How Social Media Can Help Journalists Reach Ethnically Diverse Groups

The Pew Research Center released a report last week that confirms what Cristina Fernández-Pereda of El País and Natalie Hopkinson of The Root have known all along: Latinos and blacks lead all other racial and ethnic groups when it comes to texting and Twitter.

Remember the digital divide, the gap between whites and minorities due to the high cost of broadband? Smart phones have allowed younger, lower-income users — many of them African-Americans and Latinos — to skip the traditional Internet infrastructure and get online without broadband or even a laptop.

Fernández-Pereda, who blogs about Latinos in the United States for the Spanish newspaper El Pais, has covered social media and media technology for a couple of years. Recently, she wrote about Latinos’ use of the Internet, saying it’s “a community that is forcefully pushing its way onto the Internet.”

The Root, a Web magazine that addresses race issues from a black perspective, has published stories related to this topic, including “Are That Many Black Folks Really on Twitter?” and a piece about the buzz surrounding the “#uknowurblack” Twitter hashtag.

Hopkinson, The Root’s media and culture critic, said in an e-mail interview that individual people of color have “amassed large and influential followings” on Twitter. According to blacktwitters.com, rapper and entrepreneur P. Diddy, aka @iamdiddy, tops the chart with more than 2.6 million followers.

Journalists and media entrepreneurs of color have made their mark as well. Hopkinson tweets as @Nattyrankins, and Fernández-Pereda gives credit to Ana Roca-Castro for spurring participation by tweeting, “Where are Latinos in social media?” Fernández-Pereda reported that about a year ago, that tweet launched an “avalanche” of related tweets and helped inspire the name of the Latinos in Social Media organization, which Roca-Castro founded.

Though much of the reporting about black and Latino use of social media and cell phones focuses on income, Fernández-Pereda said in an e-mail interview that culture also plays a role.

She cited a study that shows Latinos are more likely than non-Latinos to have “anthropological needs” — such as “a sense of belonging” and “collective expression” — that are fulfilled by social media.

“Latinos already live everything in a more social way, sharing and communicating more than other groups,” she said. “I think sharing is part of almost everything in their lives. It’s part of the culture, so social networks seem made for them.”

An AOL marketing study of Hispanics also shows that the Latino population is younger overall and more likely to be early adopters of technology and to trust the Internet more.

So, as mainstream media outlets clamor for a greater social media presence, how can they reach more blacks and Latinos?

While the around-the-clock nature of Twitter lends itself to tweets with links to news content, Hopkinson said, personalities still matter most. Twitter can be a powerful tool to brand staff writers or reporters and to engage on a new level with audiences, including members of Latino and black communities.

Media outlets should reach out to established people of color on social networks, Hopkinson added. “Instead of just using Twitter to share links to content,” she said, “media companies should look at it as a way for individual journalists to get into a dialogue with these Twitter tastemakers of color, allowing the companies to ride their channels.”

As for the Latino community, Fernández-Pereda said bilingual content is key.

“I’ve seen how plenty of messages, blogs and tweets about immigration reform are published in English,” she said. Sometimes, she sees entirely separate conversations happening on social networks — one in Spanish that addresses race, immigration and other topics that might be “uncomfortable” to a more diverse audience, and one English that fails to address these topics.

If the mainstream media can find its way into these conversations, it may not only improve the quality of dialogue about tough subjects, but also provide news organizations with a much-needed infusion of new audience members who reflect the America we’re becoming.

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