Social Influence Model and E-Mail Use in Grassroots Organizations
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Shafrir, Sharon Miriam
Recent studies indicate that grassroots organizations are adopting new communication technologies (specifically the Internet) with greater frequency in order to increase their effectiveness. The Internet was a critical innovation for the business community in the 1990s. For over a decade, the corporate realm?s zeal for adopting information and communication technology (ICT) had a powerful influence on the managerial practices of other types of organizations, such as governmental and not-for-profits (NFP). Many social and environmental groups, special interest advocates, grassroots organizations, activists, and civic networks are gradually expanding their Internet use and related online applications (e.g. e-mail) for civic engagement purposes. Despite the potential benefits of adopting the Internet as a means of boosting civic participation, diffusion and utilization of this, or any other, innovative technology does not happen automatically. This study examined the effects of social influences on the use of e-mail in a not-for-profit (NFP) grassroots organization in an urban community. The social influence model of technology use (SIMTU) was applied to examine self-reported attitudes toward, and perceptions of the usage of e-mail in the studied organization. The study explored social context?s and opinion leadership?s influence on members? media choices and beliefs, using ethnographic qualitative research methods in the form of in-depth interviews and observations. The present research is unique in its approach because it considers NFP community-based organizations to be different from business-like NFP (e.g. universities and museums), as well as other corporate organizations. Building on past research and following the SIMTU framework, this case study explored how social influence in NFT grassroots organization is different from social influence in other types of organizations. In addition, the study explored who the opinion leaders are in such an organization, and to what extent do these leaders impact members? e-mail use. 72% of the target population participated in the study. The data included 26 in-depth interviews, along with questionnaires, as well as 10 participant observations on-site. The study examines the social context within and around the organization. Findings indicate low levels of e-mail use among organization members; participants reported being influenced by norm behaviour and a preference for alternative, traditional, communication media (e.g. face-to-face interactions and phone conversation). Qualitative data provided evidence of social influences, e.g., direct social pressures, organizational norms, and the use of stories to emphasize beliefs and actions that were considered appropriate in this organization. Furthermore, the present research found modest but pervasive social influence from constituents and community norms on members? media attitudes and usage. All of this suggests that the uses and perceptions of communication technology can be better understood in NFP grassroots community-based organizations if the social environment is explicitly considered. The thesis ends with a discussion of possible theoretical expansion of the SIMTU, practical implications, and suggestions for further research.
E-mail use; Grassroots organizations; Social influence; Organization communication; Opinion leaders; Not-for-profit organizations; Digital divide