What The Narrowing Digital Divide Means

Good news, the digital divide is closing for Hispanics. The Pew Hispanic Center recently published an encouraging report that indicates that the digital divide is shrinking due in large part to rapid Hispanic mobile adoption and strong usage of social networking sites. For marketers, the report should be another clear indication that it is time to get serious about investing in the U.S. Hispanic digital market.

Hispanic internet, smartphone and social media usage

From the highest level, the report finds that usage of the Internet among U.S. Hispanics jumped 14 percentage points between 2009 and 2012. Today, a full 78% of U.S. Hispanics use the Internet compared to 87% of non-Hispanic whites. When it comes to smartphone and social media usage, Hispanics are actually ahead of non-Hispanic whites. Today, 49% of Hispanic adults own a smartphone vs. 46% of non-Hispanics whites. What’s more, Hispanics are more active on their mobile devices with 76% of them accessing the Internet via mobile vs. 60% of non-Hispanic whites. In terms of social media usage, 68% of Hispanics use social networking sites vs. 66% of non-Hispanic whites.

Decomposing what’s behind closing digital divide

The Pew report does a wonderful job, digging deeper into the digital divide by analyzing technology usage patterns within Hispanic sub-segments. Not surprisingly, technology usage is highest among those Hispanics that are young, affluent, educated, native-born and English-dominant. However, growth rates are highest among foreign-born and Spanish-dominant Hispanics, who tend to be older, less affluent and less educated signaling and opportunity for marketers.

Internet usage among foreign-born and Spanish dominant Hispanics jumped 18 percentage points and 27 percentage points respectively from 2009 to 2012. During this period, Internet usage growth among U.S.-born and English-dominant Hispanics came in at only 5 percentage and 2 percentage points respectively. 

From a mobile and social perspective, 61% of native-born U.S. Hispanics have a smartphone, and 73% use social networking sites. Contrast this with 40% of native-born U.S. Hispanics who have smartphones and 63% who use social networking sites. Although Pew does not report on mobile and social adoption growth rates by Hispanic sub-segment, my assumption is that the growth is coming from the foreign-born segment similar to what we are seeing with overall Internet usage.

How can marketers capitalize on the closing digital divide?

Simply put, this report provides more compelling data for marketers to invest in the Hispanic digital space. Pew sums this point up well, “Latinos own smartphones, go online from a mobile device and use social networking sites at similar—and sometimes higher—rates than do other groups of Americans.” The data also provides valuable insights into Hispanic technology usage patterns that can help prioritize Hispanic digital investments towards mobile and social tactics. 

However, some marketers may look at technology adoption by native-born Hispanics vs. foreign-born Hispanics and conclude that general market digital investments are sufficient to reach Hispanics. 

I disagree.

As I discussed in my last post, there are several compelling reasons marketers should focus on foreign-born Hispanics. This report provides yet another: technology adoption is growing fastest among foreign-born Hispanics, making them a ripe target for marketers.

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