Latinos: The Social Technology Platform

In a recent article for Forbes, I presented a view of the Occupy Wall Street movement that riffed on a concept from the world of software development. I got the idea after reading an article by The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal who cleverly suggested that OWS had an open application programming interface (API) that enabled other movement makers to reuse a wide range of assets. I stretched the metaphor further by suggesting that OWS in fact was like a technology platform upon which other movement makers could build new “applications.” The rules that govern software development ecosystems are similar to the rules that govern movement making. Sometimes – assuming you have what it takes – it’s better to be a platform than it is to be an app. Done right, the former might enable you to have a far bigger footprint and impact on your market.

Last week, at TEDx San Juan – the first TEDx event in Puerto Rico – I floated the idea that the Latinosphere (the world of Latinos who are connecting with each other through social networks) might be developing similarly. And while nobody “owns” the Latinosphere, there are opportunities to take the ad hoc organization that has already occurred and build applications on top of it. As I will show in a moment, the applications are quite interesting. But you may also be curious how this platform was able to emerge in the first place.

Photo credit: Rachid Molinary

If you’ve been following the conversation in this column, you already know that Latinos outperform other ethnic groups on social networks. You also know that they’re bigger consumers of mobile technology. For me, the Latino performance phenomenon is important for two different reasons. First, it demonstrates, powerfully, that marketers – whether they are from the commercial world, government, or NGOs – need to factor social and mobile technologies into their marketing mix if they want to engage Latinos. But the second thing that’s interesting is something that has eluded most people looking at the trend: the reason why Latinos seem to outperform others. At TEDx San Juan, I specifically addressed the question, positing toward the end of my presentation that the reason we’ve taken to social media so well is that we are a virtual nation that’s been dispossessed. Or rather, we belong to a league of virtual nations whose citizens have a strong need to connect with one another. There’s a similar analysis of the people north of our border that’s helpful.

Canadians, who are also noted for their love of social media, are thought to have developed a need to communicate effectively because of the distances that separate so many of its people. With Latinos, the distance is not only geographic but also psychological if you consider how many of us are “exiles” – deliberate or accidental – from our countries of origin.

Another phenomenon driving the emergence of the Latino platform is what I call the “metatribe.” The idea – introduced in my first post for this column – is that while Latinos are not a single monolithic group (a point that many marketers have made in their defense of finely segmented marketing plans), we do tend to stick together when approached the right way or when spoken of the wrong way. For the wrong way, we got a taste of this in the 2010 midterm elections when a number of politicians took harsh stances on immigration and were punished by Latino voters on the left and on the right. For the right way, note how a growing number of brands are designing social media campaigns premised on the idea of pan-Latino identity much like the Arab Spring has been built on the premise of pan-Islamic identity.

But it begs the question about apps. What besides immigration are issues that most if not all Latinos care about? If you look at campaigns like The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (disclosure: I am an advisor to the initiative), which uses both social media and local events to help crowdsource the work of government, education is clearly one of those issues. Or, going back to the point I made about the provenance of Latino digital power, I am bullish about the future of diaspora networks that help unify people who have left the homeland with people who remain. A great number of activities – from collaborating on solving problems facing people back home, to helping people find jobs around the world – could be facilitated by such networks. Or, you might poll members of the Latino metatribe or glean from the social data that already exists to predict what else might be of great interest. A lot of things are possible when you look at the Latinosphere as a platform – a marketing and movement app store – and grasp what makes this so powerful.

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