Religion and the Internet: A match made in heaven

Written by on January 1, 2012 in PR+Social Media, Strategy - No comments

The Pew Internet and American Life Project recently created a statistical overview of the Internet use of those religiously active. Those of us doing social media have always known that there are groups that interact well on the Internet and some that don’t.

The essence of a successful web presence is to create unique materials offering subject expertise (or a niche) to a well-defined group.  For those of us in government, associations and nonprofits the problem is offering websites that cater to those not fully Internet engaged.

The religious community transcends barriers as to Internet savvy or age or income. They tend to be highly motivated. They will learn or do whatever they have to do to exchange information and participate.

I’ve seen order people with limited to no computer experience go to classes just so they can see the Pope say Mass or to interact with the faithful. Others expressing fear of a computer make a purchase just to be part of a national religious community.

Note that the research below does not necessarily indicate that the religious use the Internet at higher rates (in some cases they do) but what it does say is that they are active users and see a web presence as useful in accomplishing organizational goals.

Who are the power users?

Additional groups who have a tendency to overcome all obstacles to gain access to websites and social media include: people learning languages; those reconnecting with their homelands or ethnic connections; cooking; mommy and daddy bloggers; war veterans reconnecting with comrades and those interested in politics. Needless to say, younger audiences reach maturity with a computer keyboard in hand so any topic that skews younger will have more success.

There are groups not Internet savvy for a wide variety of reasons. “If” your expertise involves an effort to reach these groups via social media or websites, you have an uphill battle.  Older individuals and  categories including the building trades (plumbers, electricians, carpenters) members of the criminal justice system and others will be a challenge.

Internet use skews towards those with higher incomes, college educations and the professions. If your niche is not part of that demographic, your outreach activities will be more challenging.

What this means is sites seeking an audience not including power users must work harder to establish an audience especially as it pertains to obtaining referrals links from established websites. You may have to purchase advertising. You may have to put extraordinary emphasis on platforms where there is a comfort level (e.g. email).

The good news is that you are somewhat alone to pursue your audience; you may be one of the first to serve them (those first are often successful especially with emerging groups).

Selected summary of Pew research

Some 40% of Americans say they are active in a church, religious, or spiritual organization.

A survey by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project asked people about their membership in 28 different kinds of organizations and clubs. Religious and spiritual organizations topped the list, and those who were active in such groups were more active in all kinds of groups (not necessarily Internet based).

With regard to technology, religiously active Americans use the Internet, email, broadband, cell phones and social media platforms at similar rates to other Americans.

Americans who are members of religious groups are also engaged with core technology at levels similar to or higher than the overall population. Asked about their technology usage:

79% of Americans who are active in religious groups are Internet users, compared with 75% of those not involved with religious groups

86% of Americans who are active in religious groups are cell phone users, compared with 80% of those not involved with religious groups

75% of religiously active Americans are email users, compared with 68% of those who are not involved with religious groups.

46% of these religiously active Americans use social networking sites such as Facebook, compared with 49% of those who are not involved with religious groups.

9% of these religiously active Americans use Twitter, compared with 10% of those not involved with religious groups

Asked about their own personal involvement with all kinds of groups, those who are religiously active often have good things to say about the role of the Internet with those groups. Still, the religiously active are somewhat less likely to salute the Internet’s impact on their own groups than their non-religious counterparts. For example:

49% of the religiously active view the Internet as having a major impact and 34% having a minor impact on the ability to keep up with news and information from the groups in which they are active (compared with 59% and 25% for the non-religious).

38% of the religiously active view the Internet as having a major impact and 37% having a minor impact on the ability to organize group activities for their groups (compared with 46% and 28% for the non-religious).

34% of the religiously active view the Internet as having a major impact and 38% having a minor impact on the ability to find interesting groups to join (compared with 42% and 28% for the non-religious).

22% of the religiously active view the Internet as having a major impact and 43% having a minor impact on the ability to volunteer their time to groups in which they are active (compared with 27% and 37% for the non-religious).

20% of the religiously active view the Internet as having a major impact and 38% having a minor impact on the ability to contribute money to groups (compared with 28% and 31% for the non-religious).

When people are asked about their group activities, it is clear that they believe the Internet is having a wide-ranging impact on their own engagement within civic and social groups.  This is true for all Americans, including those who are active in religious groups and organizations.  Asked to assess the overall impact of the Internet on group activities:

68% of Americans who are active in religious groups (Internet users and non-users alike) said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to communicate with members.

62% of Americans who are active in religious groups said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to draw attention to an issue.

57% of Americans who are active in religious groups said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to connect with other groups.

58% of Americans who are active in religious groups said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to impact society at large.

57% of Americans who are active in religious groups said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to organize activities.

46% of Americans who are active in religious groups said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to raise money.

44% of Americans who are active in religious groups said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to recruit new members.

46% of Americans who are active in religious groups said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to impact local communities.

30% of Americans who are active in religious groups said the Internet has had a major impact on the ability of groups to find people to take leadership roles.

Leonard

I’m a graduate of several universities with a post-Master’s Degree from the Johns Hopkins University. I have 40 years in government ( I started as a police officer) with 30 of those years involved in public relations and social media at the national and state levels.

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