Social Media in Canada | Generational Differences & Social Values
Even in the always-changing social media landscape, the past several months have been particularly volatile. The platform X (formerly Twitter) has undergone a series of major changes under the leadership of new owner Elon Musk. Meta created Threads, potentially in an effort to attract X users who disliked Musk’s changes. And all the while, TikTok has continued to gain ground with younger users at a remarkable pace in Canada despite ongoing controversaries about data privacy and allegations of foreign interference.
How do Canadians’ habits and preferences map onto this shifting landscape?
Canadians continue to be active users of social media. According to Environics Research conducted in January 2023, out of 2065 Canadians surveyed, about two-thirds of Canadians use the most popular platform, Facebook, at least weekly. After Facebook, the next most often used platforms are YouTube and Instagram.
These usage patterns are heavily influenced by age, with older Canadians reporting more usage of Facebook and younger people more likely to report weekly usage of YouTube and Instagram.
- While most Baby Boomers use social media regularly (again, mainly Facebook), about one in five – the highest share of any cohort – say they don’t use any platform weekly.
- Unsurprisingly, the youngest people in our survey stand out in their use of TikTok. Members of Gen Z are more than twice as likely as others to report weekly use of this video platform designed for maximum virality. Gen Z also stands out in their use of the other main video-based platform: YouTube. While Facebook is the most popular platform amongst all other generations, it is used significantly less in Gen Z ranking third.
- Millennials are second only to Gen Z in their use of YouTube and are the cohort most likely to report regular use of Reddit. They report about the same amount of X use as their younger peers in Gen Z. Instagram is the third most popular platform for Millennials and Boomers (as compared to the second most popular for Gen Z).
Change over time
Research from Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU, formerly Ryerson University) provides some insight into how these usage patterns are evolving over time. In three rounds of Canada-wide research (2017, 2020, 2022), TMU found modestly declining use of Facebook and LinkedIn, and growing popularity for Instagram, TikTok, and Reddit. Instagram and TikTok saw especially strong growth, with 33% of Canadians using Instagram at least monthly in 2017 and 47% saying the same in 2022 Even with declining usage, however, Facebook remained dominant, with 73% of Canadians reporting monthly use.
X (formulary Twitter) remained roughly stable from 2017 to 2022, with about one-third of Canadians reporting at least monthly usage. It’s worth noting, however, that TMU’s 2022 research took place in May, prior to Elon Musk’s acquisition of the platform. A range of changes introduced since X’s ownership shift – from limits on the number of posts basic users can access to changes in moderation and community standards and – have provoked criticism and caused some users to abandon the platform. In July 2023, Meta made a move to attract unhappy X users with the introduction of Threads, a platform with several similarities to past iterations of X.
Threads quickly gained a remarkable number of users, with 100 million people signing up within the first week of the platform’s launch. However, two key metrics of platform performance – number of daily active users and time spent on the platform – declined quickly after the initial surge in interest. With no search functionality, and an algorithm that users are still getting used to (users are fed a mix of content from accounts they follow, and suggested posts dictated by Threads, with no ability to customize), the fate of Threads as a part of Canadians’ social media diet remains to be seen.
Do platforms have values?
Environics Research’s exploration of Canadian social media habits can be connected to our long-standing analyses of Social Values, enabling us to identify which values are most strongly held among users of each social media platform. Of course, many people use multiple platforms and so the user groups of, say, Facebook and YouTube overlap with each other. But when we analyze our data to surface the strongest values among the most active users of various platforms, some interesting patterns emerge.
On Canada’s most widely used platform, Facebook, we see users who score high on Joy of Consumption and Enthusiasm for Technology – mindsets that suggest a belief that making new purchases is pleasurable in itself and, when it comes to gadgets, can make life better. Facebook users also stand out in their Need for Status Recognition and their belief in Just Deserts: that people tend to get what they deserve, whether it’s hard-earned success or negative consequences of negative choices and actions.
The values of regular TikTok users reflect the youthful outlooks of the platform’s users. Regular TikTok users score high on experience-seeking values that often predominate among youth, such as Attraction to Crowds, Pursuit of Novelty, and Intuition and Impulse. Like regular Facebook users, those who regularly spend time on TikTok score high on Joy of Consumption, saying they get pleasure out of simply buying something for themselves – regardless of how they use it later on
Among regular users of LinkedIn, the most professionally oriented social media platform, a combination of social and status-oriented values predominate. LinkedIn users score high on the value Need for Status Recognition – perhaps not surprising, given that the platform is a venue for sharing (and seeking recognition for) professional accomplishments. LinkedIn users also like the idea of showing off the fruits of their success, scoring high on Ostentatious Consumption. These Canadians share some of the experience-seeking values of TikTok users, scoring high on Attraction for Crowds and Pursuit of Novelty. And like Facebook users, they’re optimistic about the potential for technology to improve their own lives and to solve society’s problems (Enthusiasm for New Technology).
Why does the current State of Social Media Matter?
For marketers and others seeking to reach audiences on social media, it can be difficult to navigate the continuously changing landscape of the platforms and their users. As platforms make adjustments for their own business reasons, their user communities – and their behaviours – shift and evolve. As each platform changes, so does its community and the nature of the conversations it hosts. Amid these changes, it’s important for brands and leaders who are communicating on social media to understand the audiences they’re likely to find there – and which messages are likely to resonate in a given ecosystem. Content that might work well on one platform will fall flat on another, whether due to functionality, audience expectations, or shifting subcultural nuances in its user community. These factors make it crucial for marketers to use and frequently updated data to guide their efforts.
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