Sports And Social Media: “Pro”-fessionally Speaking

The landscape in sports is changing. Not on the field, court, ice or track. But it is in the area of media that is causing the greatest change.

In a previous post, I began discussing social media in the context of sports. Athletes who are embracing this form of communication range from high-profile professional athletes to middle-school hopefuls. “Like” or “Follow”, “Join” or simply connect. It’s a simplistic way of interacting with others that more and more athletes are choosing to embrace. But it is also a path that if one isn’t careful, one can find themselves falling down a pit that can almost be too insurmountable to climb out of.

It is in that frame of reference, I began exploring, for lack of a better term, rules, if you will, for athletes. There are so many pieces written about social media but none that I could find specifically for athletes. That’s not to say there isn’t anything out there. True, there are companies out there providing consultations or assistance to leagues, teams, or maybe even individuals. In my observation however, that puts the emphasis on the aforementioned parties to invest in those consultations.

Not every league, team or athlete is proactive on social media. I attempted to contact the major sports leagues, teams, individual athletes, not to mention at least one major college conference and school to find out their guidelines for athletes to handle social media. One reply was received. I was told to check with the individual team I was interested in.

As evidenced by what I see on Twitter, it’s pretty apparent that athletes, in general, are not well-versed on it. But there are ways to Social-ize responsibly. There are ways to be effective. And there are ways to not come across as…….a jerk.

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WHY BE SOCIAL?

It’s really a two-part answer to that question. Being “social”, whether it’s through Twitter or Facebook or another social media site, is one of the biggest questions that every athlete must answer in the 21st century. I’m not saying it’s the BIGGEST, but it is one of the biggest in our day and age for athletes.

As an athlete, your brand is YOU. Is it important for you to “sell” your brand? Do you want your name out there for fans and advertisers to connect with? To do so in today’s media-driven world, social-media is where it’s at.
As social media skyrockets in popularity, the potential for connecting with your audience grows exponentially.

Take this article from ESPN’s Maria Burns-Ortiz about Shaq and Digital Royalty’s Amy Jo Martin, the first two “verified” accounts on Twitter. As Ms. Burns-Ortiz writes:

 “…finding success in social media is not just about embracing the space
as an inevitable part of business but also about turning it into an effective
brand-building tool and finding ways to monetize it.

Social Media is turning into “an effective brand-building tool and finding ways to monetize it”. That is “selling your brand”. If that’s not enough to convince you take a look at this tweet from CNBC’s Darren Rovell:

Your brand is YOU.

Okay, so that’s the first part of my answer. Before I get into the second part read this:  

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CHECK YOUR MOTIVE

  “Say What?” Yes, you read that right. Check your motive. I cannot say that enough. CHECK YOUR MOTIVE. As I said, your brand is YOU. When I say YOU, I’m not just talking about your name. That includes everything about you (beliefs, ideas, what motivates you, etc..). People, both fans and advertisers, want to know what kind of person they’re “following”. If your primary motive is to make bank, people will see that and want nothing to do with “your brand. “Making bank” is all people will see and that’s a big turn-off.

 Social media is a form of communication. The best communication is: a TWO-WAY street. In as much
as you talk to someone in person, on the phone or text someone, social media is just talk. It’s a way to say hello, reply to fans’ questions, keep them posted on what you’re doing, let them know about any charitable work you’re involved in; just being you. If you can’t relate to that, then social media probably isn’t for you.

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WHERE SHOULD I “SOCIAL”-IZE?

Okay, so you’ve decided to get involved in social media. Great. Where?

This is important. Depending on where you choose to be social, may dictate how involved you are going to be. You can do it by yourself or hire a PR (Public Relations) person to handle it for you. Do you have the time? Do you “trust” someone else to do it for you? While there are many different applications (apps) out there to interface all of them, it still requires time and effort for you to maintain an active presence. Either way you answer, here are “some” choices:

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FACEBOOK

The largest social media network and the most actively searched website (in 2010) is the first item on our list. Will you be on Facebook? If you’re already on there, is it as a Public Figure or is it just a personal page. If it’s a personal page, do you want to open a separate one that is available to the public? If you go Public Figure, who will maintain the page for you? Here are some things to keep in mind:               

–More and more businesses, both large and small are seeing the value of having a Facebook account. It’s a way for businesses or brands to keep customers updated on what’s going on and receive feedback as well.

–It also provides a way for fans to connect with other fans, even ones half a world away.That is a great benefit of Facebook. One central location for you to interact with fans and they in turn, interact with each other. In essence, they would be promoting you to others on their pages by their simple interaction on your page.

