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Why English-language content for Latinos is the future

Photo by jgoge/Flickr (Creative Commons)

It's becoming difficult to keep track of how many media companies have made the same announcement lately: We're launching a website/television network/social media campaign for a Latino audience, but in English.

Just in the last year-plus we've seen the launch of English-language digital ventures like Fox News Latino and HuffPost Latino Voices. A partnership between the latter and AOL has been involved in launching Spanish-English hyperlocal Patch Latino sites.

This week brought reports that Univision and Disney were working together to produce a 24-hour news channel for Latinos in English. It also brought the launch of Voxxi, a English-language website for "acculturated Latinos" headed by an editor from Spain's EFE news agency. It's one of a host of English-language sites, some more professional than others, that have launched in the past couple of years with the goal of reaching, well, acculturated Latinos.

There are other ventures in the works, most with an emphasis on digital content. What gives, and why now? Giovanni Rodriguez is a social-technology and marketing expert with Deloitte Consulting who studies and writes about the Latino media market. In a short piece last week for Forbes, he wrote about how media companies are "beginning to gain a finer grasp of the Latino population," including their language and engagement preferences. Here, he provides details.

M-A: The trend started as a trickle a few years ago, but now it’s huge: Media companies providing content for Latinos, but in English. Why is this happening now?

Rodriguez: What's happening is that media companies and the businesses that support them - i.e., brands - are beginning to understand both the opportunities and complexities of the Latino digital market.

The opportunities stem from the fact that Latinos currently outperform most other ethnic groups in digital technology adoption. More of us - as a percentage of our general group - congregate on social networks, buy smartphones, click on ads, etc. The complexities come from the sheer diversity of the Latino market. There are huge cultural differences between Cubans in Miami and Puerto Ricans in New York. And some of us prefer English, while others prefer Spanish.

But the growing numbers of Latinos who prefer English is fascinating to both media companies and brands. A language that not only binds young Latinos - the future of America - from different homelands but also with the general population, well, that's a powerful tool for reaching a new population at scale.

The decision to reach out to this audience is marketing-driven, of course. How did advertisers come about their awareness of this audience? How much more attractive is the English-speaking Latino audience as a media market than the Spanish-speaking audience? And what took so long? We’ve been around a while.

Rodriguez: True, it does feel like the interest in English has come all of a sudden. But in fact, the market has been moving in this direction over the last few years. Fox launched its English-language site Fox News Latino back in 2010, just weeks before the mid-term congressional elections. And there were several, though less visible, experiments in English-language content before that.

Still, there is a new development that's worth noting. The most recent launches - by Univision, Disney and NBC - are in part the outcome of the new attention that Latino digital is enjoying by digital influencers. The big marketing trade publications are all following the emerging power of Latinos online and media companies are taking notice.

As to the appeal, we know we can speak to each other in English. Whatever can’t do in Spanish, we will do in English. It's easier to connect. You can speak Spanish sometimes, but you speak English so you can connect with the larger world. There are a lot of Latinos who want to connect with the larger world and on the Internet, that larger world is in English. They can play in the larger world and still remain Latino.

I think you just have greater reach, too, because there are other people who are interested in Hispanic topics. Still, it's important to remember that the Latino media market is not monolithic. There's a huge Latino population that prefers Spanish, and they are just as savvy as their English-preferring brethren. Ariel Coro's Tu Tecnología is a good example. He reaches a very broad audience that's interested in tech products and innovation.

M-A: You wrote in Forbes recently of the appeal of Spanglish. Some outside this audience might object to it, but you mentioned that it’s appealing for “people who might prefer English but like to remind themselves and others where they are from.” ¿Puedes explicar? Is there an authenticity component?

Rodriguez: As we all know, there are lots of Latinos who easily navigate from English to Spanish, from Spanish to English. It's natural for them. But it's painfully obvious when Spanglish is unnatural. I wouldn't advise a marketer to speak in Spanglish unless it made sense (the right message, the right messenger, and the right context). But it always makes sense for media companies to create content in the language that's most compelling to consumers.

Increasingly, that language is neither pure Spanish, nor pure English, but something in between. For many of us, being Latino means being in between, so it's fitting that Spanglish emerge as our lingua franca.

M-A: With so many media entities competing for this audience now, there will be some who have the magic formula and some who don’t. What do you think will be key to success? And can you name some ventures that are succeeding (and some that need improvement)?

Rodriguez: Success starts with recognition of a fact that the entire media industry is finally beginning to accept: It is no longer in control. To paraphrase social media pioneer Dan Gillmor, the people "formerly known as the audience" is now in charge.

But there are things you can do to leverage the trend, rather than oppose it. Focus on topics that matter to Latinos. Ask them to create and share content. Better yet, get them engaged in setting a strategy for your organizations.

I don't like heaping praise on media companies who "get it," but the trend toward enabling non-professional contributors to extend the long tail of content is very encouraging. IMO, we're just beginning to experiment with this model, and that favors those who learn fast, fail fast, and adjust. In the meantime, there are plenty experiments in motion - like the ones you note at the top of this Q&A - that we all can learn from, modify, or subvert.

These are the salad days of Latino digital media. Enjoy.