By Ellen McGirt
November 3, 2016

In digital supremacy, black millennials shall lead the way.

That’s the core finding of a new Nielsen study called Young, Connected and Black, which describes the black millennial cohort in America as sophisticated, optimistic, exuberant and reflective. They’re influential. They’re bold. And they are shaping important conversations about policy, culture, and entertainment as they bring their offline passions into online interactions. Citing a combination of population growth, better education, and rising incomes, Nielsen finds that the 11.5 million African American millennials are about to bring new purchasing power to a digital world.

Honestly, the report describes the most awesome group of people you could possibly imagine.

Some key findings:

  • 70% of black millennials are fascinated by new technology, and they’re more likely to be the first among friends or colleagues to try new tech products.
  • 91% of African-Americans own smartphones, just three points behind the largest group, Asian-Americans
  • 55% of black millennials say they spend an hour or more daily on social networking sites, 11% higher than the total millennial population. Some 29% of black millennials say they spend three or more hours daily on social networking sites, 44% higher than that of the total millennial population.
  • They spend more time watching live or on-demand television than others; they watch video on a wider variety of devices.
  • Their sophisticated use of social media isn’t just for shopping or driving brand awareness, their online behaviors are driving a deeper understanding of the issues that impact society at large.

The report is a treasure trove of data and a rallying cry for marketers to get targeting. “For marketers trying to establish meaningful connections with African-Americans, leveraging their passions and usage of today’s latest technology should be a central focus in strategic goals.” That all makes sense. And it’s thrilling to see this slice of the next generation doing well enough to embrace digital possibility with such vibrancy and creativity.

But it’s the “meaningful connections” part that sticks in my throat. Partly because it’s hard to miss the powerful disconnect that this analysis reveals. This is the very same group of awesome people who are routinely abused on Twitter, are labeled as thugs when they lobby for political change, who worry about being targeted by police, who wait longer for advancement at work and are underpaid throughout their careers. They have value as consumers, but not much else.

But if you take the analysis at face value only, then it describes a missed opportunity. Black millennials – who are often admired but rarely paid for their online innovations – are driving real corporate change, like more diverse entertainment options. Why not target the issues they’re advocating for, instead? Maybe the voices that are being amplified should be tapped for their insight and leadership potential, and not just for their pocketbooks.


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