Touchy Territory: Different Ethnicities May Use Social Cause Social Media Differently

Are your social cause social networking habits developed or were you born this way? Key findings from a new survey reveal differences in the way different ethnic groups engage in social change social media.
A few weeks ago Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication released key findings about gender differences in social cause social media. On May 31 2011, they released findings based on the way in which different ethnic groups use social cause social media. The survey was completed by 2000 online participants between November 30th and December 22, 2010. According to the Center for Social Impact, the survey has a margin of error of +/-2.2% at the 95% confidence level

So, does ethnicity matter when it comes to social cause social media? Yes. In fact, the differences are significant. Broadly Hispanics and African-Americans are more likely to support a social cause than their Caucasian counterparts both on and offline.; while only 24% of Caucasians reported supporting social causes, 30% of African Americans and 39% of Hispanics reported being likely to support a social cause.

This trend extends to social media.  According to the study, “African Americans and Hispanics are significantly more likely to believe that they can help get the word out about a social issue or cause through online social networks (58% and 51%, respectively, vs. 34% of Caucasians).” Moreover, African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to believe in the power of social networks to increase visibility. Further, while 21% of Caucasians look to social media for additional sources of information, Hispanics and African Americans report turning to social media more often – 27% and 31% of the time respectively. It follows that African Americans and Hispanics are far more likely than Caucasians to join Facebook groups, contribute to blogs, and provide personal contributions spurred by online campaigns.

One things Americans can agree on is that social cause social media can become overwhelming, resulting in “cause fatigue” (Interestingly, this is also what the genders agreed on in the previous “Key Findings”).  However, where half of Caucasians and Hispanics feel that too many emails related to a particular cause can feel like spam and become frustrating, only 33% of African Americans feel this way.

The survey provides lots of numbers, but what do any of them mean? The differences between ethnicities seem stronger than the differences between genders, and, again, it’s tempting to draw conclusions about particular groups based on the survey. However, one needs to be cautious with sweeping generalizations. How many of each ethnicity group took part in the survey? How significant is an 8% difference between ethnic groups in a 2000 person survey? There are many factors which should be taken into account when considering the survey’s results, but the survey isn’t useless. It still provides hints.

When it comes to social causes more generally, Hispanics and African Americans report that being part of a cause makes them feel like they are part of a community (more so than for Caucasians). Being that social media is essentially about building community, it makes sense that groups who value community would be more positive about the use of social media.  So, one initial finding that is worth further investigation is the way that fostering a sense of community can increase the use and excitement about social cause social media.

Further, charities, particularly charities with very specific target groups, need to use the survey findings to increase their chances of success by amending their social cause social media campaigns to suit the needs of their audience. Much like advertisers, what works for one charity, won’t necessarily work for another, and accounting for the demographic a charity wishes to reach can help optimize the effectiveness of a social media campaign.

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