January 17, 2012; Source: Pew Internet (Pew Research Center Internet and American Life Project) | A slideshow prepared by Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project, on ten “fresh realities of the digital age” is getting a lot of buzz in the nonprofit advocacy world. According to Rainie, these realities add up to a “new environment for advocates and NGOs” (Rainie’s use of “NGOs” instead of “nonprofits” appears to be due to the original audience for the presentation, the State Department Visitors Program).

Rainie identified five dimensions of the digital revolution:

  1. Two-thirds of homes have broadband connections, whereas almost all Internet homes had dial-up access only a dozen years ago, and 83 percent of homes have Internet access of some sort.
  2. More than half of baby-boomers aged 50-64 use the Internet, as do 71 percent of people aged 30-49 and 85 percent of young people aged 18-29. Even 35 percent of seniors 65 or older use social media.
  3. There are 327.6 million mobile subscribers in the U.S.—though the population is only 315.5 million. As 84 percent of the population has cell phones, the amount of mobile subscribers obviously reflects people with more than one mobile account.
  4. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of adults are mobile Internet connectors.
  5. More than one-third (35 percent) own smart phones.

Rainie’s ten new realities:

  1. “The world is full of networked people using networked information.”
  2. “Giant changes in the civic culture and mediasphere have created new opportunities for NGOs and activists.” As a corollary, Rainie adds, the “do-it-yourself/hacker ethic of networked individuals can be tapped to fill gaps.”
  3. “There is no high-tech secret sauce for effective message making.”
  4. New messaging opportunities have emerged in addition to traditional mass media.
  5. He cites “The Engagement Pyramid” to suggest that there are different stages in engaging different audiences.
  6. Like NPQ has often noted, “influence is migrating from organizations to networks and new ‘experts,’” suggesting the importance of social media networks.
  7. Rainie says that the flow of news has changed, and offers as examples “continuous partial attention to media streams,” “immersion in deep dives,” and “info-snacking in free moments.”
  8. He says “all organizations are under more scrutiny and transparency is a new marker of trust.”
  9. The “age of big data” will give “new power to analytics.”

There are still “critical uncertainties” concerning information policies, social norms, and other dimensions of these new digital age realities.

If nonprofits cannot find ideas in Rainie’s slides to stimulate new thinking about how they address messaging and communications, those nonprofits are missing the boat. —Rick Cohen