24 February 2012

TEDx San Juan: Giovanni Rodríguez - Part One

Sometimes an interview unleashes so many angles and threads that bringing it together in one article is either an exercise in futility, unintended censorship, cherry-picking (a form of intended censorship almost indistinguishable from editing) or an article so long it becomes practically unreadable.

In the case of My conversation with Giovanni Rodríguez, social media expert, I chose to follow part of the tapestry of topics We created in one post and come back to other parts of the tapestry later.

So here We go, with Part One of Our conversation with the Parranda Man.

Giovanni is the Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer for Deloitte Postdigital Enterprise (enabling government and business to better engage with employees, consumers, and citizens), a founding board member of LATISM and serves as advisor to the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. He's also a blogger for Forbes Magazine and ClickZ. His presentation at TEDx San Juan was about the power of social media and its connection with the growing power of Hispanics.

A key point to grasp about Giovanni is that he is very much Puerto Rican, although Bronx-born and despite having not visited the Island for a couple of decades. The connection? Family. The daily give-and-take of culture and mores that make up a national feeling. That's why Giovanni's return to Puerto Rico was--in his words--such a seminal moment, for he understood the deeply-felt connection that people can have with their homelands, that yearning to go back someday.

This insight helped Giovanni recast his work in a different light, more about the connecting and less about the technology aspect. In his work, scanning and analyzing approaches to Hispanics, Giovanni has seen a change based on non-Hispanic realization that Mexicans are not Puerto Ricans are not Cubans. "Hispanics" are not all one people, and yet within that variety, there exists commonalities, primarily centered on education and immigration. (Not applicable to Puerto Ricans, but We get lumped into the debate in other ways.)

The commonalities are such that often an attack on one Hispanic group causes a ripple effect of support from other nationalities, a form of "We demand respect" unity that has profound and far-reaching repercussions. Giovanni pinpointed that reality by coining the term "metatribe" to describe what happens with Hispanic variety/commonality.

The fact is that Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the U.S. of part of A. and by 2050 could exceed being 33% of the nation's population. With that increase in numbers comes a consequent rise in buying power, as businesses have noted...and a rise in voting power, as Democrats and Republicans have noted.

It is fair and accurate to say that Barack Obama's rise to the presidency was fueled by cutting-edge integration of the Internet and social media...and Hispanic voters. The support generated by savvy new media strategies and get-out-the-vote grassroots campaigning was enormous, but the power of Hispanic votes was vital in major key states.

As Giovanni points out, it still is: the first ads of the 2012 campaign--of both parties--were targeted at Hispanic/Latino (choose your term) voters...and one was in Spanish. Imagine: a U.S. of part of A. presidential campaign ad not in English. Eso es poder, compadre.

However, Giovanni noted that the parties differ greatly in their approaches. By philosophy, the Democratic Party is more compatible with most Hispanics (Cubans being a notable exception), with the party's emphasis on broadening immigration quotas, social services, education and minority rights. The Republican Party, currently spearheading a wide series of anti-immigration laws, is seen as anti-Hispanic. Toss in their focus on reducing social services and education for minorities and you have the makings of a very interesting media experiment in "whitewashing" a party's image for a primary voter group in 2012.

For both parties, Giovanni says, the key is to merge offline and online activities. The Obama 2008 campaign success was built on that merging, but time and technology have created a greater potential platform with the concomitant greater reward/risk factor. Hispanics are very keen users of social media (ranking first in Facebook, a close second on Twitter and again first in average cell phone usage), so the improved platform allows for faster, more focused and responsive organization.

Two recent examples of this new paradigm are the reaction to a perceived slur on ABC's now-defunct "Work It"--galvanizing Puerto Ricans and Hispanics to protest vehemently and effectively--and the Susan G. Komen Foundation fallout after the breast cancer awareness group chose to stop supporting Planned Parenthood. Both ABC and the Komen Foundation were forced to back down from the fallout--and unlike previous "retractions"--these were clearly not based on profit losses, but solely on the public image of their new (recast) positions.

Giovanni said that the Hispanic's growing population, power and presence needs to be understood in order for the conversation it engenders to be guided and molded. He wasn't speaking about "manipulating" Hispanics, but about the communities themselves grasping what their power is, how they can use it and on what issues they can best take advantage of that power. In classical terms of realpolitik, Giovanni is describing the "It isn't power if you don't use it" and the "Fringe groups must move to the center to consolidate power" tenets.

If that sounds menacing, then you haven't understood what it is all based on. As Giovanni discussed, the technology that enables and enhances social media is available to "everyone" (keep this in mind; another angle below), and what it has done is to take what was once "limited" and given access to all. In the past, publishers, newspapers, radio and TV had unique channels they controlled: now We have blogs, self-publishing, aggregators, YouTube, podcasts, Twitter, Facebook and 24/7 access to the world in Our hands. The growing power of Hispanics in this new world is built on the growing power We all have. That means We all have a responsibility to use that power wisely, and Giovanni is at the forefront of that movement.

And yet, not "everyone" is equal: there does exist a digital divide, a chasm between the haves and have-nots in terms of technology and Internet access. At first, that digital divide was structured around economic classes, poor versus rich. Technology and Internet access is now so cheap and ubiquitous that the digital divide is reframed as "levels of use," non-user versus power user. And as Giovanni wrote about a year ago, guess who leads the nation in "power use"?

