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Facebook’s Canadian user dip: The upside for businesses

A man is silhouetted against a video screen with an Facebook logo as he poses with an Dell laptop in this photo illustration taken in the central Bosnian town of Zenica, August 14, 2013. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

With Canadian friends like these, Facebook doesn’t need enemies.

A recent poll from Media Technology Monitor based on telephone surveys with more than 4,000 Canadians last spring adds to the growing concern that the world’s most popular social media service may be losing some of its appeal.

According to the data, 14 per cent quit their Facebook account and 16 per cent said they have an account but are largely inactive. Even worse, those in the key 18 to 24-year-old demographic who said they weren’t using Facebook were 10 times more likely to have dropped their account.

Facebook has already been getting heat about active users since its Q3 results, when its CFO said there was a decline among U.S. youth on its service during an analyst call. To see data that suggests the same trend in Canada is troubling, given that we’ve long been one of the biggest countries in terms of national usage. Back in August, for instance, Facebook said 14 million Canadians were logging on to post status updates or share photos every day. That's close to half of our country's entire population.

How will business respond?

For years now, businesses have been exploring Facebook as a tool to market themselves, respond to customer service issues or otherwise engage with consumers. But if Facebook is at all fading, how will that affect those social media strategies?

“The social media space is very fickle. There are a number of bright, shiny objects that some of the youngest users find particularly interesting, like SnapChat,” said Randall Craig, president of Toronto-based consulting firm 108 IdeaSpace and the author of the Everything Guide to Starting an Online Business.

“From a marketer’s perspective, though, it’s about how do you track the things that are relevant for your target audience? And for an older audience, Facebook is just fine, thank you.”

Lowell Brown, CEO at Toronto-based GoingSocial.ca, agreed, adding that businesses using Facebook need a more focused, less scattershot approach.

“It’s always a question of which platforms are best, depending on what you’re trying to do. In some cases you might want to use Pinterest,” he said, referring to the digital scrapbooking service that tends to skew towards adult women. “(For younger consumers), Instagram is very big. It’s possible depending on what the brand is, to use something like that.”

Maybe businesses should be grateful if Facebook is beginning to mature -- not just as a public company but as a platform favoured by a more specific set of users. Just as there was an initial rush for everyone to put up a website in the mid-90s, it took time before companies learned about search engine optimization (SEO) and how to create sites that made the best use of the online channel.

Social media tends to incite a lot of knee-jerk desperation to set up pages or buy ads, but as the dust settles, companies could get a better return on their investment by doing something other than throw everything at the biggest service in this sector to see what will stick.

With the right analysis and the appropriate response, Facebook’s growing pains -- or even shrinking pains -- could be Canadian business’s gain.