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Lance Rios: being Latino was never so popular.

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Full-time job, shoestring budget and one of the most diverse communities in the US. How did Lance Rios leverage social media to become one of the most followed Latinos on Facebook? He had help--a lot of help, but he had a plan, a good plan, and now he's watching it take on a life of its own.

Ohio native Lance Rios launched his blog, "Being Latino" nearly two years ago from his South Bronx-based apartment.

From his home, Lance has turned his concept into the most followed Latino-themed fan page on Facebook and one of the most developed and interactive blogs in the Latino digital space.

A quick peek on his Facebook page says he has more than 53,000 fans. That's an impressive number, no doubt.

But there's an even more important figure than that total: 37, as in the number of volunteers Lance has recruited to create, build and spread "Being Latino."

Getting people to press a tiny, gray rectangle on the top of a page more than 50,000 times is its own challenge, but to have nearly 40 people donate--nobody, not even Lance receives monetary compensation--time and talent to your idea is by far the more significant achievement.

"I understand that if you have a great idea, you really have to put together the skeleton together to make it a moving, living thing," Lance said. "Every idea I came up with, I made sure there was a plan to implement it. An idea isn't just going to flourish by itself. Because people did believe in the product, they came on board and have played their part to help Being Latin() become what it is today."

Launched in 2009, Being Latino began as a Twitter-based account Lance used to pose questions and post comments he thought Latinos of his "mindset" would be interested in, specifically those whom he identified with: second or third generation, English-speaking Latinos. Disappointed by the lack of media targeting this specific niche of the Latino community, Lance set out to provide content for and by Latinos who did not fit the "urban" profile he saw dominating the media around him.

Having worked in Latino advertisement and marketing since graduating college in 2006, Lance knew there was more than a one-size-fits-all approach to engaging Latinos. He was his own best example, and he knew there was a community of people who felt the same way and was equally eager to participate in the solution.

"Latinos are such a diverse group of people, so you can subtarget the communities," Lance said. "The community I wanted to subtarget was the English-speaking Latino community who are second and third generations and beyond, who went to college, that they were the first person to work in a corporate environment. These people are experiencing things that nobody before them experienced. I saw that that community--it wasn't necessarily being ignored but nobody really knew how to approach them."

Lance's Being Latino tweets developed a quick following, and he was proving successful in engaging this sub target, and "Being Latino" began to grow into more than a one-man show. Twitter posts turned into YouTube videos (Lance would record vlogs, or video blogs) and that led to the adoption of the full-fledged Being Latino blog, an online magazine Mr and by Latinos.

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Sixteen months since inception, and "Being Latin()" is a case study in social media efficiency. By design, each social media application is working harmoniously with the others. Never in conflict, the social media tools are the highways leading people back to "Being Latino," and Lance and his staff are the ones making sure there are no detours to getting there.

But the key to the continued success of "Being Latino" is making sure that once followers get there, that they feel part of the community, a concept that is in keeping with tile cultural aspects of being Latino in the non-digital sense, too.

According to several studies, this characteristic and need for social interaction among Latinos has been replicating itself in cyberspace. A Nielsen study reported that 62 percent of Hispanics who were online were active on social networking sites, nearly double the 38 percent of Caucasians doing so.

For Lance, this phenomenon is simply an extension of the Latino culture, and those numbers will continue to escalate.

"(Social media usage) is very culturally relevant for us because, as a whole, Latinos tend to be very social people: they keep in touch with their friends and family; we are very warm in terms of how we interact with one another," Lance said. "Social networking creates the ability to be in a ton of places without having to leave the seat in front of your computer. Because of that, (social networking) fits our lifestyle perfectly. With that, we find different ways to engage on a different level with the same people we would talk to on the phone or have one-on-one interactions with. It just made it a lot simpler to manage all of their friends and families with their networks."

With this in mind, Lance is much more sociologist than internet guru.

