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Still not sold on the effectiveness of connecting with others online? Latin America has the fastest growing internet population in the world, surpassing Asia with a 50% penetration–and that number is growing. Latin America is catching up to bigger and more established markets like Europe and the United States through one vital outlet: social media.

As Latin American social media continues to grow, and shows no signs of stopping. Latin American internet users spend an average of 10 hours on social media a month, five more hours than the world average, with the majority of users fitting into the 18-44 age range. In the region, Facebook dominates as the top social site with over 200 million users across Latin America. This contributes  to a growing engagement with social media year after year.

It’s a known fact social media use is expanding, and companies should join the trend in order to stay connected with customers. However, not many are aware that the magnitude of social media reaches beyond marketing; Latin America is a perfect example of the social activism movement online. With the numbers constantly growing, it’s clear that Latin Americans are  vocal people who will use online social platforms to voice their concerns, opinions, and comments on current events.

The power of social media in Latin America is unstoppable. Even in poor villages, citizens still find access to the internet and regularly engage with social media. Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes shared in a Forbes article that an indigenous group in Brazil started a Facebook page to protest the construction of a new hydroelectric dam. The page attracted 310 followers who shared their grievances. Likewise, while governments in most of the larger cities in Latin America have joined social media like Peruvian President, Ollanta Humala, smaller, “emerging” cities are following suit. Local governments use social media platforms to interact with the citizens of their town, noting complaints and trying to use the social outlets to respond and react so as to improve the community. In a 2012 article by The Atlantic, the news source told the story of how a housewife in a small district in Mexico City turned to Twitter to share her disappointment with the lack of working lights in the local park. Immediately, the mayor replied to her tweet, and a few days later a crew was sent to repair the light fixtures. While this kind of reaction does not happen all of the time, it’s just one of the small ways social media is picking up in every corner of the nation.

Most social activism campaigns in Latin America started as grassroots movements, pioneered by students in low income communities. In 2011, Mexican students protested against the government, starting a campaign #YoSoy132, that surged through Twitter. Similarly, there have been ongoing education protests in Chile where students are fighting against the expensive and segregated school system in the country. In both cases social media helped coordinate demonstrations and maintain the power of the campaigns, showing that significant portions of the population in Latin America are using new technology and surpassing expectations, demonstrating self-organization and empowerment

Latin American social media serves as the perfect example of how influential social media has become. The intensity of social media campaigns revolving around current events in the nation reach more than simply those who are directly affected, and forces all to listen. When a message is projected over so many different platforms, users take notice and are pushed to learn about the issue.

The ongoing political situation in Venezuela has gathered immense attention as a result of social media. While the conflict reached new heights, its government either censored or shut down most news outlets–but social media propelled the conversation. Venezuelan citizens used various social sites to keep family members living abroad updated. Social media was also used to educate the public on the truth of what was actually going on, bringing all of Latin America together and proving that social media is a force to be reckoned with.

Moreover, Latin Americans use social media like second nature in their daily lives.  When events like the FIFA World Cup, or the finale of a favored telenovela occur, social media is flooded with an outpouring of comments both negative and positive. Before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, citizens of the country protested the games over the allocation of funds, most of which went towards the construction of stadiums. Large portions of the Brazilian population were discontent that the $11 billion–mostly tax dollars–to accommodate the tournament met FIFA’s needs, but neglected the very obvious existing healthcare and education needs of the population. The protest campaign flooded social outlets, spreading like wildfire. Videos were shared on Youtube and movements streamed through Twitcam, explaining how hundreds of people were kicked out of their homes to make room for hotels and stadiums. Social media campaigns similar to this in Brazil not only have the power to reach audiences at a national level, but have the opportunity to make international waves.

Latin America has become a stage for campaigns fueled by passion. With growing internet use and a rapid rise in social media engagement, Latin America is set to become the social hub of the world in only a matter of years. Social media has had a significant impact on Latin Americans. It’s ability to raise awareness and help find solutions to problems has revolutionized the way Latin America operates.

Businesses today need to be aware of the fact that Latin American social media is growing and the market is full of potential. Large portions of the population are connecting to the internet and routinely interacting online: businesses need to react. Here’s how Latin Americans in low income communities are connecting online:

  • The misconception that low income communities are unable to connect online is a matter that is preventing business. The World Bank reported that by 2012, 98% of the Latin American population had access to a mobile cell signal and most households had subscribed to some form of a mobile service plan.
  • The emergence and proliferation of cyber cafes in poor areas has become an innovative strategy to provide internet access to the masses. Likewise, internet kiosks, community access centers, and multimedia communication booths created by WorldTel have become widespread phenomenons in Peru and Mexico. Internet cafes in Ecuador, (PlanetaNet, PapayaNet, and AltesaNet), see up to 12,000 people in three months.
  • With a growing demand for cellphones in the region, Asian companies have designed inexpensive products in response. Cell Phones are made by unknown brands and have the ability to work with four SIM cards from different carriers so customers have the lowest fares.
  • The use of tablets in Latin America has soared. In Brazil, the number of tablets surged from 200,000 in 2011 to 5 million in 2012. Most of the tablets are owned by people who have never even used a computer.

Latin American Social Media is different in so many progressive ways; is your business keeping up? Maintaining an eye on relevant topics that Latin Americans are passionate about goes a long way when trying to capture them as an audience. What’s more, social media is engineering the future in Latin America right before our eyes:

  • Social TV – telenovelas, sports games, and beauty pageants are widely discussed on social networks.
  • “Likeable” hangers in Brazil – The retailer C&A used hangers with Like and Unlike buttons, allowing customers to interact with the merchandise. The likes linked to Facebook posts of the products.
  • Tweeting Potholes in Panama – The campaign started as a way to force the Ministry of Public Works to recognize the need for community improvements.
  • Twitter to conduct health research – Brazil began using the site to track, test, and quickly respond to dengue disease outbreaks in the country.

Latin American social media is gaining momentum, and engaging online through many ways. The percentage of the Latin American population actively utilizing the internet is huge, and will continue growing. With a constant demand for online access, Latin American countries will continue to adapt, even in low income communities. Businesses need to realize that the Latin American social media market is ready to make a major statement – and you’ll be there to leverage it.