The use of social media in the United States has increased dramatically over the past decade. Interestingly, minorities are using social media at higher rates. According to global digital analyst company eMarketer, a greater percentage of Asian Americans use the Internet, smartphones, and social networks compared to the general population. This engagement has sparked considerable interest from marketers on how to best appeal to Asian Americans — like the Verizon Wireless commercial featuring an Asian kid playing the tuba with his family cheering him on. They even made the dad miss the concert because he was working. Perfecto.
Back in 2006, my ex-girlfriend shared poems on LiveJournal, co-workers gossiped with Friendster, and roommates posted photos to Facebook. It seemed like everyone was signing up except me. “Facebook is stupid,” I told my friend Adam. “Why not just hang out in real life?”
Online communities seemed to be the home of computer nerds and hardcore gamers. I once heard a story about a 28-year-old South Korean man dying of exhaustion after playing World of Warcraft 50 hours straight.
Later that day, I attended a research seminar inside the University of Washington’s Odegaard Library. As chance would have it, my sister’s roommate, Kara, was in that class, too. Kara was a very pretty Italian American who was a couple years younger than me. I’d often find excuses to visit my sister’s apartment just to see if Kara was there. This was before Facebook stalking became popular, so I did it the old-fashioned way. “Hey, Little Sister, do you need some MSG for dinner? Is Kara home?”
Through our casual conversations, I learned that Kara thought Asian babies were extremely adorable. She was right. Asian babies are super cute, “but the only way that you’ll ever get one is if you have an Asian father,” I told her.
“Yeah … I know,” Kara replied. “Hey, do you have Facebook?”
I hesitated for a moment, recalling my earlier conversation with Adam and thinking about the dead Korean gamer. Do
I maintain my dignity or forsake my principles for a girl? “Yup! I have Facebook,” I replied.
I returned home to start a Facebook account and sent Kara a friend request, making sure to upload my cute baby photos first. “FB James,” my online persona, was born on March 14, 2006. There are a few important differences between FB James and “Real James.” FB James will poke anyone, any time. FB James will write IN ALL CAPS on other people’s walls. FB James will upload drinking photos, and then tag them indiscriminately. FB James takes what he wants, and unfriends people if he doesn’t like them anymore. FB James don’t give a F!@#.
Like most individuals, FB James used Facebook to look at photos of cute girls. He would log on maybe once a week, which soon turned into every other day, and then, to every hour. His little habits grew into an addiction that he couldn’t control. FB James began experimenting with harder forms of social media, such as blogging and fantasy football, to take the edge off from his boring, single life.
An Experian Simmons national consumer study released last spring reports that Asians are twice as likely as general Internet users to say they spend less time sleeping because of the Internet (which explains why I’ve been writing this blog for the past 11 hours while watching videos of sneezing pandas). Not only do Asian Americans use social media in much larger numbers overall, but we also participate in the digital lifestyle to a greater degree. Perhaps what matters the most to corporations are that Asian American consumers are the most engaged ethnic group when it comes to social ads. Nielsen published a report this month that found Asian Pacific Americans are the most likely racial background to share, like or purchase a product after seeing an ad on social networks. White consumers are least likely to take action.
While the percentage of Asian Americans using social media may seem impressive, we are still lagging behind in innovation and entrepreneurship. According to the private investment research firm CB Insights, between January and June of 2010, of the internet companies that received funding from venture capitalists, 87 percent were White while only 12 percent were Asian.
As much as we expect our social and political institutions to reflect our diverse community, it is equally important for Asian Americans to consider how we want to be represented in technology, the Web and new media. We’re more than just consumers and tech geeks. We’re artists, innovators, and educators, too.
For better or worse, social media adds a new dimension to our identities. For me personally, it is be an opportunity to show the true face of Asian Americans, not hide who we are.
As for Kara, I think she got married to some dude a few years ago. FB James unfriended her, for the record.