The following article first appeared on Fox News Latino.
For years, Latinos have been held back by the “digital divide,” an information and technology gap relative to wealthier audiences that enjoy greater access to expensive computers and broadband connections. But two Internet trends will close that gap in 2011 and beyond: mobile and social media. In fact, experts predict that Hispanics could actually become leaders in adoption of new technology.
Today, we still see a digital divide in home computer ownership. Six out of ten Hispanic households have a computer and broadband access according to Jerry Rocca, Senior Director of Mobile Media and Advertising at Nielsen Online, a leading media research firm. And in a recent report from the Pew Hispanic Trust, Hispanics still lag using the Internet by fourteen percentage points relative to non-Hispanics.
But, that only counts Internet usage from a computer. With cell phones, Hispanics trail non-Hispanics by only 10% according to Pew. In other words, mobile devices have actually reduced the digital divide by four percentage points.
In his recent presentation at ad:tech, an online advertising trade show, Rocha showed that Hispanics spend more time watching video on their phones and text messaging. And, unsurprisingly, 54% of Hispanics who bought a phone in the last 6 months bought a smart phone, significantly outpacing the 40% of Caucasians who did so.
Why is that? Many Hispanics substitute their cell phones for a home computer, especially smart phones. Hispanic households often abandon their landlines to become cell-phone only in part to lower costs and save money. A recent white paper from the research firm Encuesta shows that 28% of Hispanic adults live in cell phone only households in comparison to 19% of non-Hispanic whites.
In social media, Hispanics have actually moved ahead of the general market. Nielsen shows that 62% of Hispanics online partook in social networking activities online versus 38% for Caucasians. It’s no surprise that the more collectivistic Latino culture tends to gravitate towards a group-oriented medium like social media, relative to the individualistic Caucasian culture.
Minority Internet users are more than twice as likely to use Twitter as are white Internet users, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. The first-ever survey about Twitter users from Pew shows that 18% of Hispanics online use Twitter in comparison to 5% of white Twitter users.
So, what will happen to the Latino audience with the sea change of mobile and social media? Tomorrow’s “digital divide” might soon separate Latinos from the late adopters of mobile and social media behind them.
We can look to Mexico as a proxy for the U.S. Hispanic market. Of the 105 million people in Mexico, 30 million Mexicans use the Internet, according to the country’s census statistics. That represents, for the most part, the country’s middle and upper classes. But today, 70 million Mexicans already own cell phones. So, Mexico’s digital audience has more than doubled because of the new, less expensive mobile technology. And, its lower income population has literally leapfrogged ahead.