Report: The Social Side of the Internet

January 19, 2011

1:44 pm

Apparently the Internet savvy crowd is not made up of loners, but joiners.

A new national survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has found that the Internet is playing an important role in the group and organizational life of Americans. According to the study, 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.

Are we still ‘Bowling Alone’? In Robert Putnam’s often mentioned social critique that society is losing social capital as people keep to themselves rather than join membership or social organizations, the jury may still be out. However, almost one quarter (24%) of respondents cited finding the groups in which they belong via the Internet, and almost half (46% ) say that Internet has helped them be active in more groups than they would otherwise. The study notes that almost two-thirds of participants said they were active in group activities in the 30 days prior to the survey.

Researchers conducted telephone interviews conducted from November 23 to December 21, 2010, among a sample of 2,303 adults, age 18 and older. Participants came from those who said they belonged to at least one of 27 different kinds of groups such as charities, religious or political groups, alumni associations, professional associations, or youth or adult recreational sports, for example.

Internet users reported not only higher levels of participation, but also higher satisfaction in their interaction with groups, stating that they have “accomplished something as part of a group that they could not have accomplished themselves”.

Social Media and Group Participation; Twitter Users Lead the Way

The study found that those active in social media sites are among the most “heavily involved” group participants: 82% of those who use sites such as Facebook say they are active in groups vs. 77% of the Internet users who are not; and 85% of Twitter users are active in groups vs. 79% of those online who are not Twitter users.

In its entirety, the report is full of information about what makes people join groups – and what makes them participate (a person’s sense of their own ability to make a difference and their sense of trust in others), and even decide to leave (poor leadership is the primary reason.) For anyone who seeks to engage others and organize online, it’s a must read.

SOURCE: The Social Side of the Internet, Pew Internet & American Life Project by Lee Rainie, Kristen Purcell, Aaron Smith, January 18, 2011

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Marla Shaivitz is a writer, developer and digital marketer. She's interested in innovations & innovators in technology and those working toward social good. Follow Marla on Twitter at @marlashaivitz.

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