Twitter Users’ Diversity Becomes an Ad Selling Point

Yoree Koh, Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2014

For most of its rather short life, Twitter Inc. rarely mentioned that its user base is more racially diverse than U.S. Internet users as a whole. Now, as a newly minted public company needing to generate revenue, it is moving to capitalize on its demographics.

In November, Twitter hired marketing veteran Nuria Santamaria to a new position as multicultural strategist, leading its effort to target black, Hispanic and Asian-American users.

Together, those groups account for 41% of Twitter’s 54 million U.S. users, compared with 34% of the users of rival Facebook and 33% of all U.S. Internet users, according to Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project.

Ms. Santamaria says advertisers want to know more about racial and ethnic minorities on Twitter, from basic numbers to the languages in which they tweet. Last month, Twitter began showing ad agencies data from a coming report saying that Hispanics tweet more often than other users and activity among them rises when the conversation is about technology.

Marla Skiko, executive vice president and director of digital advertising at Starcom Media-vest Group’s multicultural division, says some advertisers are surprised to learn the demographics of Twitter users. She says Ms. Santamaria’s hiring will help Twitter attract advertisers that appeal to racial and ethnic groups. Until now, she says, “there hasn’t been a champion internally.” {snip}

Ms. Santamaria is starting with Hispanics. Twitter’s share of Hispanic users roughly parallels the U.S. online population, but it is a fast-growing, increasingly affluent ethnic group.

Hispanics are also more easily identified because of their language. Twitter doesn’t ask users about race or ethnicity but categorizes them into “interests” based on their tweets and whom they follow. A user who follows a Telemundo show or tweets in Spanish would be considered interested in Hispanic culture even if the user isn’t Hispanic.

Other social networks are pursuing similar strategies. Facebook Inc. in November hired an executive from Spanish-language TV network Univision Communications Inc. Facebook is also telling advertisers more details about its 23 million users who have shown an interest in Hispanic culture and making it easier for advertisers to target them. For example, Facebook says its Hispanic users upload more photos and videos, make more comments, and “like” more posts than other users. Hispanics account for 14% of Facebook’s U.S. users, according to Pew, making them the social network’s largest minority group.

Twitter’s strength is among blacks. Roughly 18% of Twitter’s U.S. users are black, according to Pew. That’s nearly twice the 10% of U.S. Internet users who are black and significantly more than the 11% of Facebook users who are black, Pew says. (Facebook has more black users because it has more than three times as many U.S. users as Twitter.)

Among young adults, the disparity is striking. According to a September Pew survey, 40% of black Internet users aged 18-29 use Twitter, compared with 28% of whites in that age group.

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Twitter plays a growing role in Home Depot’s four-year-old “Retool Your School” campaign, which gives grants to historically black colleges for building or renovation, says Monique Nelson, CEO of UniWorld Group, the creative ad agency for Home Depot’s multicultural advertising. For a recent grant, winners were determined partly by the number of mentions of a school on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. There were 143,000 relevant mentions on Twitter, more than 10 times as many as on Facebook or Instagram.

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Twitter has long been known for its popularity among blacks, giving rise to a cultural phenomenon known as “Black Twitter.” Racially tinged hashtags such as #IfSantaWasBlack and #PaulasBestDishes have risen to the top of Twitter’s trending lists. The latter referred to chef and cookbook-writer Paula Deen’s admission last June that she had used racist language.

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