Defying Easy Categorization: Latinos And Communication Technology

by , Jul 21, 2011, 8:00 AM
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Three reports released recently -- "Latinos and Digital Technology" by the Pew Hispanic Center, "35% of American adults own a smartphone" by Pew Internet, and "Mobile Snapshot: Smartphones Now 28% of U.S. Cellphone Market" by the Nielsen Company -- on the use of communication technology among Latinos provide ammunition for very different conclusions about the dynamic between Latinos and technology and where the market may be heading when it comes to phones and internet usage.

The studies themselves are excellent, unsurprisingly, given the sources. But they challenge us to avoid oversimplifying and to think flexibly and holistically about how Latinos use communication technology today.

On the one hand, there is data to suggest that Latinos, despite some dramatic increases, still lag behind the General Market in a number of important areas; the Pew "Latinos and Digital Technology" study reveals that Latinos are still less likely than the General Market to have Internet access at all (55% vs. 75%). And among Latinos with Internet access, only 69% have a home broadband connection vs. 84% of non-Hispanic whites. Similarly Hispanics are "less likely than whites to use any non-voice applications on a cell phone (58% vs. 64%), and they are also less likely than whites to send or receive text messages (55% vs. 61%)". These numbers could be interpreted to mean that the digital divide between Hispanics and the General Market is still very real.

However, other data suggest that Latinos lead the market in the use of some communications technology. Nielsen reported in November of last year that 28% of mobile phone users in the U.S. now have smartphones and that 20% of those smartphone owners are Latino; Pew reports that Latinos are just as likely to access the Internet and send or receive email using their phones and are more likely to instant message with their phones (34% vs 20%).

What is more, 44% of adult Latinos own a smartphone, as opposed to 30% of the General Market, and those Latinos who use a smartphone are slightly more likely to use it to go online than their General Market counterparts (89% vs. 85%) and are even more likely to do so every day (Pew Internet). And Nielsen reports that Hispanics who have smartphones are more likely to use their apps for longer periods of time and are more likely to use them while socializing with friends and while commuting, shopping and finding a place to eat.

So which is it? Depending on which indicators one examines, one could draw very different conclusions about the dynamic between Latinos and technology. No one fact tells the whole story, which is why looking deeper and looking at the big picture is critical to marketers who want to understand Hispanics.

We are not just tech laggards who can't afford to keep up. And we are not simply enthusiastic early adopters who love to communicate. We are both, and accepting that contradiction is an important step in coming closer to a real understanding of who Latinos are today. SMS campaigns, apps and social media can be incredibly effective in reaching some Latinos, while others are more likely to be reached via radio, TV and print. It's kind of a complex audience. Just like the General Market.

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