MUST WATCH: The state of the internet and group-forming

I pointed last week to the latest Pew Internet research study about internet users and groups which found that the users most engaged with social media are also the most engaged in groups. Clearly directly relevant to associations. This article in the Atlantic provides a great analysis:

“Pew Internet’s study also suggests another interesting factor: Active Internet users are more likely to reinforce pre-existing social or civic organizations than seek out new contacts for new organizations. According to Pew, American adults active in groups were asked about three potential reasons for being active in social or civic groups. Some 59% of adults cited “accomplishing things as part of a group that they could not accomplish on their own” as their primary incentive. An almost equal number (57%) say that keeping up with news and information about subjects that matter to them is a major reason. While there are obvious demographic differences — low income adults and African-Americans are slightly more likely than others to cite meeting new people who share their interests as a major reason to participate in social and civic groups — the majority of American adults cited participating in substantive, identity-based activities as the major incentive to become involved in a social or civic organization.”

Hmmm. Accomplishing things as part of a group that they can’t accomplish on their own… sound familiar?

Here is a video of a panel at the State of the Net conference in DC last week discussing the study. The panelists were Alex Howard (probably better known locally as @digiphile), O’Reilly Radar’s Gov 2.0 correspondent; Jerry Berman, founder and chairman of the Center for Democracy and Technology; author of The Cult of the Amateur Andrew Keen (@ajkeen); Lee Rainie (@lrainie), director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project; and Clay Shirky (@cshirky), our favorite author.

The panel discusses how group activity on the internet is “the lifeblood of democracy” and specifically refer to Alex De Tocqueville, much beloved of associations. They talk about how the study shows the internet extends real life groups online, as opposed to existing somehow separate from offline group activity.

Shirky specifically talks about how it’s striking to him, in the report, that communication between group members and between members and society are much more important than fundraising – he thinks this signals “continued bad news for the classic NGO model in which you give me some money and I give you a quarterly report and we agree to call that membership; that people are in fact adopting these tools in ways that say we want to use them to deepen social relationships not just to take new resources on board” – signaling “continued pressure on NGOs to find other ways for involving their members beside this dollars for communications trade-off”. He sees lots more groups forming in the future but also lots more people joining and leaving groups at a lower thresholds of participation and asks, “what does that do to social capital”?

Andrew Keen provides his usual devil’s advocate views, discussing the cult of social and a “rampant individualism”, the breakdown of the firm, the rise of free agents, things that continue to change the state of society as we know it. Alex Howard talks about these issues from the Gov 2.0 point of view – citizens are turning to the internet for information on policies, laws, about local officials, and citizen-generated data which they see as more accurate and timely than “official” government data.  He also digs into the issue of the digital divide.

This recap from Alex Howard has more on the specifics of the discussion, but I urge all of you to watch this video of the panel. It’s an hour long, but directly relevant to our association industry. Please watch it, and give us your reactions in the comments.

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