African-Americans Lead in the Digital Age

African-Americans Lead in the Digital Age

Experts weigh in on the considerable power African-American consumers wield in the age of social media.

Published September 28, 2011

The second annual Digital Summit in New York City on Wednesday was a meeting of some of the most powerful minds in advertising, marketing and social media. BET Networks, Facebook and AT&T were among the brands taking part in the discussion about how African-Americans have changed the game — and why more brands should take notice.


The strides for African-Americans in the Digital Age have been great: A recent Georgetown University study found that when compared to whites and Latinos, African-Americans were more likely to engage with and learn about social issues and causes through platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Black adults are the most active users of the mobile web, and their use is growing at a faster pace than mobile Internet use among white or Latino adults, the Pew Center reports in another study. With these facts staring them in the face, it would be natural to assume big brands would work double time to connect with African-American consumers.


Experts say that isn’t yet the case.


“Brands should be paying more attention to how to target multicultural communities than they are,” said Kay Madati, Entertainment Marketing Strategy Lead at Facebook, during the discussion. Madati added that African-Americans are usually the first to try new media. Brands that don’t recognize this, and are using social media to drive business, are missing invaluable opportunities, he said. Facebook does not provide users a box to designate their race or ethnicity because that is not a part of the company’s ethos, Madati added, and that is unlikely to change.


In fact, targeting consumers based on race and ethnicity is an antiquated practice that has no place in today’s diverse digital climate, said Richard Cruz, a marketer with Pepsi Beverage Company’s Cultural Branding group.


However, as Laura Hernandez, executive director of Multicultural Marketing at AT&T, noted, brands will use platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to tailor messages and promotions for specific interests, such as when AT&T recruited recording star Common for its 28 Days campaign, an initiative celebrating Black History Month. Brands have to get more creative and they have to be genuine when targeting multicultural groups, she said. The trend now is learning the interests of the consumer and building a relationship that will keep them coming back, Hernandez said.


Alex Iskold, founder and CEO of, the social media network that rewards fans for “checking in” with their favorite TV shows, movies, music and books with special promotions, echoed that sentiment: “The most important thing to understand is that social media is powered by people.”


Written by Britt Middleton


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