Why professional athletes should own their social media identity: it's about relationships

Last night, a colleague of mine successfully dragged me to a social media meet-up on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Generally, I hate these things. It's awkward; there's the people who already know each other, random loners being led around by their smart phones and, if you're lucky or buzzed enough, you may even get the opportunity to passive aggressively question the validity of someone's job. It's a hoot. And every single time I go to one of these I get into the same argument.

It, of course, starts with me describing my job. Aside from publishing this blog, I work for LexBlog. LexBlog designs, develops and builds blogs for lawyers and law firms while also educating them on how to use these blogs and other social media to build relationships geared towards client development. The next question from the galley is, inevitably, "so you guys, like, write their content and manage their Twitter account for them?" I respond with "no, because that wouldn't make any sense" and off we go.

Last night a particularly snooty girl from a two-name marketing firm I've never heard of asked if I thought celebrities managed their own accounts. I said the best ones do, and cited Kanye, who joined Twitter yesterday, tripping a bit on the way in the door. Here's a look at Kanye's first two tweets (ignore timestamps):

Up early in the morning taking meetings in Silicone Valleyless than a minute ago via web

Lol I spelled Silicon wrong ( I guess I was still thinking about the other type of silicone ITS A PROCESS!! : )less than a minute ago via web

Obviously, not the ideal way for 'Ye, one of the top five acts in music, to join the party. Had a marketing/PR firm been in control, I'm sure things would've been a little different. While Kanye looks a bit foolish, this actually may have been better than a scripted entrance to Twitter. Why? Because Kanye is a bit foolish. This is who he is.

Social media, at its absolute core, is about relationships. If I follow Kanye West on Twitter, it's because I want to build a pseudo-relationship with Kanye West, not KanYe West, Inc. I don't want a relationship with a brand or a marketing company, I want a relationship with an actual person.

The same holds true for athletes and teams. My favorite athlete Twitter accounts are always the the most real, and usually the goofiest: Kevin Durant, Mo Williams, James Harden and even Gilbert Arenas when he was on there. These guys, or at least most of them, get advice and consulting from some of the best in the business. They're not out their on their own (aside from Gil) but their handlers allow them to be themselves, even if that may rub people the wrong way at times. Here's a Durant tweet from yesterday: 

I lowkey miss Seattle and Key Arenaless than a minute ago via web

My initial reaction was, of course, "well, it would've been nice had you said something a couple years ago" but that faded to appreciating he said it at all. Of course, some people wonder if this would 'get him in trouble' or question his love for OKC. Still, it's real. For athletes, slip-ups—which this wasn't—are worth the relationships that other comments and connections build.

When social media consultants or marketing firms take total control of an athlete's social media identity, the few relationships that are somehow created aren't real. They're taking the good name of their clients and, essentially, tricking their fans. The best relationships are built with people, not brands and companies. That isn't to say you can't create positive relationships with the latter two, but it has to be done through the people who make up those brands and companies.

Some individuals will fall back on the technological barriers. It isn't an excuse. if an athlete can text, they can tweet. If an athlete can write an email on the plane, or speak on a phone (Gil used to dictate his posts), they can write a blog.

We need to get past this fear that athletes cannot build positive online identities without embarassments. The embarrassments are part of who they are. We all have slip-ups, we all say goofy stuff. If you don't, you aren't real, and you can't build positive relationships.

Photo credit: taralconley

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Comments (2) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Lillian - August 4, 2010 7:19 PM

Social Media is so necessary

Jason Peck - August 10, 2010 10:17 AM

I agree with most of what you're saying. Some athletes will "get it" and naturally be good at Twitter and technologies that enable them to connect with fans. However other athletes, simply don't care about fans. They care about playing their sport, and that's what they get paid to do. Not everyone is the type who wants to and can effectively manage their online presence and connect directly with fans.

Also, it's true that all people/athletes make mistakes. But some are bigger/more forgivable than others. There is a giant spotlight on athletes and if they make a mistake, everyone sees it. Sponsors don't like these mistakes, especially big ones, so sometimes it does make sense for an athlete's marketing team to help them with their social media efforts. Just as the President doesn't really write his own speeches, it's ok for athletes to have some help, too.

Lastly, I think most fans know they will never have a real "relationship" with a famous athlete via Twitter. I follow Shaq or Kanye and others not because I want a relationship with them, just because I want to be entertained and see what's going on. So getting updates or a response from XYZ athlete's marketing team is still better than getting none at all...though maybe this is debatable, in some cases. Transparency is the best policy, here.

That said, of course things work much better if an athlete owns his own identity, learns the best way to utilize these new platforms AND doesn't make mistakes. However, this is a lot to ask for SOME athletes.

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