Again, the implications are enormous. If the education divide between minorities/poor and  the non-minority/wealthy (very real, very pernicious) continues, but the digital divide "flips" the equation, what does that mean for the nation's future? An obvious point: most of the content is non-Hispanic in origin, so crossing this "digital divide" into content production is a key step. What would a more "Hispanic" Web or social media environment be like? What would it mean for marketers, businesses, industries and consumers? What would it mean in terms of public debate and policy?

Neither those questions nor a responsible conversation on the use of this growing power will happen unless commitments are made and kept. Giovanni is working with LATISM and the White House to partner with communities and organizations nationwide to develop that broad-based, effective network for the future. In essence, the focus is on learning to navigate what is an often confusing mélange of data, trends, technologies and opinions. It is the landscape of the early 21st century, it is disruptive and chaotic...and yet it is created by Us. Non-participation won't change it. Only by actively and intelligently slicing and dicing can anyone have a true impact. In Giovanni's words, "Even a tiny slice can yield great results...the challenge is to figure out how and how to do it consistently."

There's more to this topic and a whole new set of topics touched on and discussed by Giovanni that will become posts here in the near future. For now, keep this in mind: the event that galvanized and launched an entirely new social media reality with truly global implications is happening again this year: the Presidential elections. Only this time, the toolkit is larger, the strategies are sharper, the stakes are higher and Hispanics are bigger players on this stage.

And Giovanni is spotlighted on that stage. Cool, huh?

The Jenius Has Spoken.

[Update: 7 March 2012: From Foreign Policy, an eye-opening examination of how the Republican Party is driving Hispanic votes towards Presdient Obama.]


Raul Colón said...


I usually agree with you on many aspects but here. I think Gio did a terrible job at bringing any substance or anything that could be useful during his Ted Talk.

Like others that call themselves Social Media Experts which is a term that on most occasions applies to people who forget about the aspects of social like caring about those around you and supporting their efforts.

I have interacted on very few times online with Gio and I don't know him. But on the other side I have to say that he took more time on stage than what alloted and made more of a sales pitch of Latism than actual value I could get ouf of his speech.

Instead of looking for a way of leveraging what is being done here he was trying to push the mess that most so called latino organizations have in the U.S. trying to control Social Media.

Which is not controllable.

If you don't live on the Island or have not been in touch with it and then choose to give priority to what is happening on the outside without evaluating what happens here then I certainly have no admiration for you.

GCSchmidt said...

Raúl, I agree that Giovanni did go over his allotted time, by quite a bit. I didn't sense he was pushing LATISM over everything else, but he did mention it in several ways. I think Giovanni's possible "blind spot" about what's happening in PR is due more to his not having been to the Island in decades than to willful ignorance. And although I'm one of the first to stand up and say "Hey! What about Us here?", I don't see that Our social media scene is all that significant to national interests, or that We actually strive to become part of that conversation.

Now on that, I might be wrong because I am not a social media swimmer; in that sense, I'm more of a dragonfly (flitting above the water, sometimes dipping into it...to bite something.) Giovanni spoke about what he knows and does in his environment and I feel it is up to Us to educate him on what's going on in Our environment (which We both see as separate.) We also have to educate him and others on what can be done here and from here in terms of social media leveraging.

As for Latino organizations "up there," I agree they are a mess. Maybe it's Our perspective, because We are citizens, but most Latino organizations tend to focus on immigration issues that mean nothing to Us (except to slam Dominicans every once in a while.) I don't see any organization truly pushing Puerto Rican issues, except status and welfare benefits. Again, I might be wrong: I'm not an expert in this area. But since We see a problem--and I know you're not the only one to see this--then it's up to Us to do something positive about it.

So here's My initial contribution: help Me identify what is going on locally and nationally that deserves more attention. In essence, point Me in what you feel is the right direction and I'll take off like a guided missile. I'm certain to hit several targets head-on and maybe uncover some new things We can all benefit from.


Raúl Colón said...


I guess the Social Media scene should be seen as global not only to focus on the interest of one side or the other. I guess creating groups and awards can divide instead of uniting.

Overall maybe it is might fault since I identify with a cause not with groups of people (who in many occasions act like they are after a cause but they are more into themselves getting something out of the effort).

I have had so many bad experiences with some people in those organizations I rather stay away from them and not mention them much less promote them.

Maybe we can sit down and finally meet in person and talk about a few of these issues and how we can create awareness on possible causes.

Giovanni Rodriguez said...

It's never pleasant to be criticized publicly, but I do appreciate the candor. I'd rather know what people think. Social media allows that to happen, and it's one reason I have chosen this vocation.

Re: going over the allotted time, I was surprised to learn that. But you are right, Raul. I spoke with one of the conference organizers, and he confirmed that. No one to blame here but me. All I can say is that it had nothing to do with lack of respect for the audience. More to do with lack of sleep, I am sure. But I can see how it may have come off as disrespectful or ungracious. I apologize for that.

As for the content, I am sad that it may have come off as a commercial for LATISM or any of the other projects I am working on. Really was not meant that way. My talk was about my personal journey as a communications consultant and how the journey has helped me discover real causes and real people who are genuinely interested in helping Latinos help themselves, not telling them what to do. I did not speak about Puerto Ricans in social media not because I do not honor their efforts -- I do -- but because I am not yet a part of that community and only wanted to speak about what I know. But since then, a number of Puerto Ricans on the island have reached out and are helping me find a way to give back. It's a huge gift, and I am grateful for it. Hope we can continue talking.