In Omaha today (uh-huh), I am speaking at the National Hispanic Corporate Council (NHCC)’s annual meeting. Two things are on my mind: how Omaha is a fitting place for a discussion about virtual life (the topic of my talk) and how much my life has changed since my first brush with the NHCC.
It’s been close to two years since I gave the keynote at NHCC’s San Francisco Think Tank on social media. At the time, I knew little about the world of Latin American marketing, and had only an armchair scholar’s interest in the emerging power of Latinos online. Since then, the world of Latin American digital has become one of several areas of professional focus for me, and it’s what I most often speak about when asked to point to the most interesting trends in social media.
As for Omaha, it’s a reminder of what my personal life has become over the past two years, partly as a result of all these speaking engagements: I live on airplanes. If you read the book or saw the film, “Up in the Air,” Walter Kirn’s wry tragic-comedy about modern corporate life – you’ll recall that protagonist Ryan Bingham’s physical home is Omaha. But he’s almost never there. He says he lives in airports, but his home is mostly virtual.
And so is the power that Latinos have amassed on the greatest virtual platform of all: the social web. As I have documented in this column, Latinos are out-indexing all other ethnic groups in social technology adoption. They are also outpacing other groups in the consumption of consumer electronics. And as evidenced by the growing number of organizations, conferences, and publishing channels dedicated to Latin American social media, Latinos may also be organizing faster than other groups. What does this mean for marketers who are looking for ways to engage them? What does this mean for Latinos who almost suddenly are sitting high and wide above the digital world.
About a year ago, the NHCC asked me to try to answer that question, commissioning a study on the trends, leaders, and opportunities in Latino social media. We completed the research earlier this year, and we’re releasing the results today in Omaha. (Note: there will be a public release of the results this fall.) Among the study’s chief findings: marketers are learning to scale social media with campaigns designed to appeal to pan-Latin American identity.
Before we get to the issue of identity, let’s take a moment with a topic that matters to all marketers. While it might sound obvious, scale matters. Yet it has eluded so many marketers in the context of social media. In my travels, I find myself having to review and repeat the basic rules of network-based marketing. With social media, scale happens because of network effects: if you can design a campaign that can motivate other people to activate their networks, you will be on your way. Easier than it sounds, but it’s a simple rule, and it’s pretty well known. But something that’s less obvious is when the challenge is to engage a network of networks, like Latinos. Do the same rules apply?
With Latinos, it’s not so easy. As I observed in my inaugural post for ClickZ, we’re not a single tribe. There are big differences among us – cultures, interests, preferences for engagement. But what’s interesting is how we sometimes come together. Big umbrella issues – for example, immigration in the 2010-midterm Congressional elections – can bring a bunch of different groups together, despite their differences on other topics. So while there’s no such thing as a single monolithic Latino tribe – a beautiful but dangerous piece of fiction – there is such a thing as a Latino metatribe – a network of networks – and it’s become really interesting to marketers.
But for marketers, it’s not just the fact that Latinos en masse may be reachable. It’s the size of the market itself. My co-columnist Gustavo Razzetti and I have spilled a lot of virtual ink on the topic of market numbers, and I suspect that those numbers will continue to grow. And the composite effect of market size and market reachability will continue to entice digital marketers as the United States continues to become more Hispanic. As the recent census shows, already one in six Americans are of Latin origin. By mid-century, the ratio will be one in three.
But there’s an even greater reason for digital marketers to look at Latinos. As perhaps the first superpower in the postdigital era – where the focus is not just on the virtual world but the physical world of events, meetings, and other business gatherings – engaging the Latinosphere will school marketers how to do scalable social media marketing with other metatribes. And there are other metatribes for sure. Just in the past year around the globe, we’ve seen the rapid organization and mobilization of many citizen movements that were driven in part by a non-violent pan-Islamic cause. Here in the states, we’ve seen the rapid organization and mobilization of disparate groups under both conservative and progressive banners. But here’s the thing: the Latinosphere, which already has inspired both commercial and political marketers, is in a position to school next year’s innovators. And given all the attention it’s getting, I expect the learnings to be spread widely throughout the social web. From my virtual outpost in Omaha – “in the middle of nowhere, yet at the center of everything,” as Kirn puts it – I can already see it beginning to happen.