Black Online Population Narrows Adoption Gap

The number of African Americans online now tops 10 million, according to a new research by Nielson//NetRatings, but blacks still lag far behind the general population in online use.

Nielsen//NetRatings found that blacks represent 8 percent of the Internet population with 10 million users. In August 2001, Nielsen//NetRatings pegged the African-American online population at 8.2 million, growing 22 percent since then.

“When you pass a number like 10 million, you’re talking about the fact that this demographic has emerged very strongly,” said Charlie Buchwalter, vice president of client analytics at Nielsen//NetRatings.

While the numbers have grown, the African-American Internet audience still does not equate with its overall representation in the U.S. population. According to the latest Census figures, 36.2 million Americans classified themselves as black or African-American, accounting for 12.7 percent of the overall population.

Nielsen//NetRatings also found that broadband was taking hold in black households, with 32 percent now accessing the Net through high-speed connections. This represents a 55 percent increase from a year ago and compares favorably with the 36 percent broadband adoption rate for the overall Internet population.

“We’re getting to a point that the digital divide story is going to stop being an interesting one,” Buchwalter said. “We’re not quite there yet, but over the next 12 to 15 years we’ll certainly move to that.”

However, blacks continue to trail not only the overall population in key Internet-use stats. On average, African-American Web users spent 44 hours on the Internet, 12 percent less than the overall Internet population. They initiated 42 sessions and viewed 1,186 pages, far lower than the general population’s 52 hours and 1,444 pages.

African Americans trail other ethnicities in online penetration. Hispanics, which recently replaced blacks as the most populous minority group in the country, have an online audience of 15 million, according to ComScore Networks. The Internet measurement firm estimates the Hispanic Internet audience is growing at 20 percent a year — a fact that has not been lost on marketers.

In January, Office Depot unveiled a Spanish language site aimed at the 2 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States. Office Depot inked a marketing pact with, a leading Spanish-language Internet portal. The automotive industry, in particular, has been a leader in brand marketing to Hispanics online, with Toyota launching a Spanish-language site in September 2001. Other automakers, like Ford and Nissan, have followed suit or plan to do so soon.

While online ad campaigns targeting African-Americans have been few, some have been launched. Nissan partnered with minority-focused agency True to design an African-American-themed online component for its “Shift” campaign. With “Shift_Respect,” Nissan highlighted African-American achievements and influential icons during Black History month. Nissan signed True to a $10 million account in July 2002 to develop strategies for tapping into the African-American market.

The African-American market is a growing opportunity for marketers. According to the Census Bureau, African-American median household income was $29,470 in 2001.

The sites tabbed by Nielsen//NetRatings as garnering the highest percentage of African-American users were culture and politics site, hip-hop site, and BET Interactive.

News Around the Web