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5 Social Media Tips for Professional Athletes

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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 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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Can Social Media Change the “One and Done” Rule?

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Harrison Barnes announced his college choice via Skype

Professional athletes have entered the realm of social media in full force. The smart ones are joining sites like Twitter, creating Facebook Pages and enhancing their own websites in an effort to build their personal brand and market themselves. But, pro athletes aren’t the only athletes working on their personal brand using this exploding form of personalized communication.

The top high school athletes in the country are popping up all over Twitter, Facebook and more. Kyrie Irving, the 9th ranked basketball player in the class of 2010 according, played out much of his recruitment on Twitter, and he’s not the only one. It’s also common place for the top high school basketball and football players to announce their college of choice on ESPNU.

So, it wasn’t a surprise when the #1 ranked basketball player in the country used an innovative online tool to announce his college of choice Friday evening. Harrison Barnes wanted to do something nobody had done before.

In the middle of his press conference on ESPNU, Barnes said he would be attending the school “of the coach I’m about to Skype”, then dramatically stood up from the podium and walked over to a laptop to  use the video messaging service Skype, to video conference North Carolina Coach Roy Williams.

The result of this new movement? The “Social Media Athlete”.

The “Social Media Athlete” is communicating with fans on a personal, sometimes one-on-one level. Social media isn’t solely responsible for more polished 18 year-old athletes. This movement began years ago, but direct communication tools like Twitter, Facebook and Skype have young athletes not only crafting their message, but developing entire recruitment campaigns, thus beginning to build their personal brand as early as high school.

Seriously, watch the video of the Barnes news conference. Before he “Skyped” Coach Williams, Barnes individually thanked the media outlets that covered his recruitment in a carefully crafted speech.  That’s right, he thanked the media individually. PR folks and media can attest, that’s virtually unheard of. Barnes seemed closer to what we’ll expect out of LeBron James when he announces his destination next summer, than a high school kid announcing a college. Not that LeBron will thank the media!

This focus on personal branding by athletes at much earlier ages makes sense though. The top high school players and their handlers see the potential and realize they’ll be in the NBA after just one year of college. But, what will the effect be?

Can the “Social Media Athlete” be a catalyst for eliminating the NBA rule that mandates players be one year out of high school before they can enter the draft?

It’s a possibility. Let’s be real, that rule isn’t about academics or physical development, it’s about marketing. Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant were fine, but when 5-6 high school players a year began going straight to the NBA, fans didn’t know who they were, so they weren’t marketable. Now, with the “Social Media Athlete” these players are becoming household names at earlier ages.

The question though, is this focus on personal branding at such a young age a good thing? Probably not. But, I’m sure one person out there is loving it. I’m looking at you David Stern!

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Written by Brian Gleason

November 16, 2009 at 12:03 am

Social Media Taking Athletes Interaction by Storm

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Curt Schilling announced his retirement Monday on his blog

Curt Schilling announced his retirement Monday on his blog

Here we go again, another post on the ever growing trend of social media in sports, but the fact is it’s undeniable at this point. We’ve already covered the Philadelphia Eagles Facebook issue and the Charlie Villanueva halftime Tweet. Monday we saw even more evidence that social media is taking sports by storm when Curt Schilling announced his retirement from baseball on his blog. That’s right, not an arranged press conference, but on his blog! Could you imagine the firestorm this would have caused five or even two years ago?

Schilling will still hold a tear-jerker press availability or at least make the interview rounds, but the influx of athletes using social media to break their own news brings up numerous issues. Joe Favorito at Sports PR & Marketing Roundup has some great info on how athletes can use their blogs not only craft the message, but to capatilize on advertising dollars. By announcing such news on a radio show for example, the stations advertisers win, but by doing so on their own blog the athlete is driving audiences through clicks to their own advertisers.

This new age messaging also begs the question, how can team PR people deal with this type of interaction from their athletes? How can it be ensured that the correct message gets out, or even more importantly, that the wrong one doesn’t? What can be done to make sure a team is aware of what players are doing online?

It can be uncharted territory for a team because there are distinct differences between interviews and appearances set up by the team and what an athlete does in terms of personal branding on their own time. Team reps do their best to maintain relationships with player agents and management, but their personal branding is often done without notifying team officials.

There are action items that team PR people can utilize to stay ahead of the game and avoid suprises. Every PR person should be engaging in social media, whether it be corporate or personal accounts. Remaining up-to-date on the latest online trends requires participating in the conversation. Being one step behind ensures never being able to keep up with where athletes are sharing information.

A little more obvious is “following”, “friending” and “becoming a fan” of your athletes social media pages, and consistently checking them, and their personal websites, for updates. Being surprised by a reporters question about something one of your players posted online can only compound the situation, plus by checking for their updates you might find some personal or community information that would be worth pitching to the media.

