The New Digital Divide: Latinos on Top

You gotta love Terra Networks for releasing its latest study on Latino technology adoption on the first business day of the year. The survey, which confirmed once again that Latinos are among the most tech friendly, tech savvy, and tech hungry metatribes online was sure to grab headlines and help to frame the conversation for marketers in 2011. And it has indeed framed – or reframed – the conversation about Latinos online. Thanks in part to the Terra survey, 2011 may be the year when we stop acting surprised by the “stunning” results of surveys like this one, and begin addressing the larger business, political, and social implications.

The survey, sponsored by Terra and conducted by comScore, confirmed what we know from many earlier studies and surveys. Latinos index higher than non-Latinos in practically every category that’s measurable. As Terra CEO Fernando Rodriguez summarized it, Latinos are more receptive to online advertising, more open to new technology, more open to social media engagement, and more open to buying new technology devices. And, yes, Latinos outspend non-Latinos online. The Terra press release concluded: “The study shows that the digital divide is now becoming a thing of the past as Hispanics are at the forefront of embracing Internet and technology.”

This is not hyperbole. It may in fact be an understatement. What survey after survey shows is not only that the digital divide may be a “thing of the past,” but that the roles and positions along the divide may have been flipped, with Latinos now in the lead of technology adoption. And as imperfect a frame as this may be – many lower income Latinos and other ethnic minorities still lack the access to technology that prevents them from fully participating in the information economy – the new digital divide forces marketers to rethink their strategy with Latinos online. Here are a few things we might expect from marketers in 2011.

Latinos As Early Adopters

There was a time, not long ago, when marketers saw Latinos as an interesting niche market. But as the Terra survey and other reports show, Latinos are in a position to help lead general market penetration across a number of categories. The opportunity here is to view the most active online Latino community as “early adopters” and apply best practices for nurturing, supporting, and learning from this community. This, of course, is a more holistic way of looking at the $1.3 trillion Latino marketing opportunity. It’s not just about Latinos; it’s about how Latinos can open markets for new products, services, and approaches to digital engagement.

Latinos As Alpha Influencers

One area where Latinos dramatically outindex other groups is social media (the topic of my last column). A lesson from the world of social media is that everyone, potentially, is an influencer. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The medium is the message” (or, “el medio es el mensaje,” as my Spanish-dominant marketing friends might say) and the medium in this new world is people. Now that the role of Latinos as early adopters is becoming clear, the opportunity to tap Latino influencers will become more interesting to many marketers. In 2011 – the year before the next presidential election – expect political marketing folks to take a strong lead in this area. On the right, we are already beginning to see movement with organizations like Newt Gingrich’s The Americano leading efforts to recruit Latino influencers. Organizations on the left are now pulling together with similar marketing strategies.

Latinos As the New Arbiters

But as the new early adopters and new influencers in the expanding digital world, Latinos might demand an even better place at the table. The Terra survey reported that Latinos were more likely to be engaged in targeted online advertising programs that non-Latinos might find “intrusive.” A good marketer would not see that as a ringing endorsement for current practices but instead, an invitation to develop practices that are even better – more effective and less intrusive.

The opportunity is to do this with Latinos by including them on technical advisory boards and the corporate-sponsored communities that are leading the way in digital innovation. As Terra’s Rodriguez told ClickZ in an e-mail, “Latinos are more advanced and engaged with new technologies, digital advertising, emerging platforms and devices.” Inviting more Latinos to participate in the evolution of the Web would enable them to play a role that benefits everyone along the digital divide, Latinos and non-Latinos alike.

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