White House Hispanic Action Summit, Denver, Colorado, October 29, 2011
Not too long ago, I was reminded of a truism in the marketing world that too often digital/social professionals forget: if you’re trying to reach people socially, it helps to know the groups who are already organized.
The learning opportunity came at an event I produced in June for Latinos in Social Media (LATISM). It was our second event in California, but our first venture in Silicon Valley. As was typical of these regional events, we focused on recruiting local leaders to help us with registrations, and we learned along the way about the organizations that already had a huge presence in the region. At the close of the event, I tallied the numbers and was surprised: close to two-thirds of all attendees were referred by two national organizations with local chapters: the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). Going in, we knew that groups like these could be helpful, but we had no idea just how much.
If you’re a marketer with a product or service that truly serves the professional or pre-professional Latino population, it pays to look at groups that have already done the work of organizing. There are several reasons why.
First, as many digital marketers have learned, when social works it’s because a large part of the communications effort happens among peers. If you’re new to a market or a territory (like we were in Silicon Valley), it’s a lot easier to connect with people through their peers. This is a simple principle that’s been practiced since well before the social media era, but today it’s seen as a must-do. Of course, this puts pressure on the marketer to understand (a) which groups have organized peers most effectively, and (b) which points of contact make sense to work with at the beginning stages before the marketers themselves have been acculturated into the group. Having a good sense of what values and goals bind you and will grant you permission to mix with the group is paramount. Gaining admission to a well-networked group is a privilege, and you’ll need to earn it.
An equally important principle in social media marketing – but perhaps less known, and certainly less practiced – is that it’s sometimes better to be a platform than it is to be an “app.” The metaphor, of course, comes from the world of technology, where the trend over the last 10 years has been for tech companies to look for ways to make something upon which others can build. You don’t have to be a tech company to think this way (for an example of this principle at work in the political world, take a look at this). In the Latinosphere, no one has yet attempted to build a sustainable platform that brings together all the different groups that represent Latino professionals. In addition to NSHMBA and SHPE, there’s ALPFA, a national association of Latino business professionals and students (I spoke recently at one of its events), and the National Hispanic Corporate Council (NHCC). And also for students, there’s the Latino Business Student Association (LBSA). In human rights, there’s the National Council of La Raza, and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). There are also many others. While each of these groups serves a distinct community, their agendas overlap in a number of areas and there’s an opportunity to make each stronger yet still autonomous by providing a common platform on which they can stand.
And that’s where it gets really interesting. For leaders in the education and jobs markets, a common platform for professionals is a tremendous opportunity. Latino professionals are a meta-constituency for meaningful work in these areas. For government at the national, regional, and local levels, job creation has been identified as the number-one priority for the foreseeable future. The ability of Latino professionals to come together – nationally, regionally, and locally – is an extraordinary untapped asset. We’re beginning to see leaders in government avail themselves to this opportunity (see, for example, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, a project that I informally advise on behalf of LATISM). But as the power of Latino professional networks continues to assert itself – both in their individual missions and in the aggregate – expect leaders in business to show up to the party.
This column was first published Nov. 29, 2011.