others were doing it, not because they knew what it was for?
This campaign – and others like it – could be more successful by simply posting a statistic or a fact to the Facebook user’s status when they change their profile picture. This would actually educate users with some tiny bit of knowledge.
Facebook campaigns are effective ways of garnering massive support in a short period of time – the second it takes to click a button. But for all those jumping on the bandwagon: Both followers and organizers should have more of an idea of where they’re going.