02/28/2012 01:59 EST | Updated 04/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Canadian Businesses Still See Social Media as "Wild West"

Why are Canadian businesses taking so long to adopt social media practices, while Canadians themselves are the most engaged online than anyone else on Earth? Because of the conservative nature of business, Canadians are less prone to learn, to adopt, and therefore less likely to challenge the powers-that-be.

I had the privilege of speaking at Podcamp TO #PCTO2012 recently and chose to provide a perspective on the state of Canada and its lagging adoption of social media. Julie Tyios, a colleague of mine, collaborated with me on this important subject.

Here's the premise: Why are Canadian businesses taking so long to adopt social media practices, while Canadians themselves are the most engaged online than anyone else on Earth? While our neighbours to the south may have us beat in adoption rates, who is leading the next wave of social innovation in Canada, and are we competing on a global scale? The next evolution of social media is around the corner and Canadians need to be aware of the opportunities to maximize their business profits through social commerce.

Here are the areas we covered:

  • Canadian consumers rock social media.
  • Why Canadian businesses take longer to adopt social media than our American counterparts? What's hampering social innovation amongst Canadian businesses?
  • Which Canadian companies are leading the way in social?
  • Can Canada can compete on a global scale?
  • What is the potential for small businesses in the next wave of social commerce?
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Canadians are huge users of social media:

The stats are overhwelming: Over 60 per cent of us are on social networks -- that's 17 million Canadians. Of that 86 per cent are on Facebook. We also lead the world in time spent online at 43.5 hours per month -- that is almost twice the global average!

Canada was also one of the first in the world to establish a nationwide 3G network with 90 per cent household penetration. It's no wonder why our mobile adoption rates are incredibly high: with an expectation of 30 million mobile users by 2014. So, why the disparity between consumer and business?

As an ex-advertising executive, my attempts to encourage Canadian business to engage more in social media have been met with varying degrees of acceptance. While I've built up some successful case examples, for the most part, there has been an overall reticence to go beyond a toe-dip into a medium that is still widely perceived as the "wild west." As someone who has evolved early from traditional media, trying to evangelize the possibilities for this new medium has been extremely frustrating, which is one of the reasons I have left the ad world.

I attempted to answer this disparity by applying some typical Canadian stereotypes that trickle into business.

Stereotype: Canadians are law-abiding and have an orderly society.

Translation: Canadians are too trusting and not critical of their laws and authority figures.

Stereotype: Canadians are conservative.

Translation: Canadians are afraid to express controversial opinions. Why take risks?

This is verified in Canada's involvement and influence in the FTC Ruling on Facebook Privacy. Canada is vigilent when it comes to user data and proper disclosure, much more so than our neighbours to the south. Bill C-11 (SOPA's Canadian Hellspawn) will not be ousted from legislation as swiftly as it was in the U.S.

The reality is that technology will always precede legislation. Legislation needs to keep up, be informed and rewrite the laws that effect consumers and business as technology. Intellectual property, proper attribution, and usage are at the heart of this debate but that needs proper definition, clarity, and "reasonable" rules for usage in the meantime.

And if it's legislation and regulatory reasons that inhibit business from moving towards social media, then that's indeed sad. Perhaps we're hiding behind that veil, and the real reasons for non-adoption stem from lack of knowledge or desire to introduce new things. Or is it that we've grown complacent and there isn't any pressing need to do anything different unless we have to?

Social is a new medium. It requires a change in mindset across all parts of the organization. What social is going through now is similar to what search went through 10 years ago. In Canada, because of the conservative nature of business, we are less prone to want to learn, to adopt, and therefore less likely tp challenge the powers-that-be. If we look at industry as a whole, while there are signs of offline media dying (newspapers downsizing, and less demand for print) companies are fooling themselves in thinking that what they've believed in for years is now becoming obsolete.

But there area many leading the way and I'm proud what Canada has spawned so far:

- leaders in social media technology like HootSuite, Syncapse, Sysomos.

- technology innovation: MyCityLives, localmind, HeroBox

- organizations that support the growth of the small business and start-up innovation: Sprouter, DemoCamp, SOHO, bizLaunch, ING cafe, Cameraderie, DevTO, BizSpark, MaRS

As a Canadian, I don't think we need to mirror our neighbours to the south, but we need to put one step in front of the other (slowly but surely) and be open to the possibilities. Because these days, the speed at which technology is changing implies that latency will hamper the future Canadian business.

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