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The Jeremy Lin-ernet Effect and Social Media

  |  February 15, 2012   |  Comments   |  

A basketball player's underdog story is the "dunk heard around the world" on social networks.

I'm a long suffering New Jersey Nets NBA basketball fan. I'm also an Asian American who manages social and digital across Asia Pacific at an agency. So it was quite a shock when I awoke to the sports headlines on February 4 and read about Jeremy Lin. In a game against the Nets, Lin – the near unknown Asian American from the New York Knicks - was called off the very end of the bench on the day he was to be cut from the team. Lin scored 25 points, leading his team to victory. Although I was disappointed with the Nets' loss, I was intrigued as well as the rest of the world over the emergence of Jeremy Lin, the 1.91 meter Asian American NBA basketball player who seemingly rose from obscurity. And now, I have been following every subsequent Knicks game and have not yet been disappointed in the phenomenon now known as Linsanity or "林疯狂".

Unless you have been living under the social media equivalent of a rock, you know the story by now: Jeremy Lin didn't receive a scholarship to play in college. And like all good Chinese kids that want to please their parents, he went to Harvard and got his economics degree. He wasn't drafted by the NBA, was cut from two other teams, and was sleeping on his brother's couch and was about to be cut by the Knicks. Four straight wins following the Nets game plus the most points in four starts in the history of the NBA resulted in an instantaneous global social media explosion. Over the weekend the story crescendoed with a 38-point game and win against one of the best players in the league, an indifferent Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.

An underdog story made for a social media explosion - now 8,800 stories in English and 12,200 in Chinese, according to Google News. Truly "Lin-Derella."

And the stories all have so many angles, including the Lin-sane name generator, the racism stories, the marriage proposals, the Taiwan stories calling him "God in a NY Knicks Shirt."

At the same time, people are in a mad rush to find out more. Throughout the past few days Lin has flirted with the top searches on Baidu, with Baidu Beat calling it "the dunk heard round the world." The Baidu English blog states that there were around 1,000 hits on February 3 to over 700,000 the day following his career high performance on February 4 against the Nets. The article also mentions all the talk about his height (and theories on how he grew so tall - lack of food scandals in the United States), as there is a well-known picture going around showing his father who is only about 1.67 meters.

Home videos he made (well before the week of Lin-sanity) are on both YouTube and China's Youku on how to get into Harvard, videos of him speaking Chinese (very fluent on the food names and very humble about his poor Chinese) and his goofy high school Xanga page (courtesy of Mashable) are also being circulated. His Baidu wiki page has already surpassed 4 million views, and is now extremely detailed. The hot new social media site Pinterest has now been dubbed "Lin-terest," with a nice pinboard here.

Here are some other numbers that demonstrate the Lin-effect on social media, as of 14 February (sure to change, as there are 300 million NBA fans in China...)

  • His official Weibo (which has just reproduced a bunch of his tweets on Twitter) now has 1 million followers and dozens of personalities in business and entertainment have been posting Lin-related quips (1.8 million and counting). This has doubled in just 4 days.
  • His Twitter account, @jlin7, had 10,000 followers at the beginning of February, and as of this writing stands at 234,000.
  • On February 3, he had 46,000 Facebook fans. As February 14, this stood at 433,000 according to Wildfire social media monitor (See chart, below).
  • On Klout, which measures social media influence, his "Klout score" was 58 on February 4 - which is just so-so (mine is a 43 and has been as high as 55 as a reference), now (February 14) it's a whopping 79.
  • Greater China and North America are not the only ones going Lin-sane. There are over 962,000 references on Google using his Korean name, "제레미 린" and 161,000 articles on Google for Jeremy Lin in Bahasa Indonesian, for instance.

From a digital and social media practitioner's point of view - what makes this interesting is the "Jeremy Lin" phenomenon allows us to truly see what the velocity of a " great story" can be - how fast and far and wide news can travel using today's infrastructure and its effect on the social graph. It's like taking out a sports car on a test track and seeing how fast it will drive. It's also that for each "Jeremy Lin" story there is a tipping point of waves of people who join "the grid." In fact, my wife was inspired to join Twitter after seeing the tweets about Jeremy Lin's story. Perhaps that will be the true "Jeremy Lin Effect."


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Michael Zung

Michael Zung currently heads up Bite Communications digital practices in Asia Pacific, serving clients like Skype, Coach, Marriott, and Toys R Us for both their digital marketing and communications needs. Previous to Bite, Mike served as senior vice president in HSBC's Asia Pacific personal banking services, where he launched and headed up HSBC Direct in Taiwan and was responsible for the growth of HSBC Direct in Korea and Taiwan, the first "branchless bank" in both countries. Prior to HSBC, he founded OneXeno, a regional digital marketing consultancy based in Hong Kong that was subsequently acquired by Bite Communications. Mike first came to Asia 10 years ago, working for DoubleClick, where he served in various positions including managing director for North Asia and was also the first editor of AccessAsia, a guide for Asian specialists and current research. He holds an MBA from New York University and an MA from University of Washington.

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