The founding of 'Being Latino' is rooted in a sociological experiment that began in the South Bronx in May of 2006. The recent Bowling Green State U grad wasn't conducting a sanctioned or commissioned study. He was beginning life in the NY.

Living in the South Bronx, Lance embedded himself in the diversity-laden community. In a short amount of time, the Ohio native noticed the numerous ethnicities and cultures that co-existed around him.

The son of parents of Puerto Rican decent, Lance always identified himself as a Latino, but this experience was unique.

Perhaps more than anything, Lance was struck by the connection many of his first-generation Latino neighbors had to their culture of origin.

Back on the Westside of Cleveland, Lance grew up knowing mostly other second and third generation Puerto Ricans who had already assimilated to the US lifestyle.

"(Living in the South Bronx) I got to see how the Latino community interacted with one another," Lance said. "There were Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Mexicans, Columbians ... it was such a mezcla of Latinos--predominantly Latinos--I felt it was such a cool opportunity."

So Lance set out to digitize that community around him, turning conversations with neighbors into blog posts about the life of being Latino.

But "Being Latino" isn't a glorified online texting or chatting service for Latinos. That idea would have faded soon after launching. The relevance of its content, Lance said, is paramount for the online magazine. One clay an article might be about who created the chicharron first, while another might address tile cultural conflicts that arise when Latinos marry non-Latinos.

One such article, for example, that generated a lot of feedback came from a Latina who did not like that her non-Latino family called the grandpa 'Poppy,' feeling that the similar 'Papi' should be reserved for fathers. Responses came from both sides, exactly the discourse Lance had envisioned and continues to foster.

This exercise and trend recognition and subsequent ability and ease to share ideas and celebrating communalities has helped create devotion, or in marketing ling(), brand loyalty.

Again, there's a defined process and organizational structure to it all.

In volunteering, staffers have agreed to a set of responsibilities and deadlines. Like any thriving corporation, there are roles and titles. A managing editor and copy editor ensure the content for the "Being Latino" blog is timely and free from error. The BL staff knows that to be credible it has to be right. Each blogger promises to provide one article a week to be posted Monday through Friday.

There's a community, Twitter manager, who is not the Twitter strategist.

Again, definition and specialization is the idea here. There's a video editor and a YouTube manager, too.

New blog posts are updated on Facebook, where followers are one click away from connecting to the newest published piece and eventual discussion. With a crew of 20 regular staff bloggers, Lance has ensured a steady dose of updates through the week and that readers will readily check back to find the next post.

"We're offering the ability to reach the audience, that segment that's very valuable--one of--if not the--fastest growing segments of Latinos in the United States," Lance said. "We are serving that voice. It's content that's generated by us and for people who think like us. Often times when larger corporations try to recreate that content, it's not necessarily looked at the same way."

After several speaking engagements, appearances on Fox News Live!, corporations have come calling to learn how Lance has created genuine content for Latinos. Partnerships, Lance realizes, are fundamental to his growth, but not at the expense of the mission statement.

"(Latinos) see it as a major company that solely just sees them as numbers, whereas we are trying to create a more personalized connection," Lance said. "So in partnering with (Being Latino), companies will be able to add some credibility to what they are doing if it makes sense with our core values as well.

"I did realize that eventually, somewhere down the road, that it would take shape with other large organizations that would want to get onboard just because they saw the trend, and eventually they would have to catch up and so partnering up (with Being Latino) probably makes the most sense."

By partnerships, Lance isn't talking about ad dollars. Leveraging his large following into beaucoup bucks isn't the idea. Just as quickly as he built his community, Lance is aware of the potential pitfalls that could happen by selling them out. Instead, he's looking for companies that really are trying to engage people like himself in a different way than before. As the founder and CEO, Lance acknowledges his responsibility to provide that counsel and to look for those opportunities that will help push his own initiatives forward.

"'Being Latino' has a large following. So technically, there will be the ability to monetize it," Lance said.

