By Jorge Martinez, Director, LatinoEyes
When C+R first began conducting Hispanic research, one of the difficulties was finding participants. The methods we were using within the general population were not effective. We would turn to dedicated recruiters who were wired in to the local Hispanic communities to find focus group participants. At times, they would shepherd the participants to the facility as a group in a van. It was complicated and dicey.
We have been slowly been moving away from such unusual tactics. And, it is with a good deal of excitement that we read the latest report from the Pew Research's Hispanic Center indicating that the Hispanic population in the US is closing the "digital divide." Hispanics' use of the internet (78%) ids equal to that of the African American community and now approaches the level (87%) of the white population. Their use of the internet (86%) is almost equal to that of non-Hispanic whites (90%) and edges above African-Americans (84%).
What is most interesting about Hispanics as they cross the digital divide is that they are in the vanguard of the transition to mobile. A higher proportion of them (76%) access the internet with a cellphone or other handheld device than whites (60%), and even slightly more than African-Americans (73%). And for a variety of reasons, they are more likely to live in cellphone only households (47%) than either African Americans (38%) or non-Hispanic whites (30%).
So, it is clear that efforts to understand the tastes, preferences, and attitudes of today's Hispanics can take place in the digital space and, increasingly, in the mobile leading edge of that world. But, doing so will still require keeping in mind some of the basic principles we have observed exploring the Hispanics community with more conventional means.
- Hispanic participants still need to be given language options when they participate in a survey or an online community. It is important to remember that fluency in either language does not define Hispanic identity, and that research with Hispanics does not mean that research must be done exclusively in Spanish. Self-perceptions of language ability do not always match actual competency. Some desire to use Spanish even beyond the limits of their actual competency. It may even make sense in a qualitative environment to allow participants to move back and forth between English and Spanish guided by moderators who are equally fluid.
- We still need to be attentive and accommodate contextual and cultural differences within the Latino community. Even though Spanish may be the common language the range of linguistic and cultural variation is considerable and can present even more of a problem in a communications medium that feels as casual as "mobile."
- Our experience conducting qualitative research suggests how important relationships and the social dynamic are within the Hispanic community. When interacting with Latinos in a digital environment, we need to provide space for this interpersonal dynamic if we are going to generate meaningful insights.
Online methods may not be appropriate for all research into the Hispanic community. More traditional, face-to-face approaches are still required for reaching older, unacculturated Hispanics. Yet, we are now in an era when digital approaches can be as successful with Hispanic respondents and with any other group.