Research debunks stereotypes of social media, mobile use

publication date: May 15, 2012
author/source: Catherine Pearson

What's your neighbour doing on social media? Which donors and advocates prefer using their mobile device to communicate with your charity? What's the best channel to reach that demographic subgroup you'd like to attract?

As the use of social media and mobile technology explodes, it's not surprising that Canadians' behaviour varies widely. Canadian demographic research company Environics Analytics has partnered with Delvinia (creators of AskingCanadiansTM) and five other leaders in digital media to flesh out its understanding of consumers across multiple media.

EA's proprietary PRIZMC2 system classifies Canadians into 66 lifestyle types based on their lifestyles and values. Linking that database to their partners' digital services helps EA define the behaviour of online users by lifestyle segments. And they've discovered that reality is different from many preconceived notions about social media usage.

Producers vs. followers

For instance, there are striking differences between those who produce social media content (writing blogs, tweeting, updating their status on Facebook and uploading YouTube videos) and those who read, follow and watch.

Social media producers tend to be urban, ethnic and of varied ages. They belong to clusters such as Rooms with a View (young, ethnic singles in urban high-rises), Old World Style (multi-ethnic, middle-aged urban families) and Electric Avenues (young, middle-class urban singles and couples). They typically live in Canada's largest and most diverse cities, such as Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. And they include not only young, hip urbanites, but wealthy Chinese families and immigrants of all ages living in urban high-rises.

Social media followers, though, are more likely to be an older mix of families, empty nests and mature households in segments such as Furs & Philanthropy (upscale, middle-aged and older families), Grey Pride (lower-middle-class, suburban apartment-dwelling seniors) and Petites Banlieues (working-class, Québec town couples and families).

What's surprising is that the content providers are not the affluent, well-educated Canadians who usually embrace new technology and personify the traditional power brokers. Those elite users tend to be older suburbanites with established families who visit websites to keep abreast of new trends and marketplace developments, but rarely participate in online discussions. In the social media revolution, education and wealth no longer confer power-user status.

Newcomers build Canadian connections through social media

It's also a myth that newcomers to Canada use social media mostly for staying in touch with friends and family "back home." While social media helps recent immigrants keep their international phone bills low, that's only part of the story.

When EA analysts looked at the social media behaviour of active clusters like Urban Spice and Newcomers Rising, they found strong participation in LinkedIn and Foursquare, a web and mobile application that allows users to connect with friends and update their locations. Such habits show that newcomers are using social media not just to keep in touch with relatives abroad, but to get ahead in their careers and become more acculturated to their new homeland.

No landline, but you can still reach them

Mobile users vary greatly as well. Some of the biggest users of social media content belong to the same lifestyle types as mobile technology fans. They're more likely to own an iPad, check their mobile phone constantly, and willingly share mobile information with trusted retailers, especially in exchange for a discount.

The PRIZM clusters most likely to have cancelled their landlines are happy to receive marketing messages over smartphones. The Delvinia survey shows these fully mobile consumers are more likely than average Canadians to take a picture of a QR code with their smartphone and send it to a company, or send text messages to a company in exchange for a coupon. And many of these landline dropouts are volunteering information on their habits and preferences over their mobile phones, giving new media-smart marketers a treasure trove of data.

Delvinia analysts note that there has been a significant increase in nearly every mobile behaviour category in the last year. "These devices are not just responding to our behaviours, but changing our behaviour and connecting us more deeply to one another in real time," says Delvinia CEO Adam Froman. For marketers who struggled to connect with their audiences through digital media, these new tools are worth liking and tweeting about. 

Catherine Pearson is VP and practice leader in charge of the finance, insurance, travel and telco sectors, at Environics Analytics. This material is excerpted from an article about the work of Environics Analytics that first appeared in Direct Marketing magazine. Used with permission.

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