A few days ago, Pew Research’s “Daily Number” was 38%: the percentage of Americans who, having lived in more than one place, don’t consider their current community home. Given that this is a country of immigrants, that isn’t surprising, and a feeling I (a naturalized American of East Indian origin) can relate to.

A couple of days later, we had a friend over for lunch. Canadian-born, he’s worked all over the world, including in several African countries, and now calls Liverpool, U.K., home. At one point he asked, “Where do you feel at home?” Initially, my answer was, “In this country, California” – because that’s where my husband is from, that was my first experience of the U.S., that’s where many of our good friends and family still live.

“Home” Is…

I kept thinking about that question, though. Where does one really feel at home? What is it that defines “home” from “away”? Can one feel at home in several places… or none?

… Where The Heart Is?

Pew’s report answers some of these questions, and the results aren’t surprising:

Among all respondents to the Pew Research Center survey, 57% say they have not lived in the U.S. outside their current state: 37% have never left their hometown and 20% have left their hometown (or native country) but not lived outside their current state.

The Pew survey finds that stayers overwhelmingly say they remain because of family ties and because their hometowns are good places to raise children. Their life circumstances match those explanations. Most stayers say at least half a dozen members of their extended families live within an hour’s drive; for 40%, more than 10 relatives live nearby. A majority of stayers also cite a feeling of belonging as a major reason for staying put.

(Emphasis mine).

Movers are far less likely to cite those kinds of ties. Fewer than four-in-ten say a major reason they moved to their current community has to do with family or child-rearing. Most movers have five or fewer extended-family members living within an hour’s drive of them, and 26% have none. The most popular reason that movers choose a new community, selected by a 44% plurality, is job or business opportunities, according to the Pew survey. About the same share of stayers (40%) cite job or business opportunities as a major reason for staying, but far more stayers choose reasons related to family and friends.

(Again, emphasis mine).

… Or Where The Mouse Is?

Where one feels at home certainly has to do with people and community – a sense of belonging. Which is why, as I continued to think about it, I realized that I feel at home in several places. This is not only due to the people I’ve met and relationships I’ve made, but because I stay connected to them through my mouse.

I keep up with them on Facebook and certainly via e-mail. And increasingly, my online home is Twitter, where I make new connections with fascinating people every day, taking offline relationships online and vice versa. Apparently there are quite a few people around the world who are interested in what I’m thinking about, in 140 characters or less, most of whom I’ve never met “IRL.”

That goes for me too. Because of the engagement I experience online, I’m fairly certain that should I experience another physical move, this community will help me root myself offline, to the point where I begin to feel at home – wherever I may be.

How Is This Relevant to PR?

One of the fundamentals of good PR is knowing your audience. And a key element of that is having an understanding of which media they consume, and which they don’t; where they like to get their information from. In other words – where they feel at home.

The media landscape is changing dramatically; today’s shuttering of the Rocky Mountain News has been drawing national attention. Will other traditional media stalwarts, such as the San Francisco Chronicle, follow suit? We’ll have to wait and see. What we know is that consumers have more choices than ever before, and the media outlets they call home – both traditional and “new” – are growing exponentially.

Let’s forget about the media for a second.

Consider the data from Pew’s Internet & American Life Project December 2008 survey:

Over half of the adult internet population is between 18 and 44 years old. But larger percentages of older generations are online now than in the past, and they are doing more activities online, according to surveys taken from 2006-2008.

Contrary to the image of Generation Y as the “Net Generation,” internet users in their 20s do not dominate every aspect of online life. Generation X is the most likely group to bank, shop, and look for health information online. Boomers are just as likely as Generation Y to make travel reservations online. And even Silent Generation internet users are competitive when it comes to email (although teens might point out that this is proof that email is for old people).

The Bottom Line

You may be an excellent PR professional who is not a Twitter devotee, Facebook junkie, or a fan of the countless online mechanisms that, for want of a better term, we call social media tools; and you are perfectly within your rights to remain so.

But as Internet users increasingly span generations, as millenials grow into their roles as business leaders and decision makers, I suspect you might be doing your employers or clients – and most of all yourself – a disservice if you don’t at least familiarize yourself with the online channels that help people meet, talk, work and grow – and where they feel at home.

Maybe, just maybe, home is where the mouse is.

What do you think? Where do you feel at home? Please share your thoughts and perspectives; I’d love to hear them.

Images: Pew Research Center

Shonali Burke
Founder and publisher of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke helps smart businesses make bank by taking their communications from corporate codswallop to community cool™. She is also the founder of The Social PR Virtuoso®, which provides online, on-demand training that helps you unleash your inner Social PR superhero. Shonali is mad about ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis, though not necessarily in that order. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke