Social media is now ubiquitous. Usage of blogs, social networks, and video sharing sites is increasing rapidly and millions of people now look to social media websites as their primary source of news, opinion, and entertainment. As we witness this dramatic shift from traditional to social media, we believe it’s important to examine its cultural dimensions—that is, who is driving this shift, what are the cultural factors behind it, and what are the implications for marketers seeking to reach specific ethnic/cultural groups via social media?
We recently conducted an analysis of newly collected data to examine the patterns of social media behaviors of different ethnic/cultural groups in the US. The data comes from the Florida State University Center for Hispanic Marketing Communication with the support of DMS Research from a national online sample of nearly 2,500 people with approximately 500 cases in each of the following cultural groups: Hispanics who prefer English, Hispanics who prefer Spanish, Non-Hispanic Whites, African Americans, and Asians in the United States.
Ethnic minorities visit social networking sites more frequently than non-Hispanic Whites
We aggregated information to find out what ethnic/cultural groups are more likely to visit social networking sites. We found broad diversity in social media behaviors among different ethnic/cultural groups and that emerging minorities visit social networking sites more frequently than non-Hispanic whites.
We then broke out the data for leading social networks, MySpace and Facebook, to see if there are any groups leading usage of the most popular social networking sites—again, minorities lead the way, with English Preferring Hispanics being twice as likely to visit MySpace regularly than Non-Hispanic Whites. The relative importance of emerging minorities as compared with the traditional majority points to a major shift in social influence.
Demographics, culture and market factors drive ethnic minorities to social networks
This data is interesting, but in order for these findings to be useful and actionable for us as marketers, we need to determine the reason for the strong representation of ethnic minorities on social networking sites and how to best engage with this audience. We believe that there is a mix of cultural, demographic and market factors that make social media particularly appealing to emerging minorities.
Demographically, ethnic minorities are younger than non-Hispanic Whites. It’s no secret that younger people in general are more likely to adopt new technologies, particularly technologies that enable communication and provide social connectivity. This age gap between minorities and non-Hispanics only partially explains the gap in social media involvement.
Age is only a partial explanation for the use of social media among ethnic minorities
In order to analyze the influence of age on social media behavior, we divided respondents into two segments, those 35 years of age and younger and those 36 years of age and older. The following chart shows that people 35 and younger of all cultural backgrounds are more likely to use social media, with Hispanics who prefer to communicate in Spanish and African Americans lagging behind. Young Spanish preferring Hispanics may lag because they are likely to be newer to the Internet, and also because their friends and relatives are less likely to be online due to economic and access factors. While Hispanics in general are aggressively getting online, those less acculturated are still somewhat less represented in the digital realm today.
When examining the usage of social networking sites among those 36 and older, we find that that older Hispanics, regardless of language preference are more active especially when compared non-Hispanic Whites within the same age group.
This substantiates the notion that age is only a partial explanation for the higher usage of social media among Hispanics and other ethnic minorities. Culture and market factors also play an important role in promoting online social connectivity among these groups.
Collectivistic values, communication and lack of relevant content are key drivers of social behavior online
Culturally, ethnic minorities tend to be drawn to collectivistic values and often look to one another to help guide decisions and opinions. In addition, ethnic minorities are more likely to leverage social networks to communicate with groups of family and friends who are geographically dispersed. Social media facilitates such collective sharing of information and communication.
In addition, market forces are driving ethnic minorities to use social media. There is a dearth of culturally relevant and in-language content available online. As a result, ethnic minorities tend to be proactive and create and share their own content and social networks are ideal platforms for publishing and distributing such original content.
Social networking services allow people to organize and enhance their relationships online, but regardless of technology, culture is still the glue that bonds people together. Marketers seeking to reach ethnic minorities through social media must reinforce and connect with the culture of their target audience if they seek to strengthen their clients’ brands on social networks—doing so requires a strategic long term approach that should include the following elements:
Define your social media marketing objectives
Using social media can accomplish a number of business objectives. Do you want to advertise a new product? Gather research? Provide customer service and build goodwill? Knowing what you’re looking for will make it much easier to find it.
Understand your audience and be strategic
A successful social media strategy requires a clear definition of objectives, understanding o your audience and a strategy for engaging them. Consider the cultural motivations that are driving your target audience to social media. Are they there to talk about music? Are they keeping in touch with relatives overseas? Are they there to connect and share their collective culture? What language are they using? They may be doing all of these things and more, but if you can determine what’s drawing your audience to social media in the first place, you’ll have a better chance of engaging them when you join their conversations. Building and maintaining conversations with a target audience requires research, careful planning and a strategic approach.
Dedicate resources to proactively engage your audience with timely and relevant content
Ethnic minorities are turning to social networks to express themselves, connect with their culture and communicate with each other. To be successful, marketers must be open to engaging audiences with timely and relevant content that stimulates feedback and sharing. Engaging in meaningful conversations is the goal of social media marketing and doing so requires a deep understanding of needs, openness to negative commentary and dedicated resources. A social media presence is worthless if it lies dormant.
The time is now
Few marketers are proactively targeting ethnic minorities online and even fewer are leveraging social media to do so. A first mover advantage is available for those that devote the time and resources to engage these critical audiences in ways that they find meaningful. The fact is that we now have an unprecedented ability to reach and interact with ethnic minorities; and companies that deliver value to this segment today will be rewarded with the long term loyalty of this market.
Originally published by Media Post on February 19, 2009.