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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Research Friday: So, where is Bob?

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing weekly series, each Friday we invite a nonprofit expert to highlight a research report or study and discuss how it can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice. We welcome your comments and feedback.

Not long ago, I had a need to find a friend, Bob, with whom I had not been in contact for a number of years. To the rescue: LinkedIn. My experience searching for Bob is concrete evidence of the helpfulness of various social networking sites (SNS) like LinkedIn and Facebook. So, I was intrigued with a report from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project about the social impact of widespread use of social networking sites.

This research post is based upon the Pew's social networking site survey of October 20-November 28, 2010. The study attempts to "disentangle whether people's varying social behaviors and attitudes are related to the different ways they use social networking sites."

And the findings are, indeed, interesting. First of all, for this survey 79% of American adults said they used the internet, and 59% of these use at least one SNS. A few days ago, Pew released a new study that pushes the number of SNS users even higher, to 66%. (In 2008, 26% of adults used an SNS.) In 2010, over half of all adult SNS users are over 35 years of age, and 56% of them are female.

An overall finding that can impact how nonprofits approach social networking is that "the typical internet user is more than twice as likely as others to feel that people can be trusted." 41% of all adults (both internet and non-internet users) agree that "most people can be trusted." However, "46% of internet users said that 'most people can be trusted.'"

With trust being a primary element of nonprofit success in building organizational capacity and in providing services, it appears internet users are likely supporters.

In this survey, the four primary social networking sites (SNS) are listed below with the percentage of all social media users. As can be noted, many are on multiple sites:

  • Facebook – 92%
  • MySpace – 29%
  • LinkedIn – 18%
  • Twitter – 13%

Trust and SNS use appear to be related. 52% of Facebook users access that site at least once a day. "...a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day is 43% more likely than other internet users and more than three times as likely as non-internet users to feel that most people can be trusted."

This study seems to counter the fear that SNS users may become less social. The research indicates that SNS users, especially those using Facebook, have more close relationships than other internet users. Their social networks are more diverse, and they receive more support from other people.

When investigating community engagement, the study found that "internet and non-internet users are equally as likely as others to know at least some of their neighbors." The study "found that 74% of Americans belong to at least one local group. This is significantly higher than the 65% of Americans that belonged to at least one voluntary group in 2008." Of internet users, this increase was from 17% to 28%; of SNS users, this increase was from 16% to 27%.

"What explains this trend? Again, it seems likely that the current economic conditions at least in part explain the higher rates of volunteering. People may be reorganizing their time to participate in more voluntary activities."

There is much to be gleaned from the full study: education levels by SNS, political involvement, etc. But the implications for nonprofits are important as the trend for increased SNS use continues. As a recap, I do think it of note that the average age of SNS users is increasing (and will probably continue to do so), the involvement in community and volunteering has some relationship to SNS use, and personal relationships do not suffer but rather are enhanced with the use of SNS.

Oh, did I find Bob? Yes... and a friendship with a long-time colleague was renewed. Just another plus for the value of SNS.

The source of all the quotes and data in this blog are from the following report: Keith Hampton, Lauren Sessions Goulet, Lee Rainie, Kristen Purcell. Social networking sites and our lives. Pew Internet & American Life Project, June 16, 2011. Click the report title for a covering summary which will help you discover those parts of the study you may wish to further explore.

Patricia Lewis' role as Sr. Professional-in-Residence at the Lodestar Center is to help bridge academia and practice. She has a long career as a nonprofit executive and as a "pracademic," having previously served as President and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Executive Director of Camp Fire Boys and Girls in Seattle-King County, Development Director of the Childrens' Home Society of Washington State, and as the Nonprofit Professional-in-Residence at George Mason University. She has written and lectured throughout the world about various leadership and management topics for the nonprofit sector.

Additional sources:
[1] Aaron Smith. Why Americans use social media, Pew Internet & American Life Project, November 15, 2011.


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