"'Being Latino' was not created for the purpose of monetization. It was created for the purpose of having some kind of content that is relevant to (Latinos). It wasn't necessarily something I created with the hopes of doing it full time.

"Although now, it does have the potential to do that, given the following, the extreme amount of interest I have received from major corporations, organizations and politicians."

One organization that saw the value in what Lance is doing was Fox News Latino, a site and platform devoted to Latino content and news. Lance announced a content-sharing partnership with the media giant in which Fox News Latino would feature the week's most popular BL's blogs, and he, in turn, would post some of theirs. For some, the partnership validated more than a year's worth of work. For others, BL's aligning with Fox, largely considered an ultraconservative, right-wing promoter, was paramount to Lance turning his back oft his Latino roots.

"I knew before agreeing to the partnership with Fox that I was going to receive a lot of support and some flak for it," Lance said. "One of the things that I wanted to clear was Fox News Latino ... the purpose they were created, and why they have so much flexibility, is because they are trying to do something for Latinos as a whole because they feel their parent network, Fox News, really hasn't done the best job at portraying Latinos in mainstream media. On top of that, they are the only news entity currently that is taking a shot at recognizing that there are Latinos out there who want content that isn't skewing urban and they want their content in English."

Lance said that those who criticized his decision were unaware of the terms of the partnership, and even more so, ignorant of the content of Fox News Latino.

"If you look at the content," he said, "the majority of their content is skewing left. I think a lot of people were very impulsive in their approach to how they responded to me just because they didn't take the time to assess the situation. In addition to that, I hope partnering with Fox will open the eyes of traditionally left-leaning media entity like MSNBC. If they see that Fox News Latino is taking an initiative to reach Latinos ill English, than they should be doing the same thing. There's no reason why one should be doing it, and the other be missing out on that audience."

The Fox agreement is only part of the 2011 stream of announcements.

Already underway is a content-sharing agreement with Break.com, a video-dominated website that Lance said generates 16 million unique viewers a month. Break.com has launched Tu Vez, a similar site to the original, but with this one targeting Hispanic viewers. Like Fox, the content will be a once-a-week content share. Also in the works is the Being Latino official website, which will provide an e-library of sorts for the content to be accessed.

"I think this is going to be the year of partnerships," Lance said of 2011. "We are going to be partnering with a lot of organizations that are targeting a similar audience as ours."

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Make no mistake. The partnerships and large following haven't changed what it means to be Latino or the 'Being Latino' brand. Lance is too protective of that. Lance still lives in a South Bronx apartment, but now Being Latino, is much more corporate headquarters than college dorm room, and it's all by Lance's design.

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Somehow Lance finds time to volunteer as a Big Brother for Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and even launched a campaign to recruit more Latino volunteers to serve as role models to young Latinos. Like his online endeavors, it's been successful. His efforts have produced a 200 percent increase and it continues to grow.

"I try to uplift the community in any way possible," Lance said.

Being the Latino 'social media guy' is all and good for the one-time West Cleveland resident. But as 'Being Latino' begins to grow, he hopes followers will see the bigger picture of his plan.

"Everything I have been motivated to do in the social media space has had a social awareness behind it," Lance said. "I would rather be that person that is viewed as the person who is trying to push for Latinos to be more aware of what is going on in politics and social initiatives, rather than just being the Latino who knows how to leverage social media, and keep Latinos interested in a certain topic, that really isn't that beneficial to the Latino community. In that aspect, if people want to consider me that No.1 guy ... because what I am attempting to bring to the table, what I do bring to the table, is nothing but positive for our community as a whole."

Story by Eric Baca, Editor for Latino Leaders Magazine

Photos for Latino Leaders by by Joe Conzo and Joe Buglewicz
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Author:Baca, by Eric
Publication:Latino Leaders
Article Type:Cover story
Date:Feb 1, 2011
Words:2511
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