Let’s get one thing straight upfront—social media is not as easy as “if you build it, they will come” for any athlete, team, league, or sponsor looking to establish or enhance brand equity. Social media marketing is no different than traditional off-line marketing in that it requires a well thought out strategy, devoted resources, and a budget targeted at a reaching a measurable goal for the individual or organization.
With that said, social media’s major advantages—the cost-to-creativity ratio and the ability to expand reach via an engaged audience (key word here is “engaged” but I’ll explain more)—make this form of marketing so powerful that most athletes looking to enhance their salaries with fat endorsement checks should be asking their agency, management team, or friends and family why social media isn’t a part of their overall marketing strategy.
How can you not look at Kevin Garnett and wonder why Dwight Howard is arguably more popular with fans and boasts more sponsors yet earns 25% as much salary as his older counterpart plus lacks an NBA championship ring.
One reason is that Howard is literally an authentic presence everywhere on the web in addition to print and TV. You better believe his sponsors and media partners love the added exposure (unique visits and status update impressions) his 525,000 fan Facebook Page offers. Notice his latest Men’s Health magazine appearance occupies both his Facebook and his 1.5 million follower Twitter profile pic.
So with the above example in mind, here are 5 reasons that professional athletes should leverage social media sooner than later:
1. Personal brand equity
Professional athletes are more frequently choosing to separate their representation for contract negotiations and marketing because of the complex multi-million dollar athlete endorsement arena. Traditionally, athlete reputation, fan popularity, and access to a major metropolitan market has determined who earns national endorsement deals.
Social media can play a critical role in the expedited development of an athlete’s personal brand by showcasing personality to fans and the media. If an athlete is well spoken and naturally gifted in front of the camera, platforms like YouTube and Ustream provide invaluable opportunities to demonstrate that a client can be an effective pitch person.
On the flip-side, if an athlete is thought to be soft-spoken or non-personable, platforms like Facebook and Twitter offer the chance to build an audience who might be willing to listen to what the client has to say and hopefully over time become ambassadors for the athlete’s personal brand. Contests and random giveaways related to both the athlete and the team enhance the likelihood that fans will engage. This can be done in repetition with little coordination.
The bottom line here is that a professional athlete can let the media, team, and league decide their personal brand or if the athlete is proactive, he or she can evaluate their strengths and weaknesses in personality and play up those strengths to the fans who can then in turn form their own opinion of the athlete rather than let the mainstream media paint a different picture. This can prove critical during a PR crisis.
2. Insights and analytics
What did sports marketers do before social media when determining what athletes would best represent their brand? Seriously … if there is one reason to leverage social media, it’s to reach critical mass on a Facebook Page. Unlike any other platform on the web, Facebook is the backbone of personal identity meaning that demographics such as age and race on a Facebook Page are highly accurate indicators of an athlete’s overall fan base.
Here’s where that key word “engagement” plays a critical role. If an athlete can build a Facebook Page with a sizable audience (say 100,000 fans) that hangs on every word, photo, and video posted, a smart sports marketing team can shop their athlete around and proactively seek one-off endorsement deals.
Imagine discovering a male athlete has a fan base this is predominantly female and now imagine how many brands would be interested in reaching the women of the household that drive the purchases of household goods, for example, male grooming products. It should also be noted that YouTube offers strong analytics and extremely effective Google advertising once a large enough audience is reached while Facebook’s analytics will be a key audience predictor leading into a YouTube viral campaign.
3. Sponsorship activation
The first two reasons lead to number reason number three which is the ability to leverage a social media network to effectively activate brand sponsors. It so simple to use social media to create authentic touch points between the athlete, brand, and consumer and arguably more effectively than a TV or print advertisement because social media affords the opportunity to connect the athlete’s lifestyle to the brand.
Don’t you think Mercedes-Benz would love for an athlete to broadcast himself or herself live on Ustream driving their new CL while Rolex could hardly argue with that same athlete wearing one of their watches in full view of the steering wheel? It’s real world and it’s the type of marketing that separates innovative and sustainable brands from their competitors.
Even less complicated are branded images and videos on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. Not typically thought of as a social media platform for athletes, Flickr can offer tens of thousands of authentic views for the sponsor especially since it is integrated with Yahoo! image search. And because images are so highly searched, a well tagged and described Flickr photo gallery can continue to provide sponsor activation long after a campaign ends.
4. Charity and community
Although not every professional athlete is intimately involved with a charitable foundation or community effort, there are some who are truly connected to a cause. For these athletes, they should be using social media to increase awareness as well as for fundraising. Social media also humanizes the athlete which is critical in this day and age of TMZ Sports and off-the-field problems for many athletes.
Twitter and Facebook are extremely effective mediums for promoting a charitable event or that special story fans need to hear about. Social media platforms also present creative opportunities for fundraising like raffle giveaways with special prizes for fans that donate. Another example use would be the athlete giving away money when a specific fan or follower milestone is reached (e.g. Drew Carey donating $1 million dollars when gaining his 1 millionth Twitter follower).
We all know that there is a limited shelf life on a professional sports career. For all the athletes that have their eye on a media or coaching career, social media helps to shape an on-screen personality and establish an expertise. Platforms like Ustream and YouTube can be used to increase comfort levels in front the camera and sharpen on-screen presence.
Especially for an aging athlete and perhaps arguably most important, social media affords an opportunity to keep an athlete relevant to a younger generation. Possessing a strong digital brand, can open the door to cameos or guest appearances on TV shows as well as prove that a older or retired athlete is still connected to pop culture. This should matter to TV networks searching for talent as well as colleges looking to boost recruiting.
Do you agree with us … what’s your sixth reason?