december coverSocial Media Does Good

The buzz has been all over the news---Latinos are over-indexing in their use of the internet. Are they Tweeting and posting Facebook updates? Are they watching YouTube videos, downloading ringtones, and purchasing through e-commerce?

Latinos are doing all of these things. But Latinos who are making the most meaningful impact are using online tools such as social media and blogs to create change by spreading ideas, fostering communities, and inspiring others to take action. Taking the “social” in social media to an entirely different level, these Latinos are agents for social revolutions, whether in the political arena or through film, art, and music.

Claire Diaz Ortiz leads social innovation at Twitter, where she has worked since 2009. Before that, she co-founded Hope Runs, a non-profit organization operating in AIDS orphanages in Kenya, where she lived in 2007. She says, “Twitter at the time helped me let the world know what I was working on, and raise funds and connect with press to help us with our cause.” Currently she manages Twitter’s philanthropic, social good, and cause marketing initiatives, including the Twitter for Nonprofits program. Ortiz is also the author of Twitter for Good: Change the World, One Tweet at a Time.

“In the beginning, when people first sign up for Twitter, they don’t understand what it is,” says Ortiz. “They think it’s for creating a press release in a few characters. And this is one of the big marketing mistakes. Twitter works because of relationships, and the people who are most successful on the platform are people who develop relationships and try to engage with folks around them.”

Some Latino trailblazers in social media have started blogs such as Latina Lista, while others have banded together to create organizations such as Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) or emerging online collectives such as Being Latino and Latino Rebels. Then there are those who are using social media to recognize others who are doing good, such as the Cultural Strategies group based in Austin, Texas, who have partnered with SXSW Interactive for the Social Revolución.


LATISM started with a Tweet by Ana Roca Castro, the founder of the organization. She was working with a group of friends who were testing an app, but they couldn’t find any Latinos to test it on and were doubtful there were any Latinos in social media. Ana took that as a challenge. “Where are my Latinos?” she asked on Twitter. She had about 300 responses to that initial Tweet. And that is how she met Elianne Ramos.<

The result was LATISM, the largest organization for Latinos engaged in social media.

“At some point, it became obvious that a community was starting to form online and needed some kind of a structure,” says Ramos, to avoid people posting “sin ton ni son.” It was organized as a nonprofit, Ramos adds, to “allow us to channel all of that beautiful energy from the online community to help other Latinos.” Ramos serves as the current Vice President of Communications.

One of the hallmarks of LATISM are the Thursday night Twitter parties at 9 PM EST, hosted by Ramos, where the community converges simultaneously for an hour to discuss a particular topic. Although much of the organization’s activity happens during these online fiestas, their official hasthtag #LATISM receives 10 million impressions daily, with over 140,000 participants nationwide. It’s free to join, and you don’t have to fill out a registration form. It’s open to everyone and you don’t have to speak Spanish.

“One of the first things I started doing with the Twitter parties was to give it a theme,” says Ramos. “And then we decided to expand that by bringing in partners,” she adds, “so it’s not just us talking all the time.” LATISM has collaborated with the White House on educational issues as well as with companies such as Johnson & Johnson to support their health and technology initiatives.

Last year, Castro led a group to Montecristi, an extremely impoverished city located in northwest corner of the Dominican Republic, near the Haitian border. She launched a pilot program to help improve the health, education, and economic well being of the people of Montecristi and neighboring communities. “We felt that it was time to start taking some of the online engagement offline, and see how we can use social media for sustainable development,” says Castro. Johnson & Johnson volunteered a video crew to document everything, and provided photography workshops, hospital visits, and translations.

One of the main goals of the program was to offer some basic medical services, particularly for children and pregnant women, by setting up a clinic in the rural areas near Montecristi. But the main focus was the creation of a “cyber room” equipped with over twenty donated computers. Young local leaders were trained and in turn trained teachers, business people and artisans to use blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to promote their products and services.

“[The project is] opening up [Montecristi] to the world, and people can enjoy their work,” says Castro. “They’re attracting buyers. And they can have this sustainable economy. We’re sharing all the secrets and tips about using social media for tourism, economic empowerment and e-commerce. Their commitment will be to keep sharing the knowledge.”


