A study by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project confirmed what a lot of us in the Latino marketing community have known. Latinos index higher than any other group on Twitter. In a survey conducted last month - running up to the Thanksgiving holiday - 18 percent of Latino respondents who spend time online have a Twitter account, versus 13 percent of non-Hispanic blacks and 5 percent of non-Hispanic whites.
Looking at these and other numbers, many people will ask, "what is it about Latinos - are they more social?" But for marketers, there's a more immediate, perhaps mundane question: "how do you effectively engage Latinos on Twitter, one of the fastest growing segments on one of the fastest growing networks?"
The question is a lot less simplistic than it sounds. For many marketers today, the raw numbers that characterize the Latino market have gotten more visibility than the soft science that experts use to build meaningful plans for engagement. This is the world of the social Web, and a fascination with the long tail of Latinos alone will only get you so far. What's required here is a bit of work, though not so much work that it should discourage anyone. It's just a different kind of work - social work, if you will. Here's a simple approach that has worked well for many people who are new to the Latino Twitter community. It worked for me. Though I've been on Twitter since the early days, I've been a resident of the Latino Twittersphere for little more than a year.
Remember: there are a lot of Latinos on Twitter, more than any other ethnic group. But, as I noted in my opening post on the Marketing to Latinos column, it would be wrong to think of Latinos as a single tribe. Instead, think of us as a "metatribe," a very loose confederation of different groups that sometimes come together around a big idea, a big cause, a movement - and even then, it would be wrong to expect unanimity. The challenge of connecting with the right people is serious. Fortunately, Latinos not only index higher; we self-index more, too. Latinos themselves have organized themselves in a number of ways on Twitter. Start with Twitter lists. For a great example - a true long tail of Latinos, capturing the megastars as well as the newbies - see Lori Gama's list on Listorious. But this is just one person's list; Latinos have self-indexed so well that there's now a long tail of long-tail lists. To catch a glimpse of this – if you want, if you dare - try searching the Twitter list archive on tools such as TLists.
But just finding people who have been indexed - or who have self-indexed - as Latinos is not enough. You will want to know more about them. There's no substitute, of course, for following, reading, and engaging people to truly explore what the basis for a relationship might be (more on that in a moment). But you might also want to avail yourself to any number of tools that can help you understand someone's profile. One cool tool - which is getting an increasing amount of attention - is Klout, which not only attempts to measure the influence of all Twitter users using a number of indices beyond the number of followers, but also categorizes people according to their roles in the Twitter ecosystem. (For an interesting look at Latino "influentials" on Klout, go to Tomás Custer's Hispanic Tips.) Using a Gartner Magic Quadrant-like schema, Klout places people into 16 possible categories, ranging from observer to celebrity. Think of it as a Myers-Briggs personality test for the Twitter set, but with an unforgiving Darwinian twist. While it's nice to find oneself in a group of supposedly likeminded people, nobody likes being in the lower left-hand quadrant, and I suspect that this might limit the tool's appeal. Nor does the Klout profile tell you enough to give you a real sense of the person: her tastes, her likelihood to follow and chat with you, etc.
To be fair to Klout and other measurement tools, that's not what they are meant to do. At best, they are about influence, not about engagement.
For that, you might even skip the first two steps, and go straight to the third: joining existing conversations that Latinos are having on Twitter. The easiest way to join is the hashtag, which in the Latino world has great utility. At almost any moment of the day, you can click on #hispanics, #latinos, and #latism and join a lively conversation. (Disclosure: I serve on the board of LATISM (Latinos in Social Media), the organization behind the hashtag.) This is a conversational medium, after all, and there's no better way to learn about people than to speak with them. Also check out Twitteros, a "network for digitally influential Latinos." This community also provides brands a way to be visible in these conversations through sponsoring and advertising opportunities.
Hashtags - which were invented by users, not product marketing folks - support the spontaneous, emergent behavior that makes Twitter such a fluid, dynamic environment. And they serve as the simple mechanism that enables people to engage in what is perhaps the most fluid, real-time conversational format on the social Web today: the Twitter party. Several Latino groups host live chats on Twitter, and the parties have attracted sponsorships from major brands.
But the real value comes from participating in these chats (assuming you can type fast enough). Because the real value in Twitter is conversation, and for whatever reason, Latinos like talking on Twitter (listen to what two Latino tweeps Julio Ricardo Varela and Julie Diaz-Asper have to say on this subject). Is it because Latinos are more social - the big question posed at the beginning of this post? Who knows? But I like Carrie Ferguson Weir's suggestion that perhaps Latinos were the original retweeters (see below) - repeaters of information, long before the new conversational tool arrived. Conversation is an ancient art, and marketers hoping to engage Latinos should probably think less about the tools and more about the rules of being social.
Giovanni is off today. This column was originally published Dec. 13, 2010.
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Giovanni Rodriguez is an author, consultant, and public speaker on organizational leadership and digital/social communications. The views expressed in this blog are entirely his own.
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