Digital Diversity 101 at SXSWi

The first thing that struck me as I walked into the session on Mining Diversity was the number of attendees in the room (or lack thereof). A whopping 21 of the 200 seats were filled. Yes, I counted. I then realized the session was classified in the “Better Tomorrow” category. As in, perhaps interest in diversity will be better tomorrow(?) However, since there were so few attendees, the presenter, Trevite Willis, producer at Southern Fried Film Works, was able to greet everyone individually which was a nice and welcoming touch.

She opened the presentation by boldly proclaiming, “My name is Trevite, and I’m your new black friend!” It elicited some laughter from those of us in on the joke, and hesitant courtesy laughter from the more pigmentally-challenged in the audience. As a regular diversity seat-filler, I of course let out a knowing hearty guffaw.

Then came the media pop-quiz. “What are the most read magazines among black audiences?” I have to admit, I was stumped. I actually thought it might have been a trick question. Having worked in media, I remember running across research that stated ESPN has more black viewers than BET. Also, in the Seattle market, FoxSportsNW rated highest among women in a certain age group.

Alas, several (of the 21) audience members correctly shouted out answers as if it were a no-brainer. “Essence!” “Ebony!” “Jet!” “Black Enterprise!” “Uptown!” I was a bit embarrassed to admit I hadn’t even heard of a couple of the magazines, but was impressed by my fellow attendees’ knowledge of ethnic publications. Clearly, certain members of this group were in-the-know and up on their reading.

The session then touched on some basic strategies for connecting with ethnic audiences. She explained that the key is understanding. Learn how to listen to social conversations, then connect emotionally, rationally, or intellectually. She then offered some considerations for creating a diverse work environment, such as hiring people that “don’t look like you”, partnering and cross-promoting with (other) diverse organizations (e.g. gay and lesbian groups), and simply incorporating diverse companies into your supply chain. While these all these points are pretty simple and obvious, they serve as a good reminder and conversation starter for the uninitiated.

A highlight of the presentation were the examples of companies that excel at using digital and social media to connect with diverse audiences. Sears, for example, has a bilingual microsite targeted to their Latino audience. In addition, they use their Facebook page, titled Sears Latino, as a virtual community hub. To solicit engagement, they’ll ask what people’s favorite power tools are. Customers freely respond in both English and en Español.

I decided to do some additional research and check out their site to see how well they addressed localization issues. I did a search for a fairly common word that happens to have a different meaning in Latin America than in Spain. Lo and behold, “Estufa” was automagically (and correctly) translated into “cooking ranges”.

Like a good neighbor, State Farm creates commercials targeted toward Chinese-American customers in both Mandarin and Cantonese. In fact, these commercials proved to be so popular that have spread virally among the community, and a number of them can be found on YouTube.

Unilever has created a healthy-lifestyle web presence called “Vive Mejor”. Decidedly female-skewing, the site features things like beauty tips and recipes. It even features a Facebook “Me gusta” button. The website uses social media to populate an interactive Q&A. The site prompts questions like “Completa la frase: Lo major de ser mujer es …” (Complete the sentence: The best part of being a woman is … ) Naturally the first answer that appears is “ser mama”. The website does a good job of appealing to cultural touchpoints to make participation in digital communities more accessible.

Proctor & Gamble has taken the idea of the African-American neighborhood beauty shop online with myblackisbeautiful.com. Also integrated with Facebook, users can read and post articles and tips from other customers.

Trevite pressed the need to consider not just standard demographic data, but also qualitative and psychographic research. Companies such as Claitas use segmentation to identify general-market consumers in different social strata, life stages, and purchase cycles. Ethnic communities had the additional complexities of degrees of acculturation (assimilation), e.g recent immigrants, bi-cultural, and fully acculturated. As someone who was born in the US to naturalized citizens, ethnic marketing probably wouldn’t have the same impact on me as it might on a limited-English proficient consumer.

In all, the content of the presentation to be pretty basic. However, I shudder to think how many times Trevite Willlis has delivered this same presentation to groups who have never heard of these concepts. In any case, it was most interesting to see how companies have used research and digital technology and social media to create online communities.

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