Social Networkers more likely to be Community Volenteers

 Internet Users Rally Around Causes

MARCH 22, 2011

Instead of isolating, the internet brings people together

Persistent stereotypes abound about online "slacktivism"-that is, performing superficial, feel-good activities that ultimately have little to no real-world effect on the cause one is purporting to support, helping only to create a false sense of accomplishment. Signing online petitions, writing blog posts or status updates about issues and joining Facebook groups are disparaged as ineffective and shallow. However, several studies and real-world events refute the notion that online involvement is meaningless.

Most notably, the revolutions and protests across the Middle East and North Africa were fomented in part by young adults online. Studies also show that the internet nurtures activism rather than detachment.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project found that not only are internet users more likely to belong to a voluntary group or organization than non-users, at 80% vs. 56%, but that internet users are also more active participants in the groups to which they do belong. Internet users were significantly more likely to report attending meetings, volunteering time, donating money and taking leadership roles in their groups than non-users.

Social media is an even greater enabler for group involvement. In the Pew study, 82% of social network users participated in a group and 85% of Twitter users did.

According to a January 2011 World Vision study conducted by Harris Interactive, teens gave their support for charitable causes or organizations in large numbers and in various ways ranging from active to symbolic gestures. Notably, one-quarter went so far as to give financial support. Social media users were slightly more likely to lend their support though the levels were similar to teens overall, mostly because there is so much overlap between the two groups. The vast majority of teens use social media (80% in the study).

A longitudinal study of California high-school students funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement echoed the same finding, reporting that "the internet served as a gateway to online and offline civic and political engagement, including volunteerism, community problem-solving, and protest activity."

"We found that being part of online participatory communities tied to youth interests, political or not, exposes youth to a greater degree of diverse viewpoints and issues and is related to higher levels of civic engagement," said Joe Kahne, Mills College education professor and author of the study. "Both of these outcomes are good for democracy."

For marketers, the implications are twofold. For one, they are a reminder of the participatory nature of the internet, unlike television or radio where the broadcast is one-way and information comes from the top down. While TV and radio are excellent means of quickly bombarding the public with a particular message, the strength of the internet lies in its ability to bring like-minded groups together.

In addition, if marketers can successfully foster those online groups, that can very well translate to real, tangible results. Caused-based marketing can also particularly appeal to young people.


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