Google+ Homecoming Tour with NBA stars is a strong move for the social network

Social technology is defined, more than anything, by the people who use it. Harking back to days long ago, I vividly remember there were two specific groups of people when I was in middle school: AOL Instant Messenger people and MSN Messenger people. It wasn't based on their technological preference, but sometimes really came down to what type of person they were. Even now, it never surprises me when ask someone which they used after raising this observation.

You can even see it now. Facebook is the everyman's social network; there's a lot of noise but you can use it effectively to stay in touch with friends and family, while also creepily monitoring the activity of acquaintances. Twitter, on the other hand, is the network for content producers, for celebrities and members of the media.

In order for Google+ to be successful, and not go the route of Wave, Buzz and whatever, it has to be the social network of someone, even if it isn't the one they use exclusively. With the announcement of the Google+ Homecoming Tour, they seem to making creative efforts to get move in that direction.

For those who haven't heard about this, here are the basics, from Canadian Business:

It was announced yesterday that four of the NBA’s most recognizable stars—LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul—will be hitting the road next month for a four-game exhibition tour dubbed the “Google+ Homecoming Tour.” In addition to being the tour’s main sponsor, the search engine giant will also be live streaming the games through the tour’s Google+ page. Further, Google+ users can win opportunities to chat with the players via “hangouts”—a feature that facilitates multi-person video chat sessions.

Another important nugget, one that's left out here: Google+ managed to get the four stars going with profiles on the network. LeBron James, Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade.

Let's finally get to why this is a good idea.

If Google+ ultimately succeeds, it's going to be because it combines the best parts of Facebook (the media-rich platform and ability to put forth much more than text & links) with the best parts of Twitter (the ability to openly follow and group major influencers). Honestly, Google+ already has the first part. From a technology standpoint, Google+ can do everything that Facebook does. Now it needs to start obtaining what Twitter has, getting the influencers—namely celebrities and content producers—actively using the service, and then hoping those who follow the information they put forth come shortly thereafter.

With this tour, they haven't accomplished the first part of that. While they do have the celebrities signed up and on the service, they'll have to prove to them throughout the promotion process that this is a excellent platform for them to connect with their fans. The hangouts are a good start but ultimately Google+ has to prove this is worthwhile if they're going to keep the hoopsters on there after this tour ends. Again, it's a good first step, but there's a long way to go.

Moving on, if Google+ was going to run a marketing campaign like this in the world of sports, they couldn't have picked a better sport or better timing. Between all the major sports, professional basketball easily has the most rich online community. Not only are its mainstream media members extremely savvy in their social media practices, but the sport also has an absolutely thriving online community of citizen content producers. Streaming the games on Google+ for free ensures that all the journalists not at the games, and all the bloggers interested in getting their hoops fix, will be able to watch at the same place where Google would like them to talk about it.

Again, like with the players, just getting these journalists and bloggers on there to watch isn't enough. It opens the opportunity for conversation, but Google is going to have to do something to keep them there, or at least do whatever they can to foster conversation there on Google+ as opposed to having individuals watch it there while providing commentary on Twitter and Facebook.

Lucky enough for Google+, they're going to get an extended tryout. Not too extended, as the games are only spread out over a little more than a week—December 1st, 3rd, 7th and 10th—but it's something. They'll have NBA stars, journalists, bloggers and fans on there consistently for an entire week.

Google+ has a long way to go before it's even remotely relevant, but creative and opportunistic marketing ventures like this are a good start.

 

Why denying a controversial tweet can damage an athlete's online brand and marketability

What's sometimes lost in the Q&A's, broadcasts, Facebook contests and blog posts of modern online sports marketing is the most fundamental part of social media: relationships.

The practice of blogging, one of the main ingredients in the modern hype around social media, started with those awful online diaries and LiveJournals—created so individuals could share their experiences online and connect with others. Social networks rose in popularity so people could tangibly define their web of interpersonal relationships.

Where am I going with this? If athletes really want to use social media in the best way possible, they should use it as it was originally intended: to foster relationships. They need to be open, honest and real in showing who they are. When athletes go back on the supposedly controversial things they say, it damages the relationship they have with fans, moreso than whatever they originally said.

As everyone's already seen, LeBron tweeted this gem while the Cavs were in the midst of getting defending champion'd to the tune of 55 points:

He then, of course, denied it. Well, kind of. He said that was indeed how he was feeling when he sent it, but that he was simply passing along what someone else sent to him.

Most would say that tweet is a bit spiteful, maybe even villainous. You know who can be really spiteful sometimes? Everyone.

Everyone has been LeBron. Every single person in the world has been motivated to accomplish something by others who didn't want them to do it.

When I was in middle school, I played in a recreational roller hockey league in a secluded and over-protected Seattle suburb called Bainbridge Island. Having recently moved out from Wisconsin, where I played ice hockey since age five, I tore through that league like late-80s MJ. The opposing teams (comprised mostly of kids just learning the sport) and their parents weren't big fans. My reaction? This.

Everyone's been there. You know who experiences the vitriol and venom LeBron sees when he goes on the road? Every single high school or college athlete who plays serious basketball or football.

This goes beyond sports. While not everyone has a boss like Dan Gilbert, I'm sure everyone has, at some point or another, seen some form of office politics and then used proving someone wrong as a motivation for work.

Bringing things back. For LeBron, this goes beyond simply "embracing the role of villain." Just be real. As long as what you're saying or doing isn't ridiculous, someone will feel similar. Hell, when I was a kid my favorite non-Jordan NBA player was Reggie Miller and he was kind of an asshole. But he was scrawny, he had ears that stuck out and he was great at showing people up.

The lesson: It's impossible for fans to develop a relationship with someone who's constantly acting ingenuinely. When an athlete fails to hold a strong relationship with his or her fans, they're less marketable. So LeBron, if you think contraction is good for the league, or that Dan Gilbert has what's coming to him, go for it. Ultimately, if it leads to fans seeing what you're like and being able to relate, you'll be better off for it.

Photo credit: bridgetds

ESPN pulls LeBron James Vegas party story. Why?

Just how much sway does Team LeBron hold at ESPN? That's a question worth asking after a recent story by LA reporter Arash Markazi detailing LeBron's Vegas partying was pulled from The Worldwide Leader's site post-publication.

In the article, Markazi (who obviously has the greatest job in sports) shadows LeBron during parts of a three day party marathon for which he reportedely received six figures for 'hosting'. The article, which can be seen in Google Docs form, was updated as recently as 6:40am ET before being pulled from the site. People are wondering why, and rightfully so.

First off, pulling the article in the first place was incredibly stupid. Once the article is published, there's no point in removing it. This has no effect on whether or not it will be read. Once an article is released to 'teh interwebs', it's out there. So, that leads to the repercussions. Here are two points that aren't really raised by this development, but more-so are established themes underscored by ESPN's actions.

 

  • ESPN does not care, whatsoever, about journalistic integrity. This is nothing new. tWWL takes care of its business interests first and foremost. ESPN and ABC are the leading broadcasters for the NBA. LeBron James is the biggest star in the NBA. Dancing on top of James' already-trounced image doesn't help them. However, does this go deeper than that? We've already seen LeBron take over ESPN's airwaves for an hour, does his camp have a say in what's printed as well? It'll be interesting to see if the folks at LRMR had enough sway to pull this article down.
  • LeBron and his camp are big babies, completely out of touch with reality. Again, nothing new. We saw what happened with the LeBron-getting-dunked-on/Jordan Crawford controversy. If his camp did pull the story from ESPN, it doesn't have any effect other than once again letting everyone know he's outrageously self conscious and cannot deal with any amount of criticism.

