June 02, 2011

Hispanics and Blacks More Likely Than Whites to Support Causes Online

Ethnicity plays a role in how people perceive charitable and political causes they encounter on social networks and whether they go on to get involved with those causes, a new survey finds.

Out of 2,000 participants in the survey, 30 percent of black adults and 39 percent of Hispanics said they were more likely to support online causes rather than causes they encountered offline; 24 percent of whites said the same.

The study was released by Georgetown University's Center for Social Impact Communication and Ogilvy PR, a public-relations company. (The same group released another survey last month showing differences between men and women who support causes promoted on social networks.)

Some causes attract blacks and Hispanics more than whites, the study found. Among them: Forty-six percent of blacks were involved in efforts to feed the hungry, compared with 38 percent of whites and Hispanics. Thirty-four percent of blacks were involved with charities that fight diabetes, compared with 32 percent of Hispanics and 24 percent of whites. And 31 percent of Hispanics said they were involved with groups that fight global warming compared with 25 percent of whites and blacks.

While most of the survey participants said they believed they could make a difference by supporting a charitable or political cause, African-Americans and Hispanics were more optimistic about the effectiveness of using online networks to do so. When asked if tools like Facebook, Twitter, and blogs could help spread the word about a cause, 58 percent of blacks and 51 percent of Hispanics agreed, compared with 34 percent of whites.

In addition, more blacks and Hispanics said Facebook and other social-networking sites made it easier to support a cause: 62 percent and 64 percent, respectively, compared with 54 percent of whites.

Whites are also less likely to use Twitter in general. According to a telephone survey of 2,277 adults conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, 25 percent of black and 19 percent of Hispanic Internet users say they use Twitter, compared with just 9 percent of white Internet users.  What's more, one in ten black Internet users now visit Twitter on a typical day, compared with  3 percent of whites and 5 percent of Hispanics.

African-Americans and Hispanics "as a cohort in comparison to whites are younger, and the use of Twitter decreases when you get older," says Aaron Smith senior research specialist at Pew, the organization that released the Princeton survey. He also says people who are less economically well off may be more likely to use mobile devices to get Internet access—and that might lead to greater use of Twitter.

"We've seen Internet access and communications on mobile devices become a substitute for the more traditional desk in the den," says Mr. Smith.

Yet despite the emphasis placed on social media, blogs and social networking sites are still second to more traditional information sources like television, newspapers, and personal relationships. Likewise, people were more likely to donate money or talk about a social issue than post it to a blog or Facebook, the Georgetown study found.

"What the study shows us over all is not to put all your eggs into the social-media basket," says Julie Dixon, deputy director at the Georgetown Center. Instead, organizations should tailor their communications strategy based on the how their audience is likely to engage.

"You really need to know your audience," says Ms. Dixon.