Lance Rios: Latinizing the internet

This digital trailblazer created a 20‑million‑strong social community to unify Latino voices

Lance Rios

Being Latino

"Soy yo!" That’s the catchy refrain in a viral video titled "Be You y Vota," adapted from a hit Colombian music video and posted recently on Being Latino’s social channels. The clip stars an overall-wearing, side-eye-giving 11-year-old rounding up adults to hit the polls, and it’s exactly the type of content that followers of the social marketing firm Being Latino have come to love. It might be silly in tone, but its message is anything but.

Entrepreneur
New York City

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When Puerto Rican entrepreneur Lance Rios began his community in 2009, he had a serious question in mind: What does being Latino mean? To find out, he created a social media space for people to "be Latino in their own way…and not necessarily have to feel weird about it.".

Sharing memes, hashtags and videos related to Latino culture—covering everything from recipes to text etiquette to pleasing one’s abuelita—clearly resonated. Today, that community has morphed into an empire with more than 20 million social followers and a client roster of Fortune 500 companies looking for custom content.

"I am a hustler—that’s who I am," said 32-year-old Rios. Besides Being Latino, which produces and aggregates social content designed to educate and entertain Latinos from all backgrounds, he’s also launched the content studio DigiBunch, which specializes in "Latino viral videos, music videos, movie trailers y mas". In 2017, he hopes to secure outside investors to achieve "major conglomerate" status and take his cultural conversation even further.

Using his platform to empower

Rios lives in New York City by way of west Cleveland. He grew up in a largely Puerto Rican community but attended a predominantly Irish-Catholic, all-boys high school, where he saw clear cultural differences with his classmates. "It was important for us to do what we had to do to retain the culture," Rios said. His grandparents were born on the island and made sure his family kept up traditions, some of which have inspired Being Latino content. A post about the Christmas parranda, a custom when locals visit each other with food, drinks and play traditional musical instruments, snagged more than 10,000 likes.

It was important for us to do what we had to do to retain the culture

Lance Rios
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On any given day, Rios wakes up around 5:30 or 6 a.m. so he can work a few hours before walking three blocks to Being Latino’s Harlem office. An example of his dedication: he’s been known to sleep at his office on weekends just to get a 10-second video properly posted online.

He’s also using his company to support future entrepreneurs. Take Melonie Echevarria, who began interning at Being Latino two years ago to gain startup experience before jumping into corporate life.

Echevarria loved the work, asked to stay and Rios hired her full time. She is so dedicated to the company that she recently became a shareholder.

Echevarria, who now handles branded content and new business, knows the way Being Latino relates with its audience is unique. "The company allows for creativity, culture and strategy to blend in a way that isn't offered anywhere else," she said, "and that is where the magic lies."

Using humor to make an impact

Rios believes the next generation of empowered Latinos will emerge through social platforms. For one thing, he noted, social media has a distinct way of addressing hard-to-express issues because there’s room to mix serious topics with lighter fare. He also acknowledges a time when Latino culture "just wasn’t on the forefront," and he takes pride in giving his audience and brands a space to change that.

All the content that Rios and his team share with their following, from voting pushes during election season to everyday memes about dealing with exes, comes back to the founder’s question: What does being Latino mean?

For Rios, the answer is up to each individual, and he has no plans on stopping his social commentary while people find conclusions for themselves. "For certain people, it will mean something completely different from someone else," he said, "and that’s okay."

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