August 30, 2010

Evidence is growing to show that the infamous “digital divide”—the gap between technical haves and have-nots—is narrowing within the black community. Marketers that have put off digital campaigns targeting this demographic group are slipping further behind those that realized the potential this audience presents.

eMarketer estimated that nearly 64% of the black population is online in 2010—an estimate made in early 2010, based on the data then available. That percentage represents 24.2 million blacks.

Since then, the Pew Internet & American Life Project’s “Teens and Mobile Phones” report found in April that black teens were more than twice as likely as whites to go online on their mobile phones, at 44% vs. 21%. In May, Edison Research’s “Twitter Usage in America: 2010” survey found that African-Americans make up nearly a quarter of the US Twitter population, twice their share of the total US population. In Pew’s “Home Broadband 2010” report, released in August, penetration rates were virtually stagnant at about 66% of US adults, compared with 63% in April 2009. However, blacks were a major exception, as their home broadband penetration rate rose 22%—closing to just 11 percentage points within the white population.

comScore data for July shows this audience is young: 56% were between 18 and 44 years of age, and an additional 20.7% were under 18. By contrast, comScore data from January 2010 for all US internet users showed that a similar 21% were between 2 and 17, but only 49.3% were between 18 and 44.

Marketers who use mostly traditional media to reach this audience are missing a young, active audience in the digital space. New information from The Media Audit’s “National Report” showed that the internet now plays a significant role in African-American households, where 32.5% of adults’ media time was spent online in the course of a typical day. Although television consumption was higher, at 35.2% of adults’ daily media time, the internet still received far more attention than radio and newspapers.

As the US Census Bureau begins to publish data from the decennial census, the numbers of black internet users may be revised even higher. But the data available today from many research sources shows marketers shouldn’t wait for the government to confirm that this is a vital digital market.

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