Building Stronger Connections with Spanish-Speaking Americans

El Pais, Claudio Álvarez

The United States is second only to Mexico in the total number of Spanish speakers living within its borders. Data from the Instituto Cervantes shows, in 2015, the U.S. was home to more than 41 million native Spanish speakers and an additional 11.6 million who are bilingual. That 53 million, which has surely since grown, is roughly equal to the combined populations of Florida, New York and Illinois. By 2050, the number of Spanish-speakers in the U.S. is expected to nearly triple.

With this enormous and rapidly expanding demographic, change in communication trends are a guarantee. Companies, organizations and governments communicating in the U.S. must double down on their efforts to better connect with this population if they are to earn their business, recognition and trust.

Just last week, Amazon announced it would begin testing Spanish-speaking Alexas in the U.S. this year. Spanish-language podcasting has seen a boom in the last two years, comparable to that of English-language podcasting in the early 2010s.

Pew Research Center

As we continue to see brands, media outlets and politicians (the 116th Congress has a record 43 Hispanic members, up from 19 in 2001) strive to be more representative of the Spanish-speaking community, it’s also incumbent upon communicators to ensure we’re thoughtfully and effectively connecting with these millions of Americans.

According to 2018 Nielsen data, the average age of Latinos in the U.S. is just 27. By comparison, non-Hispanic whites come in at an average age of 42. As a result of this younger demographic, Nielsen tells us Latinos in the U.S. are nine percent more likely to own a smartphone, 11% more likely to own a game console and 13% more likely to own a smartwatch than non-Hispanic Whites. 2019 Pew research tells us that, while Facebook use is essentially equal, Hispanics are 18% more likely to use Instagram, seven percent more likely to use both YouTube and Snapchat and four percent more likely to use Twitter than U.S. whites. Finally, recent data shows troubling levels of trust of both the media and business among the Hispanic population.

There are many takeaways from this data, but two key themes are particularly apparent and should be kept in mind when designing Spanish-focused communication programs.

  1. Digital has to come first
  2. Authenticity is key

Given higher levels of social media use and lower levels of trust in traditional media, brands and organizations that wish to gain favor with U.S. Spanish-speakers should meet them where they’re spending their time. Social media is one of the best ways to do that. Further Nielsen research tells us that Hispanics in the U.S. are in search of “brand experiences that are tailored, multi-faceted, with 360° touchpoints.” By leveraging social media, particularly tools like Facebook and Instagram Live — U.S. Hispanics spend approximately 66% more time per week watching videos on their smartphone compared to the market as a whole — brands can capture this audience’s attention for enough time to have a shot at better informing them or winning them over.

Winning them over once you have their attention, however, requires authenticity. Whether communicating with Hispanics through an Instagram story or op-ed published in a major Spanish daily like El Sentinel Orlando or El Tiempo Latino (Washington, D.C.), we know incorporating traditional Hispanic values and culture is critical. Organizations should also acknowledge the diverse cultural roots of Spanish-speaking Americans and take the time to understand their intricacies before crafting a message or communications strategy. Using voices the viewer or reader can trust, someone with whom they share a language or common heritage, is one way to work toward this goal.

English alone will not reach all American audiences. As we eclipse 100 million Spanish-speakers in the U.S. over the next thirty years, U.S. companies and communicators must embrace change to remain successful. Higher levels of diversity, not only through a growing Spanish-speaking population, can push us all to be more thoughtful with our words and decisions. From corporate branding to baseline interpersonal communication, this is an opportunity for significant positive progress.