Speaking Same Language Bilingual Web Sites Target Young Hispanics

MYSPACE WILL REMAIN a market leader among all demographics for some time, but newly launched or revamped social networking sites for 2nd- and 3rd-generation Latinos are trying to narrow the gap. Usage will overlap undoubtedly, but that has not stopped new portals from moving forward to lure U.S.-born Hispanics, ages 12 to 34, whose preferred language is English but who still straddle their Latino roots.

For young Hispanics, there are plenty of choices such as Batanga, newcomer elHood, MiGente, VozLatina and ZonaZoom, which says it will offer more sophisticated social networking tools when it debuts at the end of the month.

San Francisco-based LatinosConnected launched in early December to help Hispanics, ages 16 to 35, connect with peers to share their Latino experience, be it good or bad, said founder Veronica Alvarez.

“MySpace is a great community and a great success story of the evolution of online communities,” said the former Yahoo! manager, “but it doesn t have the look and elements that make it feel like a Latino brand. I’m trying to send the message that [LatinosConnected] is a community for Latinos by Latinos.”

As part of her viral marketing efforts, Alvarez often visits online forums attracting bilingual users and invites them to join the community at LatinosConnected. This month, Verizon and the U.S. Army are new advertisers on the site, and she’s already in talks with other brands about specific areas geared to young Hispanics for Valentine’s Day, a busier time for users to connect than the sluggish month of December.

Companies are interested in this demographic, said John Santiago, CEO of Miami-based digital marketing firm Media 8, who called social networking “the talk of the town.” Viral marketing plays a huge part of social networking, he said. “It’s how you do it and staying authentic. [Users] will see right through [anything else]. It’s not advertising, and that’s the big challenge,” he said, though paid ads in controlled environments have increased.

And with so many portals populating the space, the number of eyes is an important part of any site’s longevity.

Jose Marquez, director of digital media for the cable network mun2, has seen a big bump in traffic since relaunching the Web site in September as holamun2.com. The company estimates users have grown 300 percent, crediting TV promotions and strong word-of-mouth. Growth is attributed to engaging original content produced for the portal as well as leveraging video streams and other programming from mun2. “We don’t see MySpace as a competitor,” Marquez said.

With a new multimedia image campaign launching Feb. 15 — the first real PR push — the bilingual network hopes to increase other promotions and create a watercooler effect to draw more users. “But first you have to put something in the water,” Marquez said.

According to the University of Georgia Selig Center for Economic Growth, one in four teens in the U.S. is of Hispanic descent. The Hispanic teen population is expected to grow 62 percent by 2020 compared with 10 percent growth in the number of teens overall.

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