Internet and social media use among newcomers to Canada – are you ready?

In a previous post, I suggested that immigrant settlement organizations should be using technology to serve clients. Because your clients are ready.

There is a lot below to reflect on. Of course, you should confirm any trends with your clients directly. Are you asking them how they’re using technology? What technology expectations they have of you? What channels, in-person and online, they want you to be offering?

It’s time to ask.

There is compelling anecdotal and statistical evidence to support the creation and growth of online service provision for new immigrants to Canada.

Here is some of it.

Internet and social media use among newcomers

“Among people born in Canada, 75% used the Internet, compared with 66% of those born elsewhere. However, the rate was 78% among immigrants who arrived in Canada during the last 10 years. Most of these recent immigrants live in urban areas.” Statistics Canada 2007

Recent research confirms the trend of newcomers accessing internet, social and mobile technologies. According to Yahoo! Canada’s 2014 Digital Acculturation study, “when it comes to media preferences, new Canadians are digital first, with a particular focus on mobile devices.”


  • “spend four hours per day on their mobile devices, compared to 2.6 hours for Canadian-born residents — that’s 54% more time on mobile.”
  • spend 1.9 hours/day on tablets, compared to 1.5 hours for Canadians.
  • spend less time on desktop computers each day, 3.8 hours vs 4.4 hours/day for Canadians.
  • 69% use online calling or video chatting apps to stay in touch with friends and family.
  • 47% also want to consume media in their native language.

According to Yahoo! Canada, “Traditional media channels including TV and radio are less effective at reaching new Canadians. They watch only 1.5 hours of TV (compared to 2.5 for native Canadians) and listen to one hour of radio (compared to 2.1 for native Canadians) daily.”

Are you mobile? Your clients are

As outlined above, newcomers in Canada are mobile first. If you look at source country data, the trend is consistent, and growing.

According to Statista, “In 2013, 73.4 percent of the global online population accessed the internet from their mobile phone. This figure is expected to grow to 90.1 percent in 2017.”

The ICT Data and Statistics (IDS) Division of ITU (a UN specialized agency), has updated mobile-cellular subscriptions for all countries. A quick look at the Excel file mirrors the trends above. You can see that, in 2014, China jumped to 92 mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (that’s 1.3 billion subscriptions). In the Philippines, mobile is clearly there are 111 mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (or 111 million subscriptions). In other countries, the trend is  the same. Canada has 83 mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants (or 29 million people).

You need to be mobile friendly. And, not just in terms of mobile friendly websites. But, texting, chat apps, etc. Again, look at China: “As of earlier this year, WeChat had 549 million monthly active users (MAUs) among over one billion registered users, almost all of them in Asia.” And, as this article points out, WeChat is much more than a simple chat app: “While seemingly just a messaging app, WeChat is actually more of a portal, a platform, and even a mobile operating system depending on how you look at it.” You may have staff who use WeChat. It might be time to ask them about it…


Canadian immigration and settlement social networks, online discussion areas and their membership numbers

Beyond mainstream social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.), newcomers participate in and create their own social networks. Consistent with research that has shown a relatively small percentage of newcomers accessing mainstream in-person government and community services, social media/networks have allowed newcomers to circumvent the mainstream service system to get information and orientation from other newcomers directly, with mixed results.

This earlier-noted trend appears to have continued: “The results from both the Western Canada Settlement Survey and the Alberta Settlement Survey suggest that the majority of immigrants do not access services from an organization in their Province. Only one-third of respondents report using settlement services in the Western Canada Settlement Survey, while nearly half (47.1%) of immigrants in the Alberta Settlement Survey utilized services. While initially alarming, such results have been found in other studies (Lo, et al., 2010) and may, in fact, reflect actual settlement service usage.” What are the Settlement Experiences of Newly Settled Newcomers to Western Canada: An Interim Report (PDF).

Mainstream and niche online social networks are certainly places where newcomers are bypassing funded settlement services. They will only grow over time.

Here are just a few of the larger English language online social networks where newcomers share information and orientation:

Internet users in the world – distribution by region, tie into immigration source countries

According to Statistics Canada, Asia (including the Middle East) is Canada’s largest source of immigrants between 2006 and 2011. During that time, Canada also saw an increased share of recent immigrants from Africa, Caribbean, Central and South America.

It is worth exploring how the internet is accessed in these countries, to help understand the potential profile of newcomers to Canada.

In 2014, North America had an internet penetration rate of 86.9%, representing 310 million internet users.

In comparison, Asia had a 34.9% internet penetration rate. However, it represented 1.4 billion people. Between 2000 and 2014 internet penetration has grown by 1,129%. The Middle East had an internet penetration rate of 48.1%, representing 113 million people. Internet access has grown by 3,358% since 2000. In 2014, Africa had an internet penetration rate of 27.5%, representing 319 million people. Internet penetration in Africa increased by almost 7,000% between 2000 and 2014.

The implication here is that internet use has increase exponentially in immigration source countries and continues to grow. Demand for services mediated by technology or online will only grow over time, including on mobile devices.

We Are Social estimates that “mobile usage of social networks like Facebook continues to grow all over the world. Adding up the mobile users of the top social network in each country, we see at least 1.65 billion active mobile social accounts in January 2015.

Meanwhile, instant messenger services and chat apps continue their impressive growth patterns, with WhatsApp, WeChat, Facebook Messenger and Viber all reporting more than 100 million new monthly active users over the past 12 months. Instant messenger services and chat apps now account for 3 of the top 5 global social platforms, and 8 instant messenger brands now claim more than 100 million monthly active users.”

Regions are differently organized in this data. 561 million of the 1.65 billion active mobile social accounts are in East Asia, 176 million in North America, 170 million in Southeast Asia, 224 million in South and Central America, 132 million in South Asia, 85 million in Africa.

Once again, a quick look at regional numbers reinforces the growth and future demand of online and mobile social services.

Interest and trends in online learning

Online learning is nascent in our sector. However, organizations like ISANS, COSTI, OCASI, CultureLink and a few others have been offering online courses for a few years, with much success.

In fact, CultureLink just recently completed their first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Create an Expert LinkedIn Profile for Job Search, for newcomers, which had 2000 students. It was so successful, they’re already re-offering it in August.

Online learning is a growing industry. Market research firm Global Industry Analysts projects it will reach $107 Billion in 2015.  That’s almost double 2014, when $56.2 billion was spent on online learning across the world.

Once again, it is worth looking at immigration source countries and trends in online learning. Source countries factor into the top 10 Growth Rates By Country (PDF):

  1. India: 55%
  2. China: 52%
  3. Malaysia: 41%
  4. Romania: 38%
  5. Poland: 28%
  6. Czech Republic: 27%
  7. Brazil: 26%
  8. Indonesia: 25%
  9. Colombia: 20%
  10. Ukraine: 20%

There is no doubt that newcomers and potential newcomers have the interest and capacity to access services online.


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