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Reaching Out to Hispanics: What Government Agencies Need to Know

Rock Creek Strategic Marketing co-founder and principal Scott Johnson recently had a conversation with Carla Briceño of Bixal about what government agencies need to know when it comes to reaching out to Hispanic audiences. The blog post below is an overview of their discussion.

People of the Internet, take note: The Hispanic online audience is growing more than 50% faster than the rest of the overall U.S. population. Hispanics now make up more than 11% of the total online population in the U.S. And for the first time, the U.S. Hispanic audience online has reached more than 20 million users. With numbers like these, it's easy to see why government agencies, private-sector businesses and nonprofits are interested in reaching out to this important demographic.

But successfully reaching out to Latinos takes skill and a strong understanding not just of the Spanish language, but also of the Hispanic culture. We recently spoke with Carla Briceño of Bixal, author of the Online Hispanic Trends blog and an expert in Hispanic trends. She took some time to share with us advice for government agencies interested in better serving their Latino audience online.

Understand Their Unique Characteristics
There is a huge age discrepancy between the Hispanic and non-Hispanic online audiences. “The Hispanic audience differs from the 'average' online audience because it is considerably younger; in fact, more than 63% of online Hispanics are younger than 35,” noted Briceño. “It's easy to see the benefits of gaining and keeping the attention of a Latino audience.”

However, Briceño warns, even though the audience skews toward the younger end of the spectrum, it is otherwise very diverse, made up of a variety of cultures and dialects that require sensitivity and understanding. “It isn't one homogenous market--you have people from many different countries with very different cultural backgrounds,” says Briceño. For example, the Hispanic culture is made up of a variety of different groups, and website visitors from Mexico are radically different than website visitors from Cuba. Briceño recommends government agencies work with formal or informal focus groups representing a variety of different Hispanic cultures before undertaking a project targeting Hispanics.

Briceño also advises government agencies to avoid machine translation. “For government agencies wanting to take even the most basic steps toward creating a bilingual presence, concentrate first on creating a publicly accessible website that includes human-translated (versus machine-translated) content. This shows your readers that you value them enough to speak to them in a way that is grammatically and culturally correct.”

Briceño points to the work of GSA when highlighting a Federal agency that is taking the right approach. “When it comes to reaching out to Latinos, Bev Godwin, Leilani Martinez and Velmarie Caraballo deserve a big round of applause for their groundbreaking work on GobiernoUSA.gov, the Spanish-language version of the USA.gov website that offers Hispanic citizens access to government information, services, and resources.” It's not a word-for-word translation, says Briceño, “but instead, it takes the opportunity to highlight topics and provide information of particular interest to the Hispanic audience, and better serves that audience in the process.”

Let Unique Needs Inform Design
Being that most government agencies are limited in their ability to invest a large amount of money in creating different versions of their sites for each ethnic group in the U.S., Briceño realizes that most agencies won’t be able to create sites and campaigns that completely deviate from their general market preference. However, government agencies can and should invest in understanding and meeting the unique needs, interests, and cultural factors of their Hispanic audience segments, just as they should understand the needs, interests and demographics of their general market audience.

“It is important to develop personas and conduct iterative usability testing with Hispanics to ensure that your visual design and site architecture meet their needs,” notes Briceño. “There are differences in the level of acculturation that U.S. Latinos have, and it is important that the design is intuitive to all of these levels.” Briceño reminds government agencies to keep these unique needs in mind when developing subsites, social media campaigns or other online elements. “And don't forget the power of ongoing usability testing and metrics to inform a program of continuous improvement,” reminds Briceño.

Briceño says that the FDIC has done an excellent job of creating a subsite that speaks directly to a Latino audience. Earlier in 2009, as the economy still struggled and banks continued to fail, the FDIC launched a website called FDICseguro.gov that is aimed at reassuring Hispanics that their money is safe in FDIC-insured financial institutions. According to Briceño, FDICseguro.gov does many things quite well. “Rather than simply redoing an existing campaign from English into Spanish, they created specific elements that were geared toward the Hispanic audience. In fact, two of the videos on their site, which are also posted on the FDIC YouTube channel, feature Julie Stav, a well-know Hispanic financial expert and educator, while Suzi Orman was the spokesperson featured in the English-language version of the videos. Using an expert that is already recognized within the Hispanic community goes a long way toward connecting with them, and is exponentially more effective than just dubbing a Spanish-translation video,” Briceño asserts.

“Similarly, Servir.gov, the Spanish-language version of Serve.gov, covers many of the same topics but also offers up Hispanic-focused content. On the Servir.gov homepage, the featured video, in Spanish, shows former NY Yankee’s pitcher Mariano Rivera talking about the importance of service. This is different content than what is up on Serve.gov (which features the 2009 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service at the moment) and is an indication that the site's creators have truly considered the needs and interests of their audiences,” Briceño says.

Understand Where They Are on the Internet and Mobile
Briceño's research shows that the Hispanic audience overindexes when it comes to visiting social media sites and accessing online entities via mobile devices. Understanding these nuances will help guide government agencies interested in spreading their message to Hispanics within the U.S. “It's imperative that site developers, designers and educational outreach coordinators understand just how important sites like Facebook and YouTube are to the Hispanic audience,” says Briceño. “Currently, there are more than 10 million Spanish-preferring Hispanics on Facebook, YouTube and other sites. They access the Internet more from their phones than via computers. Agencies interested in truly taking the message to this audience must understand this reality and plan accordingly.”

One reason why Hispanics are so interested in social media, asserts Briceño, is that there “is a lack of high quality content for the U.S. Hispanic market, especially content in Spanish. To a large extent, this is why Hispanics are so into social media, because they are able to create their own personalized content. Many companies and government agencies don’t see the opportunity…yet. Those that do will be far ahead of the curve.”

Briceño suggests that government agencies consider partnering with sites that already enjoy a large amount of Hispanic traffic, as a way to develop their reach. “By reaching out to Latinos online in places where they already congregate—including home country sites that Latinos continue to visit--it will be easier for government agencies to spread their messages in an environment that is already comfortable and well-received.”

Use Tactics To Reach Those Who Are Offline Through Those Who Are Online

Another outreach tactic that Briceño advises government agencies consider is to provide younger Hispanics with information that is easy to share with their family members and friends who may not have access to the Internet, or who may not feel comfortable going online. “PDFs, downloadable quizzes, brochures and other resources that are ready to print should be elements of online campaigns aimed at the Latino audience. When creating these resources, designers are advised to keep a keen understanding of the language and literacy levels of those who are offline,” Briceño concluded.

Want to continue the conversation? Join us at the Hispanic Engagement Group.

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