Are We Approaching Hispanic Social Media All Wrong?

Hispanic social media continues to be one of the hottest topics in the business of Hispanic marketing. More statistics come out every day about Hispanics and how they use social media. A steady flow of conferences, panel discussions as well as interest from marketers and their agencies have kept the space top of mind for the last 18 months. I wonder if all this excitement is missing the mark because we're still looking at the market from the lens of Hispanic marketing circa 1990?

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.

5 comments about "Are We Approaching Hispanic Social Media All Wrong? ".
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  1. Jesse Luna, March 3, 2011 at 10:13 a.m.

    It's been exciting to see Latinos uniting on social media fronts. These groups are coming together based on common interests (business, personal, and geographic). Groups like Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) are important magnets for conversations and action.

    There are also more focused groups like the TuTecnologia group which is a Spanish language technology community with hundreds (thousands?) of members. TuTecnologia is the "Channel 34" technology segment of the social web in the US. In fact, the community's leader, Ariel Coro, is often on channel 34.

    I'm also excited to see the newest turn in this Latino social media convergence - connecting with community organizations. ~@jesseluna

  2. Harry Webber from Smart Communications, Inc., March 3, 2011 at 11:24 a.m.

    Mr. Villa,

    How refreshing to discover someone in this multiculti marketing myopia who actually has hit upon a big idea that is cultural rather than language based. The answer to your question is a resounding "Yes." The support for your position is a thunderous "Si como no." The idea that every Hispanic social-media user is in effect a beacon for a personal network of like-minded individuals that has adapted Facebook, Twitter et al for the same purposes their parents adopted the Bodega Truck. To create a sense of "neighborhood" is at once staggeringly enlightening and painfully obvious.

    Last Friday afternoon a young girl was killed in a car accident. The car she was driving in spun out of control. She was sitting in the front seat without her seat belt because it prevented her from talking with her friends in the back seat. Upon impact she was thrown from the car and killed instantly. A tragedy.

    What was remarkable about this tragedy was the velocity at which the news of her death was spread throughout the population of her school, Polytechnic High in Sunland. Within moments, those who witnessed the accident sent text messages to those still in classes wit a description of the car.
    Those who knew the vehicle sent SMS messages to those who were gathering at the scene. Someone in the car, who was belted in told of the girl's death. A group of students went to the class in which the girl's younger brother was enrolled to notify him of the tragedy. Another group went to the girl's home to notify her parents. All of this happened within 15 minutes of the accident. Hundreds of young people, teachers, and support personnel; all mobilized within moments of the event.

    Yes Mr. Villa. Hispanic Social Media goes far beyond the social fabric of language to define in real-time the social fabric of culture. Thank you for presenting such an important distinction.

    What was remarkable about this tragedy was that it was

  3. Jose Villa from Sensis, March 3, 2011 at 11:51 a.m.

    Thanks for the great comments so far. I've received some questions about the cliffhanger at the end of my article.

    I am actually going to be unveiling a groundbreaking Hispanic Persona project that will delve into the psychographics of social Hispanics at the Hispanicize 2011 Conference in Los Angeles on April 7 (

    My next MediaPost article will introduce some toplines of that research, but the full research will only be available at Hispanicize 2011.

  4. Lincoln Perry, March 3, 2011 at 12:33 p.m.

    How encouraging to read an article that does not condemn the Spanish-speaking community in the United States-- primarily ethnic-Mexican--to Spanish-only advertising. So many immigrants throughout America's history have tried hard to learn English. So too have those from Spanish-speaking nations. But politicians and, to an even greater degree, advertisers have "branded" them, frozen them, kept them isolated from developing their English language skills in order to control them, and to sell to them.

    An article such as Mr.Villa's shows clearly that the Hispanic community in America seeks integration just as surely as every single immigrant group that has preceded it.

    They get it. They want to grow up. They want to learn and speak English with fluency. But forces at work in American society have sought to marginalize and infantilize them for their own political and commercial gain.

  5. Lourdes Perez ramirez from A, April 12, 2011 at 2:39 p.m.

    It was nice to meet and chat with you at HIspanicize, José (no accent??).

    Your point is well taken, but I work every day with education data that tells me that most Hispanic students are using social media but are not English proficient. Last year, about 89% of 160,000 Hispanic high school students (ages 16-17) who took the ACT college admission test showed not to be ready for college and one of the benchmarks was their English proficiency.

    Not only that, José (the accent is so Spanish!) I also know that a huge number of Hispanic parents (many of whom are young and foreign born, or both) can't help their children succeed in school (not because they are not interested in their children's education (a popular myth), but because socioeconomic issues (poverty, low education levels, more than one job, lack of transportation) and lack of English language proficiency pose an incredible hurdle for them to help their children move up the education ladder.

    So, despite the fact that there are a lot of us who have spoken English and Spanish all our lives; that "half of all US Hispanics were born in the US," we still have to address the needs of the other half: those who are not yet social media savvy (to help them become such) and who prefer Spanish (so we can help them communicate and survive in a bilingual world without loosing their roots, our roots).

    Like you said, " Size alone does not make a market" so marketers still need to have a diversified portfolio of communications tools (traditional and social media, word-of-mouth--which is really a social media by itself) to reach Spanish-speakers whatever their age-group is.

    Thanks for the opportunity, Jose.


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