How do Canadians engage politically with social media?

Social media have evolved at a pace faster than any other communication technologies that have come before them. In some sectors the impact and reach of social channels can be felt on the bottom line. In other arenas, such as public affairs, measuring impact is more complex.

Together with MediaStyle and Full Duplex, Abacus Data conducted a national survey of 1,000 Canadians aged 18 and over to find out: How do Canadians engage politically with social media?

Our findings were somewhat surprising and can be read in detail in the report we released earlier today on our website

The report demonstrates that is it is a mistake to ignore traditional media when trying to reach Canadians on a given topic. In most instances information deemed trustworthy that is shared and distributed over social media usually references established sources. Credibility is generally anchored in reputable institutions, such as media, academia and yes, even government.


  1. Only 9% of Canadians rely on social media as their primary source for news.
  2. Television, online news media and print still dominate as the primary news source for Canadians.
  3. Most Canadians who are getting some news through social media said they haven’t changed their opinion as a result of something they have seen online.
  4. Only 16% of Canadians believe that social media are suitable platforms for political engagement.

But this doesn’t mean that advocacy groups, industry associations, and other groups or individuals active in public affairs should ignore social media.

Our survey confirms what we have believed for sometime – social media are not the best way to reach Canadians directly but are important channels for forming opinions and setting context for mainstream news.

The new element is how news is formed and the role online social channels play in influencing the coverage journalists, pundits and opinion-shapers give to different issues. Journalists and opinion-shapers are very active on social media; they listen to conversations and interact with a variety of interests online channels. This means organizations and groups that are inactive in these influential social channels are missing an important opportunity to be part of the opinion-shaping conversation.

Social media should be viewed as platforms on which to interact with opinion-shapers. Having the right digital public affairs strategy and using the right tactics is the new age of Canadian public affairs.

You can download the full version of the report at and if you’re interested to learn more (and there’s so much more to learn), sign up for the half-day workshop to be held on November 15.

David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data and leads its Public Affairs research practice. He has a PhD from the University of Calgary and is an adjunct professor at Carleton University.  He’s an avid road cyclist.

Contact David Coletto:

T: 613-232-2806 x. 248



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