We’ve all heard it before…

“Hispanics are more social.”

“Hispanics over-index on social media.”

“Hispanics are the original social networkers.”

I’m just as guilty as anyone of blindly restating these supposed truisms about Hispanic digital behavior. The countless reports published over the last few years by highly reputable research firms like BIGInsight, Pew, and Nielsen, provide plenty of data points to support these claims.

But we all know that market research and market realities are two very different things.

Although I’ve been arguably one of the biggest proponents of Hispanic social media, I’ve seen my fair share of programs not living up to the heightened expectations about Hispanic social media.

Let’s think about this issue more critically. Hispanics are more social, but what does that mean exactly? At a very basic level, it’s a comparative statement. Hispanics are more social than other groups – the general market, and/or other demographic groups. Let’s keep this simple by focusing on the differences in online social behavior between Hispanics and the non-Hispanic general market.

How are they different? Much of the data focuses on consumption levels – how much time people spend using social media. Again, let’s simplify things for the purposes of this analysis: how much time Hispanics spend on Facebook vs. their non-Hispanic counterparts. I don’t refute the assertion a typical Hispanic may spend more time on average on Facebook than a non-Hispanic, but is that really important? There is an inherent flaw in this type of analysis – it focuses on a passive consumption metric, and not on the more important interactive nature of social media. As a marketer, time spent on Facebook may be somewhat important, but not the most important behavioral metric.

Back to my simple analysis – Hispanics may spend more time on Facebook, but are they commenting, sharing, and generating content at higher levels? There is a lot less data that I’ve seen to support that claim, and some recent research that is starting to question it.

My growing skepticism about Hispanics being more social is based on years of professional and personal experience working and living with Hispanics – not least of which is my family. Now the disclaimer – the analysis that follows is not based on hard research, or statistically significant data. While my data points may be limited, they do illustrate a trend line.

Hispanics have larger families. Hispanics tend to live in communities with other Hispanics. Hispanics engage in more word-of-mouth activity and place more emphasis on the opinions and recommendations of those in their social network. I’m on board with all this.

However, there is a big conceptual jump that is made when juxtaposing this Hispanic offline behavior – within their tight knit real world social networks – onto their online behavior. Are Hispanics more likely to comment on blogs or Facebook posts than non-Hispanics? Are Hispanics more likely to create online content and/or share it than non-Hispanics? There are three fundamental problems with assuming Hispanic social behavior extends to social media.

Issue #1 – Not all (online) Hispanics are the same

One very big problem I see – particularly with the data about heavy Hispanic social media usage – is we are painting with broad brush strokes. I know from our primary research and countless anecdotal experiences that there is a big dividing line in digital behavior between unacculturated/partially-acculturated, and older (35+) Hispanics and acculturated and younger (under 34) Hispanics. Most data out there lumps all these Hispanics together, resulting in what I hypothesize are some seriously skewed samples.

Issue #2 – Culture and Psychographics

In many of the discussions I’ve been privy to about Hispanics and social media, I’ve noticed a narrative developing that Hispanics are more likely to share and “make their voices heard.” This narrative is often tied to the “Hispanics are more social” hypothesis. This is interesting, because it goes against the cultural and psychographic characteristics of many Hispanics – particularly less acculturated ones.

Less acculturated Hispanics are unlikely to raise their hands. They keep a low profile, especially those here illegally – which is more than 10 million according to many estimates. Culturally, many of us are raised in environments where we are taught not to question authority. I’ve seen this with countless clients and peers who work in education. One of the biggest challenges faced by colleges and universities is Hispanics who never ask for help, never question their grades, and just keep their head down and try to do their work. This is just one illustration, but there are numerous other examples of these very important Hispanic psychographic and cultural norms that go against the type of digital “social behavior” we ascribe to Hispanics.

Issue #3 – Sharing with Family and Friends is Different than Sharing with Brands and the Public

Hispanics may be more social with each other, among family and friends, but are they more social with brands and the public? This is an important distinction often lost with all the buzz over Hispanic social media. This relates to the cultural and psychographic norms described above – a large swath of Hispanics, who are very social offline within their social networks, are not culturally comfortable with announcing their preferences, points of view, and experiences with brands and the public online.

I can’t be alone in my skepticism. Veteran Hispanic marketers – those who have been working in the trenches of Hispanic marketing for 20+ years – must share some of my skepticism. Let me know your thoughts, especially if you disagree, because lack of comments on this blog only reinforces my position.

(an edited version of this article originally ran on MediaPost’s Engage Hispanic blog on August 2, 2012)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *