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

Kevin Durant has built one of the strongest brands in basketball by not caring about it

Professional Athlete Best Practices by Kevin Durant.

Sounds like a legitimate book title, doesn't it? I'd read it. It's come to the point where every action and public comment put forth by the Oklahoma City star is unanimously praised by anyone who chooses to comment on it. Through a focus on hoops and remaining humble, Kevin Durant has built one of the strongest and most respected brands in sports without ever intentionally doing so.

Borrowing a phrase from one of the greatest television ads ever, Kevin Durant does what I'd advise every athlete, team, company and individual to do: let your game speak.

Kevin Durant's philosophy and career goals—in the context of marketing and branding—are appropriately summed up in a recent interview with Dan Wiederer of The Fayetteville Observer regarding his time spent with USA Basketball. Here are his thoughts on what his Team USA experience could do to raise his global profile:

To be honest with you, I really don't care. I really don't. It would be cool for most people to know who the Oklahoma City Thunder are. That's what I'm about. I really don't care about my global brand or anything like that. I just want to come out here and be the best player. This has never been about raising my profile.

In a narcissistic reality-TV age that gave us "I'm taking my talents to South Beach," Durant's focused approach to bettering himself on the court and letting everything else take care of itself is a refreshing throwback to days when being great was more important than being famous.

Now, I'll give credit where credit is due as those at Goodwin Sports Management, including Nate Jones, have done a fantastic job simply staying out of Durant's way. It's shortsighted to say "hey, it's easy marketing an athlete with Durant's talent and attitude." In a few short weeks, LeBron's LRMR agency drove right over Chris Paul's image, stopped, and then backed over it again.

Yes, it's easy to let an athlete be himself when that 'self' is so admirable but those surrounding him could've easily pushed for more press, a bigger market or simply hid actions by Kevin Durant that made him so hilariously great. Those advising and representing Durant are owed a significant amount of credit for letting Durant call the shots.

Going forward, and stepping away from marketing only partially, the NBA of the next 5-10 years belongs to Kevin Durant and LeBron James. It's humble vs ego-centric, greatness vs fame and, to some, it might as well be good vs evil.

By positioning himself as the anti-star, Durant has done just the opposite. Kevin Durant is the standard for creating a respected brand in an age when the traits that define him—hard-working, humility and focus—are lost on most.

Photo credit: aaronisnotcool