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Just as African Americans have had influence through radio — with popular shows such as “The Tom Joyner Show” and Steve Harvey’s morning program — and television with Oprah Winfrey and BET, social media has become the new microphone for news, entertainment, and influence for the black community.

In a 2011 study from multicultural agency Burrell, 73 percent of white consumers and 67 percent of Hispanics said they believe that blacks influence mainstream American culture, and social media amplifies that. In 2012, LeBron James was the most influential athlete on social media during the London Olympics and the black community turned to social media to rally around the family of Trayvon Martin.

As of August 2011, 70 percent of US black Internet users ages 18 and up were on social networks, a higher percentage that whites (63 percent) and Hispanics (67 percent), according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

This number has only grown. In its “African-American Consumers: Still Vital, Still Growing” 2012 study, Nielsen reported that 72 percent of black consumers have more than one social networking profile.

With a younger population than other ethnic groups, it makes sense that African Americans are more likely to use social media, which has always skewed younger. As these younger consumers mature and become the main consumer segment in the US, their influence and preferences when it comes to social media will be critical for marketers.

“As we’ve seen over the past couple of years with the Honda Battle of the Bands, social media is definitely an effective and authentic way to connect with African-American consumers, said Gina Jorge, assistant manager of multicultural marketing for American Honda Motor Co., Inc., in an email with Madame Noire. (We covered this event here.) “We see a continued increase in engagement across emerging digital, social and mobile platforms.”

Pew also released data this year about how social networking impacts political activities. Blacks have shown how they leverage social media to influence and connect with others around political issues of importance to them. Among black US social network users, 42 percent said they think social networks are important for recruiting people to get involved with political issues that matter to them, and 38 percent said social networks are an important forum for political discussions or debates. These percentages were higher than those for whites or Hispanics.

“Social allows people to have a voice on a grassroots level and that’s one of the things that has been hard for the African-American community to do: get their voice heard and heard loudly,” Keisha Brown, senior vice president and general manager of multicultural agency Lagrant Communications, told Madame Noire. “With social, and the campaigns and election showed this as well, you are able to create groups for African Americans [and others].”

So as the black community leverages social media as a channel to build its cultural influence, what does the future hold?

Brown told Madame Noire that the opportunities for African-American entrepreneurs within social media and technology will grow: “For millennials and Gen Y, they are growing up with this medium and their thought process is different. They see the sky as the limit because social media brings in so many different aspects of business and you can reach so many different people.”

Verna Coleman-Hagler, a brand manager for Procter & Gamble, told Madame Noire via email that the future will also include more philanthropic and community initiatives that build a greater reach through social.

P&G and its My Black is Beautiful program turned to social when it launched “Imagine a Future” in 2012, which will “work to impact the lives of one million black girls over the next three years,” she said, and will partner with Black Girls Rock! and The United Negro College Fund.

As social media usage continues to rise overall, African-Americans will become more prominent players in the technology industry and as entrepreneurs, expanding the community’s influence even more.

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