For content owners and brands trying to connect with consumers via social media, matching up to their interests is more critical than their ethnic origins, speakers on a panel at the NAMIC Conference here said.
"The way people have been doing multicultural marketing needs to evolve," said Kay Madati, entertainment strategist in Facebook's global customer marketing group. "As we're having conversations with brands that want to target black or Latino audiences, we're really looking at targeting against brand objectives and incent people to tell stories and engage with the content."
Facebook does not have an option in its user profile to select race or ethnicity. "In the digital space, ethnicity is not a box you check," Madati said.
HBO, for its part, does not explicitly target African-American or Latino audiences through social-media channels, said Sabrina Caluori, the premium network's vice president of social media and marketing.
"We sort of shifted away from targeting based on ethnicity," she said. "Social media has let us shift to likes, and attitudes and interests."
HBO's original series True Blood is the No. 1 scripted cable show for Hispanics, Caluori said -- and the network has never directly targeted Hispanic audiences.
Connecting people to information, people and things that interest them is becoming more important than their demographic makeup, added Ian Schafer, CEO of Deep Focus, a digital media agency focused on consumer engagement whose clients include AMC and Starz Entertainment.
"We're almost moving to a post-demographic targeting world, to psychographic targeting," Schafer said. "It's about the media you consume, rather than being 18-24 with a certain ethnic origin."
J.P. Lespinasse, BET Networks' director of social media, said that connecting with an audience depends largely on being authentic and connecting with consumers using their language.
"Black and Latino communities are interested in everything [the general market is], but they want it in a distinct voice," he said.
All the panelists agreed that social media is a vital way to raise awareness and generate word-of-mouth. Madati, who oversees Facebook's entertainment strategy group out of Los Angeles, cited a Nielsen study -- to be released this week -- showing a clear correlation between social media engagement and an increase in ratings.
Madati pointed to the outstanding ratings for the premiere of CBS's Two and a Half Men, which he said is attributable in large part to the buzz about the high-profile firing of Charlie Sheen from the show: "There's an awareness factor there."
Lespinasse said BET uses social media to provide ancillary content related to a show -- and then listens to see how the audience reacts. "We might even pivot the programming in the television show based on the insights we gain from social," he said.
One of the keys to marketing via social media is that "it's not just about launch and leave," Madati said. "It's how do you sustain the dialogue, how do you create a shadow network in social media that perpetuates the engagement around these kinds of shows."
"It's less about pushing out traditional marketing messages," Madati added. "The real opportunity is introducing your brand to someone who doesn't know about you."
Caluori said "you cannot outsource your social media content creation or management," because that requires intimate knowledge of how to create content on those platforms.
"Every community is different and every platform is different," she said. "Twitter is vastly different from Facebook. True Blood is very different from Boardwalk Empire."
The panel, "Social Media: If Long Form and Marketing Had a Baby," was moderated by Smokey Fontaine, chief content officer at Interactive One, the digital division of TV One and Radio One.
Fontaine noted that people of color overindex on social media, with African-Americans and Latinos representing more than 30% of Twitter users . "That may be why some of the trending topics [on Twitter] seem so urban," he said.