Being Latino’s Chief Content Officer, Libby Juliá-Vázquez, first stumbled onto Being Latino through Twitter. That led her to their blog, where she discovered they were open to submissions from other writers. She submitted a piece on living in Puerto Rico and the problem of having forgotten her Spanish and having to adjust. She kept submitting articles, and by early summer, she was promoted to Copy Editor. “I just had all these ideas and kept harassing Lance Rios, the founder, asking him, ‘Why don’t we do this? What do you think of that?’” she says. “To appease me, he asked ‘Do you want to just join us on a bigger level?’” By August 2010, she had become Managing Editor, and the following month they turned the blog into an online magazine.

Today, Being Latino is a communication platform designed to break down barriers and foster unity and empowerment through informative, thought-provoking dialogue and exchange of ideas. In August 2011, Miami-based Hispanicize acquired a significant interest in the company. “With this stake in Being Latino combined with our Latina Mom Bloggers network and our national conference Hispanicize 2012, our platform now features 360-degree digital solutions for Latino social media initiatives and allows us to build economies of scale that benefit our growing client roster,” said Hispanicize CEO and Partner Cristy Clavijo-Kish.

The partnership also created a new Twitter hashtag. #BeLatino will be used throughout the Being Latino, Hispanicize and Latina Mom Blogger network of bloggers and social media leaders. Being Latino and its 145 sister Facebook fan pages represent more than 150,000 fans combined on Facebook alone.

“Hispanicize is a perfect fit for Being Latino, because like us, they’re committed to building, supporting and empowering the Latino community online,” says Being Latino President and Founder Lance Rios. “Our decision to join with Hispanicize is about accelerating and expanding our growth to its fullest potential. Being Latino has grown consistently and organically over the past two years through the hard work of Latinos and Latinas to provide culturally relevant, engaging, and entertaining content.”

A tangible benefit of the joint expansion will be its impact on Hispanicize’s community partnership programs such as “Latino Social Media for Social Good,” a national initiative with Univision. With an aim to support nonprofit organizations achieve their communications and fundraising goals via social media training, the Being Latino community will play a central role in driving discussion and support.

“Our focus on partnerships is now stronger than ever and is another reason why Being Latino continues to grow,” says Rios. “With media partners such as Fox News Latino and, we’ve made a conscious effort to partner with other media outlets that will help increase our exposure and complement our positive message.”

Being Latino led a Tweet Chat for the GOP Debate that took place in Arizona on February 22, 2012. “We are trying to bring in different voices,” says Juliá-Vázquez.

“We probably have a Democratic leaning, because that’s a lot of our fan base and team, but not because Being Latino leans that way. We want to offer a platform for everyone.”

But Julia-Vazquez warns that while Latinos are actively voicing their opinions, it’s easy for them to fall into the “slacktivist” trap---using social media, but not taking any real action. “If we feel satisfied we’ve done our duty by signing an online petition,” says Juliá-Vázquez, “then we’re missing the whole piece of the follow up, and getting away from our computer, and being active in our communities and mentoring and being volunteers.”

Rebels with a Cause

Latino Rebels was founded by Julio Ricardo Varela in February 2011. “After watching The Daily Show one night, I thought, why not create a similar vibe that focuses on U.S. Latino issues?” says Varela. “Why can’t we provide commentary, comedy, analysis, music, and general mayhem to an audience that was underserved in the mainstream media?” Varela assembled a team of social media Latino influencers, along with his father and one of New York’s producers, Brett Nemeroff, photojournalist Rebecca Beard, and marketer Rick Rios.

They officially launched on Cinco de Mayo that same year, and proceeded to post stories and question issues. “We got political in the sense that we focused on the entertainment of politics,” says Varela, “but we still wanted to create original posts in both English and Spanish that spoke to our Rebelde vibe.” That vibe soon got them followers and audiences from all over the United States and Latin America. They encourage their community to self-promote their sites and profiles. In January 2012, their page views spiked from 80,000 to 180,000.

“We are very deep in Election 2012,” says Varela, “since we have been covering how the mainstream political parties have approached issues that matter to our community. Our goal is to inform our community and let them decide how to vote. It is funny, because for every Republican who thinks we are ‘commies’ we get Democrats calling us ‘reactionaries’ and ‘troublemakers’.” Latino Rebels was very active in the coverage of #OWS, and they were one of the first Latino sites to go black during the #SOPA protest.

“As for President Obama, we are just reflecting the views of our community, who might feel a bit disappointed with some of his policies,” says Varela, “yet we won’t go into a place where we do not respect the president of our country.»

