How Online Activity Influences Offline Behavior

July 1, 2011

social media, facebook, online, users


With (social networking site) SNS users nearly doubling since 2008, sites like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter could be reshaping the way we interact offline.

The Pew Internet and American Life Project released a study last week that may provide insight into the impact of social media usage on offline behavior.

According to the study, “someone who uses Facebook several times per day averages 9% more close, core ties in their overall social network compared with other Internet users.”

While some are convinced that they don’t need Facebook to be socially active as evidenced by an NBC article where a respondent argued, “I go out. I meet people all the time. It doesn’t mean I have to use the Facebook or MySpace to meet other people.” The growth of social networking sites shows that more and more people are straying from this belief. Not only has the number of SNS users increased, but the demographic is also changing.

The average age of adult-SNS users has shifted from 33 years old in 2008 to 38 years old in 2010, and now 56% of SNS users are female. In the study, 92% of the SNS users are on Facebook so maybe Facebook is to blame for our changing social atmosphere - it also seems to have an impact on our perception of the social relationships we maintain.

For example, the study points out that the typical Internet user is more than twice as likely as others to feel that people can be trusted. Those who use Facebook multiple times per day are 43% more likely to feel that people can be trusted than other Internet users. That means these users are exponentially more likely than non-internet users to feel that most people can be trusted. I don’t know whether this is a good thing or not, but I’m sure time will tell.

What I do know is that Facebook users in this study tended to receive more “total support” (the study defines this as a combination of emotional support, companionship, and instrumental aid) than both the average American and the average Internet user.

Facebook users are more likely to participate in political discourse and action. A person who used Facebook multiple times per day was two and a half times more likely to attend a political rally or meeting, 57% more likely to persuade someone on their vote, and 43% more likely to have said they would vote compared to other Internet users.

MySpace also seems to be positively contributing to our social environment. The Pew study found that MySpace users are significantly more likely to be open to opposing points of view. That’s a much-needed win for MySpace who has lost nearly 50% of its audience in the last year alone.

So maybe technology isn’t ruining people’s social skills. Maybe we just need to adapt our social behavior to fit our ever-changing environment. That, or just let Facebook and others do it for us.