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There was a lot of buzz around the latest report out from the Pew Internet & American Life Project yesterday, which observed that Internet users, and particularly social networkers are more likely to be involved in groups and volunteer. As CNN reports,
Of all Web users surveyed, 80% participate in groups versus 56% of those who don't use the internet, the report said. On social networks, it's slightly higher, and on Twitter in particular, 85% are active in groups.
More metrics of “eCitizenship” should be developed in order to assess its impact fully, but early indicators find those who go online on a regular basis are more likely to be involved in offline communities as well. This could be particularly significant for Millennials and those younger because these generations have grown up with access to mobile and online technologies.
So, it's all great news that us social networkers are, well, social...right? Well, like anything else we can't just take data at face value, we have to dig in and try to understand what the data means. What opportunities do these insights present for nonprofits, what are the pitfalls (will nonprofits become complacent in light of this information), and what does it overlook (are people truly engaged)? Nothing like Twitter and expert bloggers to help us dive a little deeper.
On her blog, Allison Fine argues that the Pew findings - particularly when combined with other studies showing that many nonprofits are still hesitant to dedicate significant resources to social media - make a strong argument for organizations to stop hesitating and dive into social media. She says:
That’s our challenge this year, to enlist everyone who is online, every staff person, volunteer and board member who is engaged and learning how to use the channels to raise awareness and activate people for their causes to make the case to the bottleneck people within their organizations that the above data are simply too compelling to wait another second before significantly reconfirming their budgets, staffs and structures and immerse themselves in the social world awaiting them.
I also had the opportunity to be involved in a great Twitter conversation with new media & communications expert Brian Reich and David Crowley of Social Capital, Inc. The conversation started from a series of tweets by Brian on the study that intrigued me:
BrianReich: People will celebrate new Pew study re: org involvement (http://bit.ly/hH7Efh) but miss larger point(s) - e.g. commitment is surface level.
This led into a great back and forth between Brian and David about both the opportunities and challenges presented by the data. Here are just a few of the thoughts exchanged:
socialcap: @BrianReich Are you getting from the Pew data that commitment is surface level? Maybe elsewhere?
BrianReich: @socialcap @allieb37 the focus is limited, but also want us not to mistake joining for doing, or getting anything actually accomplished.
BrianReich: @socialcap @allieb37 easy to celebrate membership numbers when focus should be on measurable impacts and real changes.
socialcap: @BrianReich gd points. On the + for me, Pew data dispels idea that Internet users less social & active in real world.
BrianReich: @allieb37 @socialcap I want to make sure that message is heard. Easy to consider the data as a sign work I'd done. It's just beginning.
BrianReich: @allieb37 @socialcap feel like a squeaky wheel, but often it feels like i am the only one looking ahead. More popular to look backwards.
socialcap: @BrianReich @allieb37 See your point that data like this from Pew could make orgs complacent...
socialcap: @BrianReich @allieb37 Those orgs that don't figure out how to engage effectively won't last, but those that do can achieve real impact
So what do you think? Should we be cheering about this data, dismissing it, or taking a deeper look?
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