Finally, most companies these days are beginning to adopt social media rules for employees, IBM has one of the best employee social media policies. Sports teams should follow a similar model, although a few tweaks might be needed due to the nature of working with contract athletes as opposed to employees. The main idea stays the same though, just as media training is provided to players, so should training for players regarding social media activities.

The key is to remain in the loop on players personal activities in an effort to not be caught off-guard when something is posted that isn’t in-line with team policy.

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Written by Brian Gleason

March 24, 2009 at 10:04 pm

What Sport Would Work for In-Game Tweets?

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Looks like PRinSports helped break the Charlie Villanueva Halftime Twitter story Sunday night, as, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Ball Don’t Lie are just a few of the outlets that referenced the initial post. It also seems that not everyone was as excited about Charlie V’s Tweet.

The verdict came in Tuesday when Milwaukee Bucks Coach Scott Skiles told the AP that Villanueva’s in-game Tweets will be no more. Skiles told the team, and Villanueva, that nothing like that will ever happen again, although he stopped short of levying a fine.

After practice Villanueva tweeted the following, “Well guys, no more halftime tweets for me – I’ll leave it at that, won’t comment on it any further. But I still got love for ya. Stay tune.” Credit Villanueva for not only following up in the media, but explaining himself on Twitter. He obviously understands the importance of connecting with fans, and he’ll continue to find new and exciting ways to let fans in.

I understand where opponents of the in-game Tweet are coming from. For the most part I’m a purest when it comes to sports. But, this is really more about perception than reality. The perception is that Villanueva isn’t focused on the game. The perception is that Skiles doesn’t have the Bucks taking the matter at hand seriously.

But, Twitter isn’t go away. Athletes finding new and innovative ways to connect with their fans in a more personable way isn’t going away. The number of celebrities on Twitter and with Facebook Fan Pages is growing everyday. Charlie V’s halftime Tweet is the beginning, not the end, of more creative communication with fans. It started with athletes using blogs, but will continure to evolve as social media evolves.

The question is, what sport would be conducive to in-game Tweets? Would you have a problem with a baseball player sending tweets in the dugout in between innings? Maybe the pitcher after he’s been pulled? How about a golfer at the turn?

Let me know your thoughts, because this will happen again and it could become the norm.

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Written by Brian Gleason

March 17, 2009 at 11:30 am

Eagles in PR Minefield over Facebook Firing

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Update: Former Philadelphia Eagles employee Dan Leone will be chatting on at 3:00pm EST on Thursday, March 12.

Former Philadelphia Eagles employee Dan Leone grew up just down the street from Veterans Stadium, and has been a die-hard fan his entire life. When the Eagles built Lincoln Financial Field Leone figured he’d fill out an application and see if he could land a gig with his favorite team.

Fast forward 6 years and Leone is the west gate chief on game days, that is up until last week when the team let 13-year veteran, and fan-favorite Brian Dawkins sign with the Denver Broncos. What does Dawkins have to do with this? Well, Leone, like many Eagles fans, was furious Dawkins was leaving and posted on his Facebook page, “Dan is [expletive] devastated about Dawkins signing with Denver…Damn Eagles R Retarded!!”

The Eagles subsequently fired Leone. Should Leone have better judgment, yes. Was his Facebook status update inappropriate for an employee? Of course. But, the Eagles going as far as firing him brings up a host of questions from a PR and really a business perspective in general.

Christy Hammond at brings up a great point. In this day and age every company should supply their employees with social media policies. Many companies are behind the curve on this, but as sites like Facebook and especially Twitter are exploding, more and more people are sharing their thoughts on-line, and companies need to decide what is and isn’t acceptable. That also means employees need to be extra vigilant in what they’re posting.

But, that doesn’t mean that this unfortunate situation rests solely on Leone’s shoulders. The Eagles took a lapse in judgment from an employee and turned it into PR nightmare. I don’t know how many “Facebook friends” Leone has, but usually it’s in the range of 100-200. So the Eagles fired a passionate employee over an inappropriate post that maybe 200 people saw.

In turn they ensured millions more now know about the comment. The story, and Leone’s comment, have now been all over the Philadelphia media, ESPN and almost every major sports media outlet across the country.

An even larger issue is whether firing an employee over a Facebook post is a wise PR move considering the current economic conditions. People are losing jobs left and right, and Leone was just fired for his Facebook status! Will the Eagles see any backlash for being insensitive during these time? Maybe something they should have thought about before pulling the trigger on this decision.

So, my question to you, did the Eagles make a mountain out of a mole hill? And, do companies in the current economic climate need to be more careful from a PR perspective for the reasons they let employees go?

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Written by Brian Gleason

March 11, 2009 at 11:35 pm

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