New study shows racial, ethnic differences in social media usage

The biggest buzz from Nielsen and NM Incite’s recent “State of the Media: The Social Media Report 2012” was about their finding that 1/3 of users participate in social networks from the comfort of their bathroom.  And it was probably the least insightful aspect of the report unless you’re a community manager for Charmin.  There were lots of highlights: Google Plus surging past Tumblr in total users (both are growing),  Pinterest’s growth is putting all other social networks to shame, insights about social care, Pinterest demographics, global social media usage, and mobile versus PC growth, social network usage by gender and age….. and toilet tweets.

But for me, the most interesting aspect of the study is how differently users of different races and ethnicity are consuming social media and interacting with social media marketing.

It’s not just Twitter

Earlier this year, Pew Research’s Twitter Use 2012 report reaffirmed the growing chasm between the percentage of African-American Twitter users (28%) and everyone else (12-14%).   This has been the case for years and has no doubt informed some social media marketing strategies.  But the Nielsen report offers some specificity that may be more illustrative.

For instance:

  • Hispanic users spend far more time accessing social networks on their mobile devices (11:13 minutes) than any other racial group (White 7:47, African-American 8:20, Asian 6:42).
  • African Americans access social networks from their PCs more than any other racial or ethnic group, but also are second to Hispanics in mobile access.
  • White women are the dominant demographic on Pinterest, while Asians and African-Americans make up a minuscule percentage of overall users.
  • Despite lower usage than other racial and ethnic groups, Asians are much more likely to share ads, Like ads, purchase products they have seen from ads, and research online purchase offline (ROPO) than any other demographic.  Hispanics also have a higher propensity towards these behaviors than white or African-American users.

Racial segmentation

What this study seems to indicate is that social proclivities deviate based upon race and ethnicity.  I’m not sure that this is an especially actionable report, particularly given the fact that Chinese, Japanese, Indian and other users are segmented together as “Asian,” and that gender differences between different races and ethnicity aren’t broken out.  But, it’s clear that social media use and behavior deviates in these groups (and likely sub-groups).  Marketing to different races and ethnicity on social media needs to be more thoughtful than just a pro forma Facebook page.

That said, Nielsen’s Q3 report showed that African-Americans favored Twitter by a wide margin, but the highest trafficked funeral home in my hometown of Seattle, Serenity Funeral Home (primarily serving the African-American community) is getting most of their traffic from Facebook shares.  (Thanks to Calvin Tolbert for allowing me to share that information  This is anecdotal, but reinforces that there’s no one-size-fits-all marketing solution.

What are your thoughts on social media usage in different racial and ethnic groups?  Is this an important consideration for marketing a business?  Does it have an impact now?  Will it in the future?

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Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.