On social media, pro athletes are a little more like the rest of us. Their popularity isn't just about wins, but also about how likeable they are to their followers.
According to Twitter, 70 percent of tweets are consumed within a live broadcast window, and half of all conversations on Twitter are about sporting events, per Nielsen. When it comes to engaging fans online, the critical time for athletes is leading up to and immediately after games. The result is that brands and players have found a whole new way of working together on endorsements.
"Whenever you tweet you're talking about yourself, your brand and everything you want to be off the field," said Jason McCourty of the Tennessee Titans. "I represent myself in a way that brands will like, that I will like and anybody that goes to my timeline will enjoy," he said.
McCourty's comments came during "The Power of Athlete Endorsements Through Social Media," an event hosted by the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) at Twitter's headquarters in San Francisco. Speakers also included Jason's twin brother Devin McCourty of the New England Patriots, free agent Joique Bell and the NFLPA's Ahmad Nassar and George Atallah talking to Twitter's sports partnerships manager, Raleigh Anne Blank.
"Twitter and sports go hand-in-hand because it's almost like your favorite sports bar," said Blank. "You go there to hear from the fans you like, the fans of the other team and everyone in between. You can get great video content from players, coaches and teams. But then you get that sort of water cooler sports bar conversation."
Finding the perfect fit between an endorser and brand isn't easy, but the NFLPA is doing a lot to make that credible, authentic connection happen for brands and athletes. "The last thing we want is that some [athlete's] tweets are viewed as the sanitized branded tweet, which is really just the Twitter version of standing at the podium after the game saying the stuff that won't get you in trouble," said Ahmad Nassar, president of NFL Players Inc.
For athletes, the NFLPA hosts a series of seminars with rookies entering the league on social media etiquette and creating a business-savvy mindset. "When brands are looking for endorsers, they aren't just looking for the biggest name or the guy who had the most touchdowns last week," said the NFLPA's assistant executive director of external affairs, George Atallah. "What they want is someone who knows the product, maybe already uses the product, maybe has already tweeted about the product."
In addition to events like this one, the NFLPA also provides tools and solutions for brand marketers looking to connect with an athlete. For example, through a digital endorsement platform called Activate, a marketer can input several attributes on the platform, such as reach or budget, and the technology will recommend appropriate players.
Social media will continue to be an important avenue for advertisers. But what's more important is the relationship between celebrities, brands and consumers on those platforms. Brands need be strategic about who endorses them and athletes need to be smart about their presence online. Or as Devin McCourty of the Patriots put it: "Sometimes I'll have a tweet all typed out and it's like … nah, delete all."