Personal Word-of-Mouth, TV Still Inform Cause Engagement Most Among Generation Y

Despite the growing popularity of social media as means of engaging with causes today, younger Americans still look to personal communication with friends and family as well as traditional media when learning about and telling others about causes. New findings from the Dynamics of Cause Engagement study show that while Generation Y is significantly more likely than its older counterparts to utilize social media to learn about causes, more than 4 in 10 Americans age 18-29 still get their information from family (48%), friends (46%) and TV (45%). The survey was conducted among adults age 18 and over in late 2010 by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication and Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide, and explored overall trends in cause involvement and the roles of a variety of activities and tools in fostering engagement with social issues.

Offline Exchange Still Vital

Face-to-face, offline conversations appear to still be the way information about causes is most often relayed among Americans of all generations, according to survey data. Nearly two-thirds of Americans (62%) report that being told in person is the way they are typically informed of causes and social issues in which others want them to be involved. Even among generations Y (ages 18 to 29) and X (ages 30 to 45), who are significantly more likely than older generations to report being sent messages or invitations via social media or text messaging, more than half (56% and 59%, respectively) report this face-to-face engagement.

Social Media: Beliefs vs. Actions

Americans are in agreement that they can make a difference by supporting causes; however, they disagree in their perception of the extent to which social media can help accomplish this. When it comes to showing support for causes, generations X and Y subscribe more readily than Baby Boomers (ages 46 to 60) and the Silent Generation (age 61 and over) to the beliefs that social networking sites like Facebook help increase visibility for causes and help them get the word out about causes more easily. Generations X and Y also are significantly more likely to report that they would support a cause online rather than offline (36% and 37%, respectively).

However, social media continues to remain relatively low on the list of ways Americans — younger generations included — typically support causes. While Generation Y is more likely than older generations to make use of promotional social media tools (e.g., blogs, icons on social profiles, and cause groups) these still rank below more historically prominent types of engagement (e.g., donating, talking to others about social issues, volunteering and signing a petition).

Different Drivers of Online Cause Fatigue

Social media users or not, study findings across all generations point to the potential for online cause overload. More than 7 in 10 report that emails about causes sometimes feel like spam. The Silent Generation — who are significantly more likely than younger generations to be told about causes by email — also are significantly more likely to say they receive too many emails about causes (55%). Generations X and Y are significantly more likely to believe that everybody “likes” causes on Facebook and that it doesn’t really mean anything.

Shared Support for Social Issues

Americans of all ages are generally in agreement about the causes in which they are most involved, with supporting our troops and feeding the hungry at the top of the list. Health-related issues, such as heart disease and diabetes, garner stronger involvement from Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation, while global warming ranks slightly higher among generations X and Y.

Looking ahead to the remainder of 2011, Generation Y believes that gay marriage will be the most prominent cause (28%), followed closely by supporting our troops, bullying and global warming (26% each). Older Americans (Generation X, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation) are in agreement that supporting our troops will remain most prominent (31%, 39% and 50%, respectively).

About the Survey:

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication developed the study with the objectives of showcasing trends in cause involvement and evaluating the role of a variety of activities in fostering engagement. An online survey was conducted by TNS Global among a nationally representative sample of 2,000 Americans ages 18 and over. The survey was fielded November 30 to December 22, 2010, and has a margin of error of +/-2.2% at the 95% confidence level. Throughout this report, an asterisk ‘*’ next to a number indicates a significant difference from the corresponding audience at the 95% level of confidence.

Generation Definitions:

  • Gen Y (Ages 18 to 29)
  • Gen X (Ages 30 to 45)
  • Baby Boomers (Ages 46 to 60)
  • Silent Gen (Age over 60)

Additional key findings will be released in upcoming weeks:

June 30 – Cause Involvement and Behavior Change

About the Center for Social Impact Communication

Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication (CSIC) is the nation’s leading educational resource on social impact communication. Launched in 2008 and housed in the Master of Professional Studies program in Public Relations and Corporate Communications, CSIC aims to elevate the discipline by pioneering industry standards in responsible communication practices and by educating and inspiring the professionals who lead the way in creating positive social impact through their work. For more information, visit

Twitter: @georgetowncsic

About Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide

Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide (Ogilvy PR) is a global, multidisciplinary communications leader operating in more than 80 markets. For more than two decades, Ogilvy PR has been at the forefront of social marketing—advancing personal and public health and safety and broader socially desirable goals via communications initiatives. We have developed numerous social marketing campaigns to successfully raise awareness, educate and prompt action regarding some of today’s largest and most complex issues, ranging from cancer to cardiovascular health, substance abuse to homeland security, youth violence prevention to disaster preparedness, and much more.

Named Large Agency of the Year by The Holmes Report and PRNews, Ogilvy PR is a unit of Ogilvy & Mather, a WPP company (NASDAQ: WPPGY), one of the world’s largest communications service groups. For more information, visit and