The Internet's Role in Creating and Sustaining Groups

Lori Halley 04 February 2011 1 comments

The Social Side of the Internet - a new survey report from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project - is a must-read for membership or volunteer-based organizations. The report confirms that "the internet is now deeply embedded in group activities and in how people create, join, participate in, and sustain groups." This national survey, released in January, "found that 75% of all American adults are active in some kind of voluntary group or organization and internet users are more likely than others to be active: 80% of internet users participate in groups, compared with 56% of non-internet users."

The report is based on national phone survey of 2,303 American adults from November 23 and December 21, 2010, and looks at 27 different kinds of groups. Respondents were asked to assess the impact of the internet on the ability of social, civic, professional, religious or spiritual groups to engage in a number of activities.

Impact of the Internet on Group Activities and Accomplishments:

One of the key findings that will be of interest to membership-based and non-profit organizations is the overall impact of the Internet on group activities and accomplishments. While not surprising, the study confirmed that Americans believe the Internet has a major impact on the ability of groups to:
  • communicate with members (68%)
  • draw attention to an issue (62%)
  • connect with other groups (60%)
  • impact society at large (59%)
  • organize activities (59%)
  • raise money (52%)
  • recruit new members (51%) 

In the survey, "respondents were asked about several kinds of outcomes and whether groups had achieved them...what role the internet played (if any) in achieving those goals." This diagram illustrates the response:


Overview of Survey Findings:

Here is a brief look at some of the findings we found interesting in the four sections of the survey report. But be sure to take a look at the report for information that might be particularly relevant to your organization.

Section 1: The State of Groups and Voluntary Organizations in America

The survey found that 75% of Americans are  active in at least one group. In fact, they found that the average American adult is active in 3.51 groups, with 14 of adults belonging to at least 8 types of groups. In addition, the average person spends 6.4 hours per week in group activities. Internet and cell phone owners are more likely than non-technology users to be active in groups - with 80% of internet users being active in one kind of group or another, compared with 56% of non-internet users.

Aaron Smith, senior research specialist at Pew Internet and co-author of the report, suggests "it is important to note that 25% of American adults are not active in any of the groups we addressed....They often report they are time-stressed or have health or other issues that limit their ability to be involved.l And about a fifth of them say that lack of access to the internet is a hindrance. Even in its absence, the internet seems to be a factor in the reality of how groups perform in the digital age."

Section 2: Joining, Participating In and Leaving Groups

Reasons for Joining:
When the researchers asked those who were active group members about their reasons for participating, the responses varied across the age groups:

  • 59% of young adults (age 18-29) say that meeting new people is a major reason they participate in these kinds of groups, making it equally important as keeping up with information (58%) and almost as important as accomplishing things as part of a group (65%)
  • 59% of adults cited accomplishing things as part of a group as the major reason for joining, followed by   keeping up with news and information 57%
  • 18% of adults age 65 and older say meeting people who share their interests is not a reason for them to participate

Reasons for Leaving:
Interestingly, the reasons for leaving groups were found to be universal, with virtually no differences across demographic subgroups. The most common reason for leaving a group was lack of group leadership, followed closely by having simply lost interest in the goals or purposes of the group.

Section 3: How the Internet is Used in Groups - and the Rise of Social Media and Texting in Group Activities

The survey found that 80% of internet users are active in groups... and that much of their work in groups takes place in basic digital spaces:

  • 65% of the internet users who are active in groups say they use their groups' websites.
  • 57% of these internet users say they exchange emails with other
  • 56% of these internet users say they read their groups' e-newsletters and emails
  • 24% of these internet users say they contribute material to their groups' online bulletin boards and discussions. Younger users are twice as likely to do this as people who are over 50.

In addition, "the internet is also a key tool for mobilization and expansion of groups:"

  • More than half of all internet users - 57% - say they have been invited online and through email to join a social, civic, professional or religious group
  • Some 38% of online Americans who are active in groups say they have used the internet or email to invite others to join groups

Section 4: The Impact of the Internet on Group Activities

The reports authors suggest that organizations shouldn't "underestimate the impact of social media and the internet use on group engagement." They found that individuals who are daily Internet users, social network site and Twitter users, "perceive the internet as having a major impact on their ability to find groups that match their interests, bring others into their groups, keep up with the groups they belong to, organize group activities, contribute money or volunteer their time, and even create their own groups."

Are members discovering groups online or offline?
While online tools are definitely affecting group engagement, the study found that 75% of group members did not discover any of the groups they belong to online. Not surprisingly, "discovering groups online is most prevalent among those younger than 50. One third (34%) of internet-using group members ages 18-9 and 27% of those ages 30-4 have discovered groups on the internet, compared with 18% of such members ages 50-64 and 13% of those ages 65 and up. More than eight in ten group members over the age of 50 (83%) say that none of their groups were discovered online."

Take a Look at This Pew Research Center Report

This survey offers a wealth of information on "the overall impact of the internet on group activities and accomplishments," so take a look at the report: "The Social Side of the Internet."

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 04 February 2011 at 9:00 AM

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