Bridging the Digital Divide 

Ever since my first job out of college where I had the opportunity to work on a project (indirectly) for America’s Promise Alliance, I have always been fascinated by the “digital divide” in America and looking for ways to help close the gap between the technology haves and the have-nots.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term, here’s a summary from Wikipedia: “The term digital divide refers to the gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology and those with very limited or no access at all. It includes the imbalances in physical access to technology as well as the imbalances in resources and skills needed to effectively participate as a digital citizen. In other words, it is the unequal access by some members of society to information and communications technology, and the unequal acquisition of related skills. The digital divide may be classified based on gender,income, and race groups, and by locations. The term global digital divide refers to differences in technology access between countries or large regions of the world.”

Now, my interest in the digital divide has much more to do with my personal opinions on what is just and what is not, but from an e-marketer’s perspective it has some relevance as well.  Due to the digital divide, many have always viewed the internet as a domain meant just for the most educated and the most affluent.  Naturally, this made it an ideal place for marketers to target individuals with the money to buy expensive products and services, including education.  However, there are signs that marketers may have to change their way of thinking and broaden their horizons when it comes to whom they target with their e-marketing.

MarketingVox reports this week on a new poll that finds the digital gap may be narrowing.  According to the report, “48% of adults — many in groups that were historically less frequent users — now report that using the ‘net over an one hour per day, compared with 26% in 2002.”

While age, income and gender gaps still exist, several demographic groups in the lower income, lower education and older age brackets posted gains in frequent internet use in the past year that were significantly greater than the five-percentage-point gain measured among adults nationwide.

This could prove to be a big opportunity for institutions that traditionally target less affluent students, but have been reluctant to leverage e-marketing due to the belief that their constituents are not online.  While the Gallup poll does not mention specific demographics or races, another report by eMarketer predicts that as more minorities gain access to the internet via PCs and Mobile phones marketers will follow.

The gap may be narrowing.  Are you prepared to cross it?