The differences, and their implications for marketers trying to reach online Hispanics, go beyond just the choice of English or Spanish and influence online behavior, such as the kinds of sites visited and the length of time spent with other media. And better understanding of the way Hispanics go back and forth between English- and Spanish-language sites extends marketers' opportunities to target them.
"Now [that] we know this market is online, [we wanted to determine] what are the segments and usage patterns," said Mark Lopez, publisher, AOL Latino. "The big message here is the Hispanic online audience is bicultural in nature. They're consuming content in both languages that appeals to their passion points. There are differences in content consumption and time spent online."
Three levels of acculturation
The AOL Latino 2006 Hispanic Cyberstudy divides Latinos into three levels of acculturation. The mostly acculturated, who have lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, and the partially acculturated, in the U.S. for at least several years, make up 82% of Hispanics online, according to the survey. The least acculturated are recent immigrants, accounting for 18% of respondents.
According to the study, mostly or partially acculturated respondents tend to prefer online content in English, but nearly 40% also find Spanish-language content appealing. Of the unacculturated segment, 37% prefer both languages. Among all online Hispanics surveyed, just 15% prefer Spanish only.
One of the clearest distinctions in internet behavior lies in the content consumed. Mostly acculturated Hispanics are more likely to visit websites in areas like finance, entertainment and nutrition, while unacculturated Hispanics spend more time with sites that offer news from Latin America, as well as sports websites about soccer.
The survey also measured changes over the last two years in how Hispanic consumers use the internet to evaluate brands. In this year's research, 68% of respondents agreed the internet is the best source of information for making a final brand decision, compared to 51% in a similar AOL study two years ago. And 72% of online Hispanics use the internet to compare prices of products, compared to 59% in 2004.
As in the general market, where users often watch TV while online, nearly half of mostly and partly acculturated Hispanics watch TV while online, compared to just one-third of unacculturated Hispanics. In general, online Hispanics spend an average of 12.4 hours a week watching English-language TV and 7.7 hours watching Spanish-language TV, the study found.
"In the online space, content consumption follows the patterns we see in other media," Mr. Lopez said. "What's key for the internet is that we can follow those users as they go across languages. If someone goes from AOL Latino to an English search in Moviefone, we can follow them and market to them. We extend the Spanish-language session by following users to English-language sites."
Mr. Lopez said many of AOL Latino's advertisers have been using behavioral targeting for the last year, using data aggregated from following Hispanic users from Spanish-language to English-language sites. That also lets marketers test ads in different languages. Some advertisers prefer to leave the Spanish-language creative, and others test the same creative in English and Spanish, he said. Others have different Spanish and English-language creative and test both.
"The goal of the study is to uncover more information about bicultural Hispanics who go back and forth," Mr. Lopez said.
He said Spanish will continue to be critical as some passion points work best for many people in Spanish, and AOL Latino is also developing original bilingual and English-language programming. For instance, AOL Latino's first online short-film festival for Hispanics, "Festival de Cine Corto," specifies that films must have either a Hispanic director or culturally relevant content, but the language can be either Spanish or English.
The study was conducted by research firm Synovate's Diversity Group from a sample of 502 phone interviews during July 2006 of Hispanics over the age of 18 who use the internet.
Active social networkers
In other findings, Hispanics are active social networkers. According to the study, 68% use instant messaging, 63% share photos online, 52% read or post blogs, 43% visit social-networking sites and 40% use the internet to talk on the phone.
AOL Latino's biggest advertisers include Verizon, Ford Motor Co., General Motors Corp., DaimlerChrysler and Sprint.