Now, to a couple highlights:

Bottle after bottle of "Ace of Spades" champagne is delivered to the table by waiter flying down from above the dance flore like some overgrown Peter Pan on a wire. One time he's dressed like a King, another time as Indiana Jones and another time in a replica of James' No. 6 Miami Heat Jersey.

James, who can hardly see the flying figure through his tinted glasses, almost gets kicked in the head on the waiter's last trip down. He looks at the girls around him and says "I wish they'd have one of these girls with no panties do that instead of the guy.

Toward the end of the night, Boston Celtics forward Glen Davis walks past James' party and looks at the scen up and down several times like a painting in a museum, soaking in the images of the go-go dancers, the "King" sign and the ostumed man delivering bottles of champagne.

Davis shakes his head and walks on.

Another NBA star with a similar reaction:

[Lamar] Odom, smoking a cigar, can't quite keep up. James celebrates by crossing himself and taking a shot of Patron. Moments later, a handful of girls dressed as cheerleaders walk toward his table with someone dressed in a James' Heat uniform. Someone throws talcum powder in the air as James does before every game, while his new unofficial song, "I'm in MIami," plays,

Odom casts a glance James' way before looking in the opposite direction and raising his glass at a couple on the dance floor who point to their rings and smile.

Ridiculous stuff. Pulling the article does much more damage to both LeBron and ESPN than publishing it ever would.

UPDATE: LeBron's camp says it wasn't them. Riiiight.

UPDATE II: Darren Rovell with more insight:

ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz tells us why the LeBron Vegas story was pulled: "The story should have never been published. The draft was inadvertently put on the server before going through the usual editorial process. We are in the midst of looking into the matter.”

Like others are already saying, that's tough to believe.

Also, on the subject, we have some fantastic dramatizations from the hilarious team at The Basketball Jones.

TBJ Dramatization: ESPN's 'LeBron in Vegas' story from The Basketball Jones on Vimeo.

Dramatization: ESPN's 'LeBron in Vegas' story, Act II from The Basketball Jones on Vimeo.

Photo credit: Mario_d

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

While low, LeBron sets social media standard for transcendent athletes

If this entire LeBron free agent extravaganza has shown us anything, it's that he owns us all. As annoyed as almost all sports fans, writers and casual observers have become, he still holds the collective attention spans of each group. He's bigger than any other American athlete and it isn't even close. Now he's on Twitter.

Of course, it isn't a big step for him. Chris Paul buddied up with LBJ, told him Twitter was neat and something fun to mess around on so his camp either acquired the KingJames name or put it to use after acquiring it some time ago. So here we are, three tweets and a few hundred thousand followers later.

A new precedent is set.

LeBron James is coming into the prime of his career and these few days will play a large role in deciding how that will go. LeBron has decided to make social media—if not a large part of it— at least a worthy venture.

So why is this a big deal?

In terms of social media and American sports, we've never seen anything like it. Never has an athlete so big jumped on social media. Again, what LeBron is putting out there (3 tweets thus far) obviously isn't very insightful, he isn't 'harnessing the power of social media' (ugh) and there's no saying how much he'll use this going forward. After all, his buddy Jay-Z has been on Twitter for awhile and no one's really noticed.

However, a standard has been set. No matter how big an athlete, the precedent is that you should be on Twitter. I don't know if we'll ever see an athlete with as much hype and hoopla surrounding him as LeBron (hope not) but if we do, and social media is still a part of our daily lives, that athlete will have to partake. While athletes like Kobe and Tiger cruised through athletic and marketing primes prior to the age of social media, all future athletes who rise to this level of success will use social media.

In actuality, this may be the last time we see an athlete of LeBron's status get to where he is without using social media previously. It's a tipping point, using social media is no longer in question. Look at the NBA's next crop of transcendent stars: Kevin Durant, John Wall, etc. All on Twitter.

It didn't take much, but it's a turning point. No matter how transcendent, talented or marketable the athlete, they will use social media.