Can Facebook data tell us how European Scotland is?

Analysis: Digital guru Kenny Murray learns some language lessons from Facebook.

Social media: A window into Scotland's diversity.
Social media: A window into Scotland's diversity.

Will Britain stay in Europe or leave?

I couldn’t say but what I can be sure of is that this will dominate discussions from political journalists and many others from different sections of society.

A large part of the debate is centred on freedom of movement within Europe.

The European Union is a melting pot, a mixture of cultures, languages and peoples from various different backgrounds. To some, this is positive and to others a threat to the job markets in each member state.

Personally, I love it. On my walk from the station to the office, I pick up a number of different languages. As culturally diverse journeys go, from the New Town to Leith is like strolling through New York City.

So, just how diverse is Scotland?

It’s a difficult one to answer based on census data, given that they are taken so far apart and families often move from country to country in much shorter timeframes. However Facebook, fast becoming the most up-to-date and trustworthy global data centre, has insight into this.

Using the same tools I harness to help clients engage with different audiences, it’s possible to map the countries of origin of people within a specific country, city or postcode area. In fact, these tools allow us to go even further and get a list of all the jobs European citizens are doing and to dig deeper still and work out which languages they speak as a first language.

This is where I’m going to pull some data. Below is a chart breaking down the languages spoken by Facebook users living in Scotland.

Of course, English is the majority language with roughly 80% of Scots users communicating in that tongue. That in itself is fascinating. It means one-fifth of Scottish adult Facebook users don’t use English as a first language — that’s pretty diverse.

Let’s remove English from the mix and see how the chart breaks down.

The largest language outside of English in Scotland is Polish, followed by Spanish, French, Italian and German, although there are some surprising appearances, including Persian and Kurdish. These are languages spoken by people in Syria and Iraq, alongside Arabic and a number of other minority languages.

Some would argue that Scotland has long had that level of diversity, that it goes back to the beginning of the 20th century. So, to break the data down a little I decided to look at non-English languages used online in Scotland, from users who are living away from their home town and who had moved here within the last year.

The breakdown shows that in the last 12 months there has been an addition of over 30,000 Polish speakers to Scotland, with Spanish and Chinese speakers making up the next top two. There has also been an additional 800 Arabic speakers.

What this data shows is that not only is Scotland a melting pot (and I’m not hearing voices as I amble down Leith Walk) but that Scotland is welcoming on a yearly basis a culturally diverse group of people. And not only from Europe, farther afield too.

It also explains why I can now buy a wide range of Polish meats, breads and desserts from my local shop. (Please, keep coming people of Poland; if you also want to recommend to Fife shopkeepers more delicious puddings, my tastebuds will thank you even if my waistline won’t.)

Would this change on a possible exit from the EU? I honestly don’t know. I can’t second guess the reactions of those new to the country to such a major decision. Nevertheless, it’s worth reflecting that, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, Scotland is already a European country, with our arms open to different cultures, languages and peoples.

And if you’re a Scottish business owner, this data illustrates the size of the market in Scotland for products, content and communications in languages other than English. Last year, around 45,000 Scotland-resident people used Polish as their first language online, while roughly 30,000 of them came here within the last year. That’s new customers and clients to target with advertising and marketing. Why not target them in their first language?

Na razie, do widzenia.

Kenny Murray is a digital strategist for Edinburgh-based public relations agency Holyrood PR. His specialisms include social media and data analysis. Follow him on Twitter at @kenny_murray.


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