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Ryan Cha, shown in June 2003 with his father Yoon Chui, co-owners of the Webfusion Internet cafe in Toronto are located. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Ryan Cha, shown in June 2003 with his father Yoon Chui, co-owners of the Webfusion Internet cafe in Toronto are located. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Globe editorial

The powers that be are not in the social media vanguard Add to ...

The revolution in social media is changing the way ideas are transmitted, and unseating traditional power brokers. A comprehensive new study, from Environics Analytics and the digital strategy firm Delvinia, shows older, affluent well-educated Canadians, the very people who usually embrace new technology, are not leading the social media conversation on blogs, Facebook and Twitter. They are following it.

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In contrast, the creators of social media content are more likely to be young, upwardly mobile immigrants living in Canada's largest and most diverse cities - Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

Social media is not only an innovative form of communication, but a more democratic one. Education and wealth are no longer guarantees of currency and innovation. If Canada's traditional elites want to retain their position as savvy consumers, early adapters and captains of industry, they cannot just eavesdrop on the conversation, but must gain the confidence to participate in it.

The online study of 23,144 people, being released on Tuesday, measured the frequency of use of 10 social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube, podcasts, Wikis, Flickr and LinkedIn, as well as respondents' comfort level with social media.

Analysts then cross-referenced the findings with a segmentation system that assigns all Canadians into 66 lifestyle types with pithy names such as Back Country Folks, Furs and Philanthropy and Tools and Trucks. They categorized these types into three groups: producers of social media content; followers; and non-users.

Unsurprisingly, young, hip urbanites and single city renters are most likely to be playing Farmville, tagging photos and updating their dating status on Facebook. But so are wealthy Chinese families, immigrants of all ages, and young, ethnic singles in urban high-rises.

In contrast, followers of social media are older suburbanites with established families, who look at sites to keep abreast of marketplace developments, and new trends, much as they might peer in the window of Holt Renfrew. But they are hesitant about joining in the social media conversation.

Those who opt out altogether include small-town seniors, farmers, blue-collar workers and risk-adverse suburban families. Francophone clusters prefer French sites such as Nuouz, Barrepoint and Glogasty. Many people in Montreal, Quebec City and Winnipeg are laggards.

While use of social media is growing rapidly, only 3.4 per cent of Canadians read Twitter postings, compared with 21 per cent who use Facebook.

Newcomers from China, India and the Philippines have an edge over their Canadian-born counterparts because of their youth, sociability, desire to stay in touch with overseas relatives, and homeland tradition of mobile-phone use.

The study's findings bode well for the integration of newcomers, and their ability to advance. Those who are affluent - the established elites in business and politics - have something to learn from them.

Complacency in the face of the social media revolution threatens to create an ancien regime of the disconnected. And that is not the place where leaders are usually found to reside.

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