How neighbors stay informed about community issues

I recently happened upon a public opinion poll from the Pew Research Center that explored a topic that I’ve been curious about for some time. In this age of Facebook, Twitter, blogs, text messaging, and e-mail, how are Americans staying informed about what’s going on in the world closest to them – their neighborhoods, their communities? To what extent has “tech” entered this arena, and to what extent are Americans staying abreast of events the old-fashioned way, by talking face-to-face?

According to those surveyed, at some point in 2009…

  • 46% of Americans talked face-to-face with neighbors about community issues.
  • 22% of Americans signed up to receive alerts about local issues (such as traffic, school events, weather warnings or crime alerts) via email or text messaging
  • 21% of Americans discussed community issues over the telephone.
  • 20% of Americans used digital tools to talk to their neighbors and keep informed about community issues.
  • 11% of Americans read a blog dealing with community issues.
  • 9% of Americans exchanged emails with neighbors about community issues and 5% say they belong to a community email listserv.
  • 4% of Americans communicated with neighbors by text messaging on cell phones.
  • 4% of Americans joined a social network site group (e.g., Facebook) connected to community issues.
  • 2% of Americans followed neighbors using Twitter.

[Note: Emphasis added. Because survey participants could respond affirmatively to more than one option, the sum of percentages is > 100%.]

One of the take-away messages from this report is that while high-tech communication modes have a place in how Americans stay connected to one another and to their community, use of these modes does not (yet) surpass good ol’ fashioned discussions over the backyard fence or across porches. If one’s marketing objective is to mobilize grassroots support, to build local awareness of an issue, or to mobilize a community to action, these data seem to suggest the best kind of “word-of-mouth” tactic may be the original kind – by encouraging people to literally talk with one another.

[Survey methods note: The survey was conducted via telephone (either landline or cellphone) with a random sample of 2,258 American adults. The full report can be downloaded here.]