This paper answers five questions about the societal impact of research. Firstly, we examine the opinions of research group leaders about the increased emphasis on societal impact, i.e. does it influence their research agenda, communication with stakeholders, and knowledge dissemination to stakeholders? Furthermore, we investigate the quality of their societal output. We also study whether the societal and scholarly productivity of academic groups are positively or negatively related. In addition, we investigate which managerial and organisational factors (e.g. experience of the principal investigator, group size and funding) influence societal output. Finally, we show for one case (virology) that societal impact is also visible through indirect links. Our study shows that research group leaders have a slightly positive attitude towards the increased emphasis on the societal impact of research. The study also indicates a wide variety of societal-oriented output. Furthermore, the societal and scientific productivity of academic groups are unrelated, suggesting that stimulating social relevance requires specific organisational and contextual interventions. © The Author 2012. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.