Twitter Taps Into Black And Hispanic Online Communities To Boost Ad Revenue

CREDIT: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Now that it’s a publicly traded company, Twitter is looking to target its black and Hispanic users to generate advertising revenue.

Twitter has been relatively mum about its demographics, especially since users aren’t required to fill out their race or ethnicity in their profile. But compared to the internet as a whole, Twitter boasts more user diversity and interactivity, with 20% more ethnic minority users. It has nearly twice as many black users than Facebook, according to a recent Pew study on social media demographics.

But there’s lots of money to be made as social media use continues to grow. Advertisers currently spend only 3 percent of their $75 billion budgets on black consumers, according to a Nielsen report. However, the black community’s buying power is poised to rise 30 percent, up to $1.3 trillion a year, by 2017. And with 96 percent of young African-American internet users between 18 and 29 using some form of social media, Twitter stands to make a bundle with more targeted ads, according to a Pew telephone survey.

To better hone in on non-white users, Twitter hired a multicultural marketing strategist, Nuria Santamaria, this past December. Advertisers want to know more about how minorities use Twitter, from the sheer number of users to what languages they use to tweet, she told The Wall Street Journal.

Twitter looks at everything from who users follow and who they interact with to what topics they tweet about to get a better picture for advertisers. The social media company even started sharing its initial findings with ad agencies that Hispanics tweet more than other groups, especially when the conversation is about technology.

Santamaria has her sights on Hispanic users because they’re easy to identify when they tweet in Spanish or follow Spanish-language accounts, such as Telemundo. But while Twitter is focusing on capitalizing on its Hispanic users, the bulk of their targeted ad money will come from Black Twitter.

The Washington Post described Black Twitter as “part cultural force, cudgel, entertainment and refuge” for black culture enthusiasts.

And advertisers have already caught on. When promoting the Oscar-nominated movie “12 Years A Slave,” an agency invited Black Twitter users with large followings to a private screening. The aim was to start a Twitter conversation among African Americans, the agency executive told the Journal. That’s because Black Twitter has been behind some of the most viral hashtag memes in recent years. Following the news last year that Paula Deen admitted to using the n-word, Black Twitter gave rise to the #PaulasBestDishes hashtag. The meme became a public indictment of Deen that was also rife with humor.

So why is this the first time that we’re publicly hearing about the significance of minorities in social media? Nitasha Tiku of Gawker’s ValleyWag suggests that despite mounting research on its growing role, “maybe Twitter doesn’t know how to talk about Black Twitter.”

But Twitter’s advertisers must tread carefully with racially targeted campaigns. Historically, minority-targeted ads played into stereotypes rather than starting a conversation. Since before World War II, companies’ ads have used everything from black caricatures or black face to awkward references to black culture and vernacular to draw in African-American consumers.

Beyond the ads themselves, racially-specific marketing can lead to broader problems. For example, tobacco, alcohol, fast food and soda companies have disproportionately focused on black and Latinos, resulting in a greater risk for over-consumption and health problems.