A large, engaged social media following is a business opportunity, not just a status marker. Sports reporters increasingly look to athletes’ social media channels for entertaining quotes or photos, and they choose athletes with large online followings and engaging content to feature, improving their visibility. But you don’t have to be a Major League Baseball All-Star to build a strong social brand — any athlete, at any level (professional, collegiate or prep), can create and maintain a social media presence without spending a lot of time or money.
As an athlete, you can extend your own personal brand online to positively impact young fans, attract interest and communicate values. We all know the value of an in-real-life (IRL) personal brand bolstered by community outreach, volunteerism, professionalism and personal integrity. Social media is the perfect platform to highlight these aspects of your IRL brand.
Volunteerism and charity
Wide receiver Andre Johnson of the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts is a great example of someone who builds awareness about his social activism on social media. Johnson regularly shares updates on his community-outreach projects with his over 300,000 Facebook fans. In December 2012, Johnson purchased more than $19,000 worth of gifts for underprivileged children, and a photo he shared of himself holding the Toys “R” Us receipts went viral. It was an event he had funded for six consecutive years, but thanks to social media, he was able to bring widespread attention to this cause for the first time.
Sharing aspects of your personal life and family values allows fans to connect more to you as a dad, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter or best friend. By becoming relatable and forging stronger connections to fans online, athletes can build a more passionate, engaged following.
J.J. Watt, the larger-than-life defensive end for the Houston Texans, proved this when he shared a picture of the new car he bought for his mother. It was a gift he said he wanted to give her his whole life in gratitude for all of her sacrifices for him. His post gave fans and followers a glimpse into who Watt is as an appreciative, humble family man and garnered a lot of media interest.
Many successful athletes post about their families and generate the same kind of attention. Successful athletes understand that communicating their family values resonates with fans and positions them as positive role models.
Social media is a great way to highlight lesser-known aspects of your personality, whether you’re outgoing and witty, a homebody or a gamer. There isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” personality on social media as long as you’re authentic. But beware: There are many ways a simple post or location check-in could be misinterpreted or misunderstood. If you only have five posts and they are all at a bar, many people will believe you spend all of your time there. Make sure you diversify your posts and keep them family-friendly.
You will rarely, if ever, see a photo of retired New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter with an alcoholic beverage. This is his personal brand and one that he manages carefully and purposefully as a role model for young athletes.
Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch’s love of Skittles has generated a lot of chatter on social media and throughout the Seahawks’ fan base. Fans noticed Lynch eating the candy on the sideline mid-game and spread the word. Because of his genuine passion for Skittles, Lynch is often showered with candy by fans in the end zone. Ultimately, the social media connection developed into a sponsorship.
Social media isn’t only a place for athletes to share stories about favorite restaurants or daily rituals–it’s also an easy and effective place to acknowledge and show appreciation for your loyal and dedicated fans.
Defensive tackle Domata Peko of the Cincinnati Bengals engages fans and shows his appreciation for their loyalty by regularly tweeting his gratitude and frequently holding contests. Peko will invite fans to tweet pictures based on a simple premise in exchange for a chance to win game tickets. This one-on-one interaction with Peko mobilizes his fans and energizes them to rally around him and their team.
Successful athletes recognize that social media is becoming a bigger and more important part of professional sports. Maintaining social media accounts and building a devoted following with positive, fun content may lead to marketing opportunities or endorsements. A loyal online audience will stay with you throughout your career and follow you throughout your post-athletic career.
You don’t need to hire a marketing team to manage your social media accounts, but you do need to make a conscientious effort to interact, connect and share with your fans and followers. Your efforts will help increase your visibility and your personal brand while giving sports fans a glimpse of who you are.
Adam Juratovac is Team On 3‘s team captain/network manager, charged with athlete recruitment. In addition, he is an attorney and the founder and editor of AthletesLTD, a platform featuring personal narratives written by athletes.