Let's take a step back and think about why the Hispanic marketing industry exists. Hispanic marketing exists primarily for three reasons: Language, population size, and culture.
The Spanish language was the original nexus for this industry, and even today, most Hispanic advertising is in Spanish and runs in Spanish-language media. The size of the Hispanic population has elevated it above other ethnic groups in a country of immigrants -- its population growth continues unabated into 2011. Cultural (behavior and belief) differences between Hispanics and mainstream Americans have created challenges for all series of organizations looking to tap into the opportunity of this perpetually emerging market.
However, when we look at social media, do these distinctions between Hispanics and the rest of the U.S. apply? Starting with population size, the market opportunity in social media does appear to be as compelling as in the analog world. Large percentages of Hispanics are online and using social media -- so there is scale to justify the attention. There are plenty of data pointing to the fact that Hispanics tend to have more friends, followers, connections, etc. -- a direct translation of their larger offline social networks. Size alone does not make a market -- a large group of people with Latin surnames using Facebook, Twitter or YouTube is not in itself a marketing opportunity.
So we turn to language. Most online Hispanics are comfortable reading and writing in English. We know half of all U.S. Hispanics were born in the U.S., and with a large youth population, we can infer that more Hispanics will be able to navigate their digital lives in English. Moreover, since social media is in essence an amalgamation of content created by consumers, there are no Spanish-language versions of social networks, micromedia, or video sharing sites. There is no channel 34 of social media.
Lastly, are there cultural -- behavioral and belief -- differences between Hispanics and the mainstream market that result in different social behavior? Can we say that large swaths of 20-30 million Hispanics who are online exhibit some distinct social media behavior that would create an opportunity to connect with them? Do they update their status differently on Facebook or create different tweets? Do they join different groups on LinkedIn or not enjoy watching kitten videos on YouTube as much as everybody else? Do Hispanics view social media differently? Do they read or write blogs for different reasons?
I wonder if these mostly demographic distinctions, which were the basis for the modern Hispanic marketing industry that started in the 1960s, are the right way to approach Hispanic social media. In an environment that empowers consumers to create content and connect with others who share common interests, passions, and experiences, maybe we need to reframe the discussion.
Are we missing the boat by focusing on Hispanic demographic and behavioral distinctions? Is Hispanic social media really all about psychographics -- and tapping into digital psychographic communities?
Let's look at what is distinct about Hispanics in social media. An easy one is that Hispanics are organically part of Hispanic communities online. Stated another way, if you're Hispanic and using social media, you're more likely to have friends, connections, followers, etc., that are Hispanic. So what? Well, there is a network and amplifier effect. Reaching a Hispanic in this environment has the potential to virally reach other Hispanics who are connected to each other.
Digging deeper, there is something even more distinct and powerful about Hispanic social media use -- the ability to connect with others who share similar life experiences and interests. What is the quintessential shared experience among all Hispanics? I would argue that it's the fact that we live in two worlds -- our ethnic world defined by either our parents'/grandparents' home country and our mainstream, American world. This cuts across the Hispanic acculturation spectrum. If you believe that we are the sum of our life experiences, then there is a potentially powerful connection among tens of millions of Hispanics living in the U.S. that social media has the potential to tap into.
Lastly, social media has provided Hispanics with the ability to find and create content that matters to them -- highly niche content beyond the cookie-cutter "Hispanic" content created by Hispanic TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers that was designed to be all things for all Hispanics. Remember, Hispanics are a highly diverse group in the U.S., from 22 different nationalities, who now live across this varied country, who speak differently, eat different foods, and have very different passions. The long-tail world of social media content has created a conduit for these hundreds of Hispanic sub-groups to connect with each other digitally.
So how can marketers and brands successfully utilize social media to reach Hispanics? I will delve into that subject in my next post, where I'll share some interesting new research on our Hispanic Personas project.