–Athletes, or their representatives, use Facebook today to post photos, videos, itineraries or just give status updates. It can also be a means to promote charitable foundations. Fans want to know what their favorite athletes are doing. If there’s a charity that their athlete promotes, then chances are they will support it, or at the very least, promote it to others. Having a golf tournament, promote it on Facebook and word will travel pretty fast; support will follow.

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PERSONAL WEBSITE

Do you have your own website? If you do, what is its purpose? Does it look professional? Or is it something you just threw together to say you have one? Is it for fans? Is it for your charitable organization/foundation? Are you the one maintaining it? What information can be found there? If someone else is doing it for you, are they keeping it up to date and current?

If you don’t have one, do you want one? Do you want a place where fans can go to find out more
information on you where you can maintain a little more content control? Do you want a place to promote a charity? Who will maintain/update your site? Then a website may be what you are looking for.

These are questions to consider regarding a website. But most importantly, do you have the time to maintain this? If not, talk to family, work with your agent or your publicist (if you have one) or check with fellow players to see if they can recommend someone to set one up for you. I’ve even heard of athletes finding web developers/designers on Twitter; not recommended though. But, have an idea in mind of: a) what you want it to look like and b) what the purpose is of it. Go into it with a plan ahead of time.

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TWITTER

This is one that, from my perspective, has caused the most problems for athletes. It’s really quite simple to use but it’s just as simple to get in trouble. As evidenced by the Darren Rovell tweet above, Twitter is fast becoming an excellent resource for connecting with fans, companies, and even media. That translates into ‘brand sales’.

However, Twitter can help you or hurt you. It’s too easy to say “Think before you tweet”. Sometimes it’s not so easy if you are tweeting yourself. There are a few athletes out there who have others tweet for them, under their name. There is nothing wrong with that, mind you, but just know fans want to feel like they are interacting with YOU, not some representative of yours. It can work but something to think about if you haven’t signed up for Twitter yet.

There are a wide variety of Twitter “rules” out there. Too many for me to put here. In the context of a professional athlete and Twitter, here are a few that I’ve come up with, some are similar to what you may see or hear out there and some are my own:

Public or private?Seems kind of odd to bring this up when discussing selling your brand but it must be mentioned since it is a choice. You can choose to have your tweets “protected”; that’s a private account. That means, before anyone can actually “follow” you, they have to send a request to you for approval to follow. This gives you more control over who sees your tweets, although not foolproof. By not going with “protected” tweets, this enables you to connect with more people, worldwide. Yes, this does open you up to some strange people but, the risk is worth it if you do things right. And there is always a BLOCK function to block the really strange ones.

One other thing to consider is the potential clients on Twitter. Companies, both large and small, as well as advertisers have a presence on Twitter. In the social media age, they will probably check your profile and feedback on Twitter before deciding on an athlete to endorse them is their presence on Twitter. They will be very selective as to who they want representing them. If you’re willing to live with ‘potential’ backlash or stirring up controversy, tweet whatever you want.

Know Your Audience/Think Before You Tweet – Although it may seem like it’s just “fans” following you, there will be plenty of media following you too. This is where “Think Before You Tweet” comes in. Anything you tweet is out there for public consumption. So if you have a potential unpopular opinion, be prepared for an opposing viewpoint in the form of replies or negative commentary about you (both personal and non-personal). Fans can be cruel. Media can be brutal. And the damage from both can be branding-suicide if not dealt with properly and promptly. Keep in mind that as an athlete, you not only represent yourself but your family, teammates, team as well as your league, organization or city you play in.

Know What You’re RT’ing – Re-tweeting, or RT’ing, is a popular request fans send athletes. Many times it’s asking for an RT for someone who is battling a disease. Fans will include a link to a website for that person and ask the athlete for an RT in hopes of generating traffic/support/donations for their  cause. Other RT requests are basically just a “shout-out” from their favorite athlete (or just for bragging rights) to their friends that they got an athlete to respond to their tweet).

And sometimes it’s SPAM. Followers may see your RT as an endorsement of someone’s tweet. If there’s a link on there that you haven’t checked out, be forewarned. If there’s something malicious to that link, they’ll blame you. What will they think if “you” RT’d spam or a questionable website? As quickly as things get tweeted and RT’d, you don’t want to do anything to gain a bad rep on Twitter.

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There are so many resources out there about how to be SOCIAL-LY RESPONSIBLE. Gather information from those who are actively “social”-izing and ALSO being professional. Check internet websites that are devoted to social media. Just like you learned throughout your career how to handle interviews for television, radio and print media, social media requires learning too. The difference however, is the higher risk for quicker backlash if you type something wrong.

BOTTOM LINE: Be Professional. Be Responsible. Be Social.

**Have some thoughts on this topic? Please be sure to leave a comment or email me at CadChicaSports@yahoo.com.

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