"Let no man imagine that he has no influence. Whoever he may be, and wherever he may be placed, the man who thinks becomes a light and a power."
~ Henry George
No one who has followed the unbelievable explosion in the social media space would argue with Henry George's assertion on influence. Social media has deemed "the common man" influential by facilitating the advancement and achievement of common agendas through the formation of interest-based coalitions online.
Yet, influence, particularly as it relates to social media, is one of those terms that open themselves to interpretation. Is it the amount of friends and followers? Is it the amount of reposts/retweets you get? Is it popularity? And how does it apply to the emerging voices of Latinos in the space?
Demographic information is readily available. According to the latest Pew Hispanic Center's State of the News Media Report, Hispanics/Latinos have lower rates of Internet usage than the general population, but have, in recent years, increased usage at a faster pace. Mark Hugo Lopez, the Center's Associate Director, concedes: "they access the internet from their smartphones and when it comes to things such as, for example, sending texts or even watching video online, you find that Latinos oftentimes are doing that more so than their black or white counterparts, at least according to our surveys."
Yet, as Jack Yan, Co-founder of Multicultural Brand Consultancy [MBC], says: "people are not numbers. To get a sense of identity, you must not only understand your own, but also understand that every person has their identity." Truth is, very few of these surveys or studies actually address the motivations behind online behavior, or the way that innovation and ideas spread over time among people within their own group and beyond.
Having worked in the marketing field for over 16 years, I have always been fascinated by studying the sociology of things, particularly the aspects human interaction that deal with motivation and persuasion: the things that prompt humans to behave in a certain way or respond to certain messages and not others. During my advertising years, I was able to fill in this fascination by attending brand-led focus groups: a form of qualitative research where individuals in a group discuss their perceptions, opinions and attitudes towards a product or brand.
For me, social media has become the modern version of the focus groups of yore. Online, Latinos share their opinions and progressive ideas about the issues that matter most to them: from thoughts on the current economic woes and anti-immigrant rhetoric, to their take on the digital divide and predictions on the future of technology, to other, less pressing topics with varying degrees of banality.
Paying close attention to these conversations will give you the best view at who these individuals are and what makes them tick: they are highly engaged across multiple categories, opinionated, and regularly interact with the most diverse personal networks of friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and acquaintances. They collaborate, crowdsource ideas, magnify messages, create and spread trends. At the same time, they serve as a conduit of information and resources to those in their immediate offline environments, and viceversa. In doing this, they are making hoards of invisible people - the segment of the community that's not online - visible. If that does not define someone as influential, I'm not sure what will.
Latino Online Influence In Context
But this is not yet another 'marketing to/targeting Latinos' article. I'm talking about our community influence in a larger sense. We don't exist in a vacuum, but as part of the greater social context of this country, of the world. As William Shepherd, co-founder and director of MBC, says, when it comes to Latinos or any other ethnicity "it is simple to look at them as one big mass, to only look at their assumed cultural dress or music preferences. Yet, their cultures fit into communities, and each has different needs and wants."
So yes, it'd be too naïve to expect that a community with such heterogeneous backgrounds and interests will ever achieve full-blown unity or oneness of opinions. At the same time, it is also true that social platforms have served as catalysts for increased collaborative mobilization and offline action in the community. An excellent example is that of the Dreamer movement. By creating coalitions nationwide, they have maximized new media to neutralize anti-immigrant hatred and advocate on behalf of the undocumented and their families: influence at its best.
With that in mind, and at the risk of sounding overly optimistic, I'd dare say blogging and social media tools have planted a much-needed seed: a relative unity of purpose for a disenfranchised community that tends to suffer from inner conflict. This is an opportunity for the Latino community to become a new, empowered version of itself: to build upon and preserve its identity while looking outward and exerting its influence among the greater human community of which we are part.
Conversely, the cultural stories and identity images we share online may lead others examine deep-seated assumptions about who we are and learn to genuinely appreciate our culture. At least that is my hope. Let's face it, while raising awareness amongst our own is undeniably important, equally crucial is for the rest of America and the world to see and understand all facets of the Latino experience.
Our job as individuals and as a community is nowhere nearly done. The path forward will entail actively developing offline - and inclusive - synergies that maximize our budding collective clout. Despite a glaring absence of Latino voices in the mainstream media debates about the issues that concern us, we now have the chance to step up to the proverbial soap box - not to complain, play the victims or attack one another -but to highlight the hard work, successes and innumerable positive contributions of our community to this country.
Regardless of Klout or Kred scores, regardless of number of likes or followers, we ALL have the chance to blog, tweet, pin and post our way to a whole new Latino narrative, one where we are respected and viewed as human equals on every level - this election year and beyond. And wouldn't that be the ultimate proof of our influence?
What are your thoughts on Latino online influence? Let me know in the comments!