Online Members and Virtual Organization: Reconnecting or Disconnecting with the Grassroots?
‘Online Members and VirtualOrganization: Reconnecting or Disconnecting with the Grassroots’? Rachel Gibson University of Manchester, Institute for Social Change
Multi-speed Membership Parties Traditional Members Trial Members Membership Lite Cyber Members Sustainers Friends AudienceSource: Susan Scarrow ‘Multi-speed Membership Parties’ Paper presented at the 2010 AnnualMeeting of the American Political Science Association
MEMBERSHIP TYPES• Trial - reduced membership fee, right to attend local party meetings and participate in discussions, and receive newsletters and get other communication.• Lite members – v similar to trial but option of remaining in this category. 2nd class membership, with lower dues and other obligations, but also with lower benefits. Cannot stand as a party candidate, hold internal party office, vote in intra-party contests or in local meetings.• Cyber-activists – centrally registered party supporters, recruited via national web page, sign up to help by distributing messages, do not pay dues or attend meetings. Form a network of tech-savvy supporters ‘Netroots’ make use of party web tools and external platforms (facebook, twitter, blogs) to promote party message.• Sustainer - supporters with financial links to their parties. Their gifts may be small, one-time, events, or they may be given on a regular basis through automatic bank withdrawals.• Social Network Friends - interact with a party and each other via party-controlled digital space. Facebook ‘friends’ that ‘like’ the party and discuss its policies, leaders, tactics etc in an ‘official forum’ but the relationship is more casual than for the cyber-activists.• News Audience - in contrast to Social Network Friends, these individuals are more passive recipients of the organizational message. They are getting the news but not necessarily talking back about it. So this includes regular visitors to the web pages and watchers of party tv, subscribers to the free e-mail news services, party tv to Twitter feeds, and to Facebook logs. Through these channels the parties stay in constant contact with supporters, giving them a party viewpoint on the political news.
Online membership types: does the Evidence support their emergence?Studies of party/organizational membership online are quite limited: some look at online joiners and some at internet users within the party.• Pedersen (2006) ‘Danish Parties: Plugged and Unplugged’ & Pedersen and Saglie ‘New Technology in Ageing Parties’ (2005) Mail surveys of Danish and Norwegian party membership 2000/1. Explore the use of ICTs in party membership organizations. Key findings: Approx 1/3 rd visited party web pages overall but only 4% daily and 11% monthly. Higher among elites/office holders. 1/10 take part in electronic forums. 1/10 receive email from party. Email more strongly associated with attending meetings than website use. Online ‘only’ activists were the smallest but not insignificant category (12%) vs offline only (13%). Non-active most common and then mixed online and offline.0• Lusoli and Ward (2003) Countryside Alliance membership survey 2002 (online and postal. 20% of internet users use website regularly and just over 10% membership overall. E-petition and e-voting among most popular features. Attracts younger age groups. Email is a powerful mobilisation tool but this is for members who are already engaged online. Conversely, the website appeared to have wider impact on less frequent and less active Internet users.• Lusoli and Ward (2003) ‘Dinosaurs in Cyberspace’ GPMU 2002 Survey (online and postal) & BWRS Online Survey 2001. 25% of internet using members visited site, 10% overall membership. Types of features like are more information oriented than discussion but do like renewal and online voting.• Lusoli and Ward (2004) ‘Digital Rank and File’ Online survey of Labour and LD members 2002 (N 4.700 17% and 23% response rate) younger, male, hi educ. 39% LD and 38% LP said use of in internet led them to join party. Stronger effect for website visitors, younger and less active. Email stronger mobilizing tool than website. Information features most useful and accessed, particularly policy (8 of 10 accessed), feedback features (surveys,email polls etc) also valued (6 of 10 accessed). Information and services preferred over discussion
Key lessons• Members don’t necessarily want more opportunities to ‘chat’ with the party or union. Looking for information and services primarily.• However, should assume not passive – looking for tools to get involved and help. Email seems a key channel but for those with existing levels of activism.• Email lists are crucial to build and maintain for any campaigning organization. Offer a ‘ladder of engagement’ – step up the ‘asks’.• But Holy Grail to generate stronger activist network is integration of organizational data held on members to activate the ‘inactives’. What are their issue profiles? Are they active in the workplace? Have they donated? Are they party members? Have they taken any online action or campaigned offline. Target messages to activate them of key issues of importance.• ‘Dashboard’ Obama 2012 – wave of the future? Virtual field headquarters. Builds on MyBO 2008 which was emulated by all 3 main parties in last election.• How far does this translate to political organizations more generally? Argument of ‘hybridity’ (Chadwick, 2007) is that parties are moving more to adopt the tactics and organizational fluidity of issue advocacy / pressure groups – so this online/offline network structure that can change dynamically and expand/scale quickly is an extension of this.• Message, Money and Mobilization are 3 Ms powering the Obama effort in digital election campaigning and these are clearly goals for any campaign organization. Facebook for the message, Dashboard for the Money and Mobilization.