When it comes to participation in voluntary groups and organizations, the Internet — and especially social media — is playing a key role in how people interact and share information, according to a new study. Overall, 80% of Internet users are involved in groups compared to 56% of non-users and 75% of all American adults, according to a new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Social media users are more likely to be active, with 82% of social network users and 85% of Twitter users participating in groups.

People also believe the Internet has helped make voluntary organizations more effective. Three-quarters of Internet users, and 68% of all Americans, for example, said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to communicate with members. The majority of Americans, both online and offline, also said the Web had improved the ability of groups to gain attention, raise money and impact society at large.

On a personal level, Americans who are active in groups indicate that the Internet has had a varying influence on their connection to groups. More than half (53%) say it has played a major role in helping them keep up with news and information about their groups, but less than a quarter (24%) found it had a major impact on their ability to volunteer time or contribute money to groups.

The Pew study also found that groups are moving aggressively into the social media space to connect with members. In that vein:

  • 48% of those who are active in groups say those groups have a page on a social networking site like Facebook
  • 42% of those who are active in groups say those groups use text messaging
  • 30% of those who are active in groups say those groups have their own blog
  • 16% of those who are active in groups say the groups communicate with members through Twitter

Furthermore, some 65% of social network users say they read messages and updates on social sites about their groups, and 30% have posted news about them. The numbers are similar among people on Twitter, with 63% following group-related updates and 21% posting news themselves on the microblogging site.

Social network users are also more likely to be involved in creating and expanding groups. So half of social networkers active in groups have used the Web to invite someone to join a group, compared to 21% of non-social networkers. And 65% of Twitterers who are active in groups have sent out invitations, versus 34% of those not on Twitter.

On the flip side, more than two-thirds (68%) of social network users participating in groups have been invited via the Internet to join a group, compared to 41% of non-social networkers. Likewise, nearly 80% of Twitter users have received invitations to join a group compared to 54% of the un-Twittering.

“Use of the Internet in general, and social media in particular, has become the lubricant for chatter and outreach for all kinds of groups ranging from spiritual communities to professional societies to ad hoc fan clubs,” said Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project, in a statement. “Even as Internet tools have become ubiquitous in group activity, people have quite nuanced views of where technology is the biggest help and where its impact is pretty modest.”

While most Americans have a positive view of the Internet’s influence on group activities, college graduates, young people (18- to 29-year-olds) and social networkers are more likely to say it has had a “major impact” on groups than other demographic segments.

Groups where social media users tend to be more active include consumer groups (roughly one-third), followed by sports or rec leagues, charitable organizations, trade associations and community or neighborhood groups. At the bottom of the list of about 20 categories are fan gtoups of products or brands, which drew only 5% participation by social media users.

Although the Internet has become interwoven into civic life, the Pew study found that people learn about new groups mostly offline. Three-quarters of active group members say they didn’t discover any of the groups they belong to online. But 46% of Web users who are active in one or more groups credit the Internet with helping them join a greater number of organizations.

When it comes to achieving group goals, however, results for the Internet appeared to be mixed. Half or more of group members surveyed say they were in groups that either provided emotional support, financial assistance or raised money for a specific cause. But only 34% were in a group that solved a difficult problem or achieved change in their local community, and just 17% were part of a group that got a candidate elected to public office.

But in looking just at groups successful in achieving their goals, the study found more than half (53%) of members said the Internet played a major role in getting a candidate elected and in raising awareness about an issue (46%). “In contrast, groups that solved a local problem or issue, and those that provided emotional or financial support to someone in need, were comparatively less reliant on the Internet to achieve these goals,” stated the report. The Pew study on the Internet and voluntary groups was based on a survey of 2,303 U.S. adults conducted by phone from November 23 to December 21, 2010 by Princeton Survey Research Associates.

SOURCE MediaPost/Mark Walsh

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *