A Peruvian teen rushes home after school, jumps online and is connected with his popular Facebook fan page and his hundreds of fans. Hispanics on Twitter use the “#latism” hashtag, Latinos in Social Media, to watch the conversation about anything and everything Latino. A restaurant specializing in "Nuevo Latino" cuisine uses Foursquare and Facebook check-ins to contribute to the buzz and make it a neighborhood hit.
Forget the digital divide. Latinos impressive adoption of social media and mobile phones is having a real impact on everything from finding a job to running a small business.
“Despite Hispanics being a minority population in the U.S., they are…embracing technology faster than any other group here in the U.S.,” Pagan said. “Because of this, Latinos will have an enormous influence on social media, technology and the brands that do business on the Internet.”
A recent report by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that while online non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks use Twitter at 5 percent and 13 percent respectively, 18 percent of Hispanics online are Twitter users, a difference that is statistically significant.
When it comes to Facebook, it’s more of the same. According to online marketing company BIG Research, Latinos have taken up Facebook faster than non-Latinos. In all, 54.2 percent of Hispanics online regularly use Facebook, just above non-Latino blacks at 47.7 percent and non-Latino whites at 43 percent.
Latinos are also forging ahead when it comes to using location-based services like Foursquare and the recently unveiled Facebook Places.
Another Pew Internet study found that 10 percent of online Hispanics use these services – significantly more than non-Hispanic whites at three percent or non-Hispanic blacks at five percent.
Overall , Latinos are statistically less likely to own a home computer than the general population. Partly as a result, they increasingly use smart phones—which are key to location services—as their primary window to the Internet.
This facility with social media is helping Hispanics who can leverage its low-entry point to search for jobs, make contacts, and network in the real world.
A recent marketing study conducted by comScore found that Hispanics are twice as likely to search for a job through social networks as opposed to non-Hispanics, and three times as likely to find a job through the same means.
"For job seekers, the Internet offers a low-cost, fast and extremely wide-reaching networking medium," Pagan said. "Social media complements this effort by optimizing connections and leveraging them to further enhance job searches."
Pagan points to Esteban Contreras, who already had a job—but not in the field he wanted. Contreras was a business consultant who was fascinated by social media. On his own time he learned to use blogging platform Wordpress, along with Twitter, and BlogTalkRadio, a service that allowed him to interview experts in various fields, to create an online presence as a social media analyst. One of his BlogTalkRadio interviews was with strategists from Samsung. It went so well he sent them his résumé. Less than two months later, Contreras was named as Samsung Electronics America's social media manager.
"Latinos are made for social media. Take social media apart ... social,” Rios wrote in a Facebook message. “Do Latinos enjoy socializing? Absolutely. You can't tell me anyone parties harder than Latinos, we're the most social people on earth!”
Rios is not the only one who argues that Latinos and social media are such a good match because of intrinsic qualities in the Hispanic culture.
“Latinos are uniquely positioned to take advantage of social media because of their cultural disposition,” said Joe Kutchera, author of "Latino Link: Building Brands Online With Hispanic Communities and Content."
“Some cultures prefer an individualistic web experience while others prefer a collectivistic web experience,” Kutchera said. In his opinion, “Latinos fall squarely on the collectivistic side of the spectrum.”
Whether the cultural argument is to be believed or not, though, it's clear Latinos on social media are making waves. A dramatic example is provided by the popular Facebook destination "Being Latino".
When Rios started Being Latino he was working in advertising sales. But he noticed a niche that needed filling.
“No [English-language] Latino-based organizations were doing much on Facebook, so I figured that I'd fill the void,” Rios said. “Lucky for me, I wasn't the only one that felt we needed relevant, intelligent and entertaining content about us and by us.”
Rios used the power of the medium to get started in a nontraditional way.
“Unlike the traditional model of having a structured organization and taking it onto the space, I did the opposite,” he said. “I created the structure within the social media space and expanded outwards.”
The 100,000 Facebook fans he amassed through dozens of Being Latino pages allowed him to make business connections in the traditional sense, as the digital partner for the New York International Latino Film Festival in 2009 and 2010, the digital sponsor for National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts Dinner Gala 2010, and the official community sponsor for Miss New Jersey Latina 2010, just to name a few.
But social media success isn’t only for the lucky few who notice a glaring lack of representation and quickly move to fill that space. Small businesses can and must use social media to keep up with the competition.
Alfredo Diego and his partner Danisha Nazario run Coqui Mexicano, a Latino fusion restaurant in New York City. It’s had its ups and downs, but Nazario credits her active Facebook page, which currently has 2,500 friends, with allowing the restaurant to cull customers from beyond the traditional range of a neighborhood business.
“We've had customers who have been vacationing in New York City from Chicago who have come to look for us,” Nazario wrote. “We have customers who visit from upstate New York .... We receive orders all the time via Facebook for family-sized orders for our flancocho, pique, pernil, etc.”
“To be honest with you, Facebook has literally saved our butts! Social networking has been a godsend for us,” the 34-year-old Puerto Rican said.
Pagan reiterates that Latinos who use social media can create a positive snowball effect in different aspects of their lives.
“Job seekers, for instance, can reinforce and enhance their searches by making essential contacts with key people at places that they want to work,” Pagan said.
Pagan added that some students ask questions via Twitter for their research papers, and special interest groups have sprung up to car pool or get group passes to events. Meanwhile, discussion groups – think book clubs – are all over the social web, meeting in ‘real-life’ everyday.
“If you have a passions or interest, social media can help you express it or fill it,” Pagan said. “Social media is as flexible as you can make it to be.”
And with Hispanics increasingly becoming comfortable in this ever-changing space, 2011 may be the year that social media adoption turns into Latinos on the social media frontier.