PR in Sports

Looking at the World of Sports from a PR Perspecitve

5 Social Media Tips for Professional Athletes

with 25 comments

Social media exploded into the mainstream in 2009, nearly everyone now has a Twitter account and Facebook profile, and this trend was seen in no greater place than the world of sports. The presence of professional athletes in social media has almost been unmatched in the entertainment/celebrity world, but this hasn’t come without a price and some lessons learned the hard way.

Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas had fans on Twitter begging him to stop tweeting about his bringing an unloaded gun into the Wizards locker room. Former Chiefs running back Larry Johnson (@ToonIcon) was cut by the team partly due to criticizing his coach via Twitter. And, just last week, Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (@DzzJackson22) was caught talking trash to the Dallas Cowboys using Twitter. Arenas has since taken down his Twitter page and both Johnson and Jackson have made theirs private, but those are just a few of the many examples of the social media mishaps from athletes over the last year.

Some have called for athletes to stay away from Twitter and Facebook, but that’s crazy. Those same members of the media asking athletes to stay away from Twitter wouldn’t call for athletes to stop dealing with traditional media merely because they said the wrong thing during an interview or press conference, right? Social media isn’t the issue, the issue is being smarter in how social media is used.

With that said, below are five social media tips for professional athletes:

1) Behind the Scenes – In my experience in public relations and marketing with athletes and celebrities, I’ve found that the most popular features are the behind the scenes features. Fans love photos from the locker room or updates from road trips, features that traditional media don’t always have access too. For the most part, fans would rather get their hard news from beat writers or ESPN. Athletes should be posting colorful insights to their everyday lives. Thoughts on a movie, photos of boarding the team plane, but not sharing intimate team and personal details.

Example: Celtics forward Shelden Williams (@SheldenWilliams) and his wife Sparks forward Candice Parker (@Candace_Parker) posted photos of pumpkins they were carving over Halloween and asked fans to vote on whose was better. They received plenty of response from fans, while giving insight into their lives without airing the dirty laundry.

2) Fan Engagement – Athletes and celebrities can get away with not following or directly engaging with fans in social media, but why? What’s the fun in just sending out messages, but not interacting with anyone? Athletes have plenty of demands on their time, but will gain so much more by finding time to follow-back and directly communicate with fans. Find a few hours a week on the team plane, in the hotel or when at home relaxing, the payoff will be endless both professionally and personally.

Example: Check out Shaquille O’Neal’s Twitter page (@The_Real_Shaq) and you’ll see more @replies than anything else. He’s listening to his fans and replying to them on a regular basis, this is how you maximize your social media interaction. In the past he’s also given fans a location of where he is and then handed out free tickets to the first ones to find him in public. Brilliant, although with an assist to Digital Royalty!

3) Where’s the Beef? – I’m not sure where it is, but I know it shouldn’t be in your social media plan. Do not air your beef with coaches, teammates, opponents, fans or anyone else. Do not respond to slights from members of the media, post bulletin board material or address legal issues.  We’ve seen the results from Arenas, Johnson, Jackson and many many more.

Example: Too many to count!

4) Develop a Comprehensive Plan – An athletes social media plan should be far more than a Twitter account and Facebook Page. Professional athletes should all have a main website where they host most of their content, including news, events and community outreach. Links to the main website should be included in all social media activity and links to follow, friend and subscribe should be throughout the main site as well. Fans need to be able to find all their online actives throughout each interaction.

Example: Jets defensive back Kerry Rhodes has a phenomenal social media plan. Rhodes website serves as the main hub. The site includes links to all of his social media activity and hosts his most important news, including, off the field activities, plenty of video and information on his charitable foundation. A quick look at Rhodes Twitter page (@kerryrhodes) also shows that he’s driving followers back to his site (social media hub) while also including links to his Facebook Page and ustream.tv channel.

5) Get Trained – Last, but maybe most important, get trained! Most professional leagues require traditional media training at the beginning of each season. If social media training isn’t a part of that session, then athletes should ask their team PR people, agent or hire a consultant themselves, but similar to traditional media training, social media training is imperative.  When an athlete makes a mistep with traditional media they can usually find a way out or spin it, when screwing up with social media it’s much more difficult to shift blame and spin because it’s their own words or videos front and center.

Hopefully those tips help, their by no means the only tips and can really be applied to anyone delving into social media, but athletes are definitely in dire need of some social media assistance. Here’s to hoping even more athletes start participating in the conversation, but the right way!

Have any more social media tips, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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25 Responses

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  1. Excellent article. Lots of good points to think about and implement.

    seobyswaby

    January 10, 2010 at 6:28 pm

    • Many thanks, and I appreciate you checking the post out! There are definitely more tips, I’m sure, but hopefully these are helpful.

      Thanks,
      Brian

      Brian Gleason

      January 10, 2010 at 6:32 pm

  2. […] PR in Sports lists five social media tips for professional athletes. […]

  3. These are some tremendous tips. It’s too bad many athletes don’t abide by most of them.

    Jeff

    January 12, 2010 at 12:12 am

    • Thanks for the kind words Jeff! Hopefully these athletes, and maybe more importantly their advisers, are realizing Social Media training is an important aspect of their professional development.

      Brian Gleason

      January 12, 2010 at 11:03 pm

  4. These are all great! Hopefully social media will be weighed more heavy when these athletes receive general media training. Too bad it took some guinea pigs to take the bait for people to learn to manage their online presence in a professional manner.

    SportsandaLatte

    January 12, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    • Thanks for checking out the blog Deandra, and for the positive feedback! Hopefully the guinea pigs are learning and we won’t see as many mistakes this year.