Latino Rebels, as their name implies, does have its comedic side. They also try to inform people about some of the imprudent things that have happened in the political world, whether it’s Herman Cain’s “electric fence” comments, the East Haven Taco Mayor, or the ill-chosen Chimichanga Tweet by Obama 2012’s campaign manager.

Lation Rebels welcomes any Latino political page that is discussing the elections, and they share a lot of content from,, Univision News,,,,,,, and They post content from all political stripes, such as the Café Con Leche Republicans, a group whose mission is to push back against extremists within the GOP, as well as influence the GOP’s agenda.

“These pages are part of our world,” says Varela, “and we are all trying to do the same thing in very different styles, which is to inform our online communities about issues that matter to them. Some sites are news media, and some sites, like ours, are a bit edgier. The Internet is a large place, and we will celebrate these pages and other pages that speak to us.” In the end, Latino Rebels encourages their community to think for themselves, make their own choices, and to act. Varela and his team direct people to organizations such as VotoLatino and the Hispanic Leadership Network, where voters can learn more about how to get involved in political issues.

The Latino Rebel community has been growing exponentially. “They have believed in this silly little idea from the very beginning, and as the company’s founder, I know we will soon become a media company that is sustainable and successful,” says Varela. “We are very conscious of how we grow this brand the right way, and what we can promise is this: we will never change who we are or who were the people who got us here.”


Marisa Trevino refers to herself as the grandmother of Latina bloggers. She’s been a journalist all of her professional career, going on 18 years now. For the majority of that time, she worked as a freelance writer in order to have the flexibility to be there for her kids. But the trade-off in having that freedom was that she wasn’t getting a regular slot in the newspapers to publish her opinion editorials. And she had a lot to say.

“So here I was dealing with my frustration,” says Trevino, “and I was working as an editor for the International Newspaper Marketing Association. What we did was study the global trend in newspapers, and social media – citizen journalism – came on the radar.” In the course of analyzing what was happening in other countries, Trevino came across blogs.

“When I realized what blogs were,” says Tevino, “and I started learning about Blogger and the growth of blogs here in the U.S., I thought, this is perfect for me. I can relieve all this frustration. I don’t have an editor telling me he can or can’t publish me. I created Latina Lista.”

In 2004, Trevino created a very simple blog and started writing about issues she felt mainstream newspapers weren’t addressing. It was a mix of politics, women’s issues, and other topics that weren’t being given enough of a voice in mainstream media. About a year after she started Latina Lista, there was an incident near Austin, at the T. Don Hutto Detention Facility. She was getting emails from readers in Austin, from lawyers who worked pro bono for the detainees at the facility. They felt some of the visitors were being abused, and the children were being deprived of playtime and being treated more like inmates. Within day of posting an article about the Hutto facility, mainstream blogs started picking up Trevino’s story.

“From that point on, Latina Lista moved over that boundary into being seen as more of a mainstream site,” says Trevino. “Ever since then, by virtue of being in the news, a lot of my writing has been focused on immigration and the Dream Act.”

Trevino finds that the audience she engages through social media tends to be younger, along with older people who don’t necessarily have college degrees but are very active in their community as activists and volunteers. In light of the upcoming elections, Trevino tries to present a balanced perspective.

“The bottom line is,” she says, “I don’t care if a person is Democrat or Republican. I really think it does a disservice to the whole Latino population to give the perception that all Latinos are Democrats. I respect the fact that there are Latinos who are Republican. My goal is to not support one person’s policy or stand on an issue over another, but rather to point out when something is unjust, when a certain policy or stand persecutes a certain group of people, where it’s Latinos, Gays, or Disabled---whoever is affected. That’s where I take issue, regardless of party.”

Trevino always regards herself as a journalist first and feels people need to look at her in that light. When they take that into consideration, there’s a certain level of expectation that she will be objective. When she redesigned her website last December, Trevino added the tag line “the smart news source.” It was a play on words. “Lista means smart in Spanish,” she says, “and also I wanted to encompass the objectivity I was striving for, and the seriousness.”

The website’s new platform allows more flexibility in featuring ads on the site. This is one of Trevino’s strategies to make the website financially sustainable, but she has other projects to help finance her blog. She has written an e-book that was released in February, in both Spanish and English, and sales will go towards the costs associated with Latina Lista. Trevino adds, “My eventual hope is to do more offline activities, find sponsorships and partner with investors who share my vision as to what Latina Lista can eventually become.”

By Alexandra M. Landeros