Gilbert Arenas takes PR into his own hands on Twitter

At first, Gilbert Arenas didn't get it. He didn't understand Twitter at all. He refused to use the service until he had 1,000,000 followers. Then, all hell broke lose as he was accused of pulling a gun on a teammate in the locker room over a gambling debt. Getting out in front of that from a public relations standpoint is a virtual impossibility. That hasn't stopped Gilbert Arenas from trying.

As Will Leitch points out, Arenas is changing how athletes deal with crisis and how we view Twitter:

In the past, if a player were accused of pulling a gun on a teammate in the locker room, he would deny the story and then issue "no comments" the rest of the way. Today? They take to the Twitter. Newly minted twitterer Gilbert Arenas exploded this weekend, blasting Peter Vecsey and Yahoo's Adrian Wojnarowski, telling bad racial jokes and, at one crazy moment, listing all the directors of failed 1995 cinema experiment Four Rooms.

Arenas is flying the face of traditional public relations. He isn't he eliminating any and all exposure (Tiger) or going with the usual denial/no comment (almost everyone implicated in a steroids scandal). He's going for more exposure, more controversy. Now, is this a horrible idea that should never be a attempted or a new school of thought that's worth considering?

Gilbert Arenas is not trying to keep things vanilla. One of his recent stories talked about him teasing Rob Suller, a man who works on the Wizards staff, for having one good arm. It's lighthearted and he never offends anyone in the story but it's certainly a touch controversial. So is tweeting about cheating on your girlfriend, even if it is a joke. His most recent story, much less controversial, went on to illustrate how one should always be appreciative and never take anything for granted.

No matter what the subject, Arenas is being honest and speaking with emotion. It's transparency at its purest.He's taken particular interest in calling out the writers who have criticized and reported on him, particularly the New York Post's Peter Vecsey. An example:

NY post should eject Peter V FROM WRITNG EVERY do u and ur partner tell 3 stories and all 3 r not true.the blind leadin the blind

peter one question on ur sayin that i took out a loan from JC to pay javale...HUH..thats like jordan farmer givin kobe a loan

what the hell i need a loan from a teammate who on his rookie deal?and 60,000 mannn this price keeps rising.i hope u meant 60 dollars

Peter sum advice from a formal blogger...People like the truth u cant make the movie Gigli seem like its regroup and try again tmw

from the words of ED LOVER...peter...C'MON SON

It's not all that easy to side with Gil—either way, he had guns in the locker room and pointed one at a teammate—but it is simple to see where he's coming from. He may not be interacting as much as some NBA stars but he's been as good as anyone at getting his perspective out to fans by way of Twitter. It's as if a buddy did something everyone knows is a bit stupid but you can sympathize with him because you know he was just messing around.

The lessons that could be learned from Gil are the same as the ones I illustrated when I wrote about Mark Titus of Club Trillion:

  • Show some humility. While Gil does talk about how much money he's making he also mentions that he's staying in on New Years Eve, is sorry if anyone was offended by his pregame joke and acknowledges when he's being a bit boring.
  • Have a voice. No, Gil cannot spell. It doesn't matter. You can tell the words are his own and what he really means. It's as if what he's putting out via Twitter is the same thing he's texting a buddy.
  • Blur the line. Gil's doing it as much as any athlete in social media. In the aforementioned story about the one-armed team manager he mentions asking him if he can swim. When Rob Suller, the team manager, says yes Gil responds "I don't mean in circles."

Sure, the type of language and stories used by Gilbert Arenas on Twitter aren't the type of thing you'd want in an Adidas ad but right now they're doing more good than harm. I may not always agree with what he's saying and might even squirm a bit at times but I still feel as though he's actually communicating. He's giving me a view a wouldn't normally receive. Like I said before, it's as if you're getting a text from Gil, like one friend trying to explain his story to another.

Times are changing for athletes. As time goes on, any athlete who pleads 'no comment' and lets his or her public relations staff take care of it will seem more and more behind the times. They may even seem more 'guilty'. Fans have a newfound desire to bypass the press and get the story from the teams and athletes and teams they follow. These athletes and teams need to take advantage of it.

In sports, engagement marketing is crucial

Marketing in sports has always been about buzz. It's about building a passionate fan base. Sports marketers must stir that passion, find those who are fervent when others are frustrated and spread that positive attitude. Before moving onto the cause of this of the buzz and passion, it's best to define it.

Sean Corcoran of Forrester has a great blog post on the three types of media marketers utilize. The one most relevant to this post: earned media.

"Earned media" is an old PR term that essentially meant getting your brand into free media rather than having to pay for it through advertising. However the term has evolved into the transparent and permanent word-of-mouth that is being created through social media. You need to learn how to listen and respond to both the good (positive organic) and bad (spurned) as well as consider when to try and stimulate earned media through word-of-mouth marketing.

Sure, this relates to everything from consumer electronics to travel to shoes, but nothing more than sports. Wins and losses are determined within the field of play but opinions on those outcomes, and any moves causing them, are everywhere. Newspapers, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, bars, offices and dinner tables.

Now, how does one influence that earned media?

To do some further gathering, John Cass of PR Communications says engagement marketing is key for facilitating earned media.

Engagement marketing is the marketing process where communicators understand the biggest opportunities lie in creating a word of mouth campaign with their social contacts. Here both in private communities and open communications like twitter and blogging a company develops a community management process for building relationships with their customers, evangelists and advocates and as a result of those relationships through each individuals owned media companies can get the word out about products, their brand, and services.

Engagement marketing includes all those activities of content marketing and inbound marketing but takes marketing to the next step in building a formal process for managing relations with influencers, customers and advocates.

A great chart put out by Forrester places tools that include blogging and Twitter under "owned media." Transforming this owned media into earned media isn't automatic. Obviously, it must be earned. In today's world, an athlete or team cannot broadcast via their site, Twitter feed or blog and expect to reach their full potential in terms of publicity without interacting with their fans and customers.

Social media isn't about using a new channel for old content. A team cannot force out press releases and game recaps via a blog and think the general public is going to be any more excited about it. Social media is about building relationships and interaction.

Sportswriters with insight into the thinking of the front office will be less likely to blast them for a supposedly bad trade if they understand the thought process behind it. Bloggers will be less likely to call out a player for a poor effort if he's already acknowledged via Twitter he just didn't have it that night. If a fan has been given a look inside the franchise by way of front office transparency, and understands the team is rebuilding but on the right track, they'll be more likely to argue that point when other fans bash the team for another .500 season. Now imagine this team does come back around, this individual or group will be telling everyone they know they saw this coming.

Obviously, winning has to come at some point to create the ideal fan base but utilizing engagement margeting to build a knowledgeable and passionate foundation of influencers and advocates can and should be done under any circumstances.