      Brian Gleason

      January 12, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    • Hi Marshall, Thanks for the reply and no worries, I know you’re a very busy man.Ok, just a quick fololw up. I still have about 6 weeks before my race and things have been going pretty well. I’m doing about 4 runs a week averaging 8-10 miles for 3 of the runs, but my long run is still only averaging 14-17 miles at this point.Questions:1. What should my goal be for my long run over the next few weeks, as it relates to training for a 50K?(Should I be able to run 20-25 or more comfortably by race time ?)2. The race I’ll be doing is a 25K loop, so I’ll do two loops. The elevation gain per loop is 2500 ft, so it’s 5000 total over the 50K.The trails I’m running in Boulder are considerably steeper, with some of them having a gain of 2700ft in the first 3.5miles and total gains of 4000-5000 ft on a 10 mile run.My question is; Do you think it’s beneficial for me to train on hills with this type of elevation gain for my race or should I be running on some flatter trails?I guess I’m hoping the training on the steeper gains, means I’ll have an easier time with the race course, since it’s much less gain, but I’m sure I could be wrong. Any additional thoughts and/or comments would be appreciated.Keep up the great work!!I take a lot of inspiration from you, because you started your running career much later(in your 30 s), then quite a bit of most other top ultrarunners in this world.And you accomplished so much into your forties and continue to accomplish a great deal beyond, so this gives me(and I’m sure many), great hope that it’s not too late. All the best,Scott

      Elani

      May 23, 2012 at 11:40 am

  5. Interacting with fans through social media is such good publicity! Imagine how much fans’ loyalty will increase if they are personally responded to by their sports heroes. Great “behind the scenes” tip. The most popular celebrity twitter accounts are the ones that relate what is happening in their daily lives.

    John S

    February 1, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    • Hi John,

      Thanks for checking out the blog and your kind comments. Great point about athletes gaining fans loyalty by personally responding. I’ve had a few athletes personally respond on Twitter, and it’s a great touch and definitely secures my interest in them both on and off the court.

      Brian Gleason

      February 2, 2010 at 11:08 pm

      • Unfortunately, I will not be in the Chicago area in late August; however, I will be at the Expo for the Chicago Marathon in October. I’d be degiehtld to meet you, so drop by the Marathon Beyond booth to find me!Suggestions for training would be to ramp up mileage to at least 30 to 40 miles per week of running, and do a couple of runs about a month before the marathon of 18-20 miles. Being consistent with training and running 5 times per week is most beneficial. For the marathon, drink at every aid station and start out slow … they can always speed up the last third of the marathon if they are really feeling great.Pulling in more charity running members is a tough one I went online and noticed you are one of the three who are still looking for runners, so I wonder how it’s going? I will not be running, as I do not have an entry, and raising money for a charity is difficult, as I have my own that I’m focusing on. Do you know Jim Simone, who raises money for the Harbor House?

        Muhammad

        May 25, 2012 at 4:41 am

  6. Fantastic posting, I bookmarked your blog post so I can visit again in the near future, Cheers, Santo Moldrem

    Santo Moldrem

    March 2, 2010 at 5:46 pm

  7. I happened to find your site on yahoo while looking for bowling trick shots and tips. I found your site to be very informational, even though it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for. Keep up the great work on the site and I’ll look forward to reading a lot more!

    Lashon Mofield

    March 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm

  8. What a great piece.

    My agency ENS Ltd is a sports PR specialist and this is exactly the type of advice we give our clients all the time.

    In our book there is no better strategy than avoiding a media crisis in the first place.

    Part of guiding clients on all aspects of crisis avoidance is that we now recommend stars have a security review which includes their fixed and mobile IT and telephony. The ‘phone hacking’ scandal that is currently running in the UK is a timely reminder that unscrupulous journalists will do anything for a story lead!

    Rebecca

    April 18, 2011 at 8:52 am

  9. This is great information that I plan on passing to my clients. Thanks!

    Alvin

    April 25, 2011 at 1:32 pm

  10. Excellent piece! Twitter can be extremely beneficial to athletes and their fans if used properly and take the advice of your tips. It can create such a unique connection between star and fan. I know a few weeks ago B.J. Upton of the Tampa Rays lost his wallet and a fan tweet him to get it back. Upton then gave the fan a bat. Thanks for posting!

    jeffdsmith

    October 16, 2012 at 11:51 am

  11. You have some great tips and examples of how professional athletes should handle themselves in the social media world. Although your original post was made two years ago, it still holds completely true today if not more valuable with the increasing use of social media in the sports world. I believe every professional and college athlete could really benefit from a lesson in social media and the good, bad and ugly of its uses.
    With so many fans online looking into their favorite teams and players every move, these athletes and athletic programs need to be careful what kind of light they are shedding on themselves and the program they represent.
    I think your tip number five is the most important one of all: “Get Trained.” This would be an invaluable tool for sports programs both at college and professional levels. While many colleges can still get away with banning student athletes from using social media during the season it is truly impractical and an in-service to the fans who want to know what’s going on and what kind of pizza their favorite player likes to eat.
    Your example of Candice Parker and Sheldon Williams is the very reason fans love to follow their favorite players. They want to know these fun insights and be let into the players’ world without feeling like they are reading a personal diary or are in the middle of a fight between player and coach.
    I remember while studying for my undergraduate degree at WKU, I followed several of our basketball players on Twitter. I loved seeing them post such positive messages about the team and each other and thanking the fans after games. They seemed to be having such a great time; one example I still remember is when the new NCAA Basketball video game came out, and they were all sitting around playing. They were tweeting pictures and asking fans who they thought would win. Then compared who had the most “fans” cheering them on. It was great to see them interacting with the public in a fun and positive way.

    Ashley Parker

    November 8, 2012 at 11:27 am

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