Social media is becoming an increasingly large component of the role of a high-level athlete. Managing your social media profile well is a win-win situation for athletes as it increases the number of followers and fans you have, which in turn makes you more attractive to sponsors or event organizers. A poorly managed social media image, on the other hand, can repel fans and sponsors away from you and cause you a lot of trouble.
How To Get The Most Out Of Your Experience
Having to be good at social media is a reasonably new thing for athletes. Up until about 6-8 years ago, social media wasn’t a mass-participation thing. If you were involved in social media pre-2005, it was a reasonably small niche and limited to instant messaging services such as MSN Messenger. However, since the emergence of Facebook, Twitter, and then a whole host of other social media services, it is important that today’s athletes manage themselves well online. The rules regarding athletes’ use of social media are also changing. When I was selected for the 2008 Olympics, we were told we weren’t allowed to blog during the Games, and putting photos on our social media was also prohibited. Now, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has relaxed their stance somewhat, and athletes can now put photos from the Olympics across all their social media platforms. Sponsors, too, are waking up to the idea that athletes who manage their social media profiles well are a valuable asset, and so utilizing social media well could play to your advantage.
What Social Media Services Are Available To Us?
There are a lot of social media services around these days. The main two are Facebook (1.23 billion monthly users) and Twitter (271 million monthly active users). The secondary social media platforms include Instagram (200 million monthly active users), LinkedIn (187 million monthly active users), Snapchat (100 million monthly active users) and Vine (40 million total users). Google+ is also quickly emerging as an alternative social media platform.
How should athletes use different social media platforms?
I recommend that athletes use Twitter as their first and foremost social media platform. Twitter has 100 million active users daily, 78% of whom are accessing it through smartphones. This means that 78 million people can check their Twitter anytime they have cell coverage. It’s quick, constant, and easily navigable. Journalists can find you very quickly, and they don’t need to send you a friend request to see your thoughts. Fans can find you and see what you think about various things without the need for a friend request. The fast pace of Twitter means that you can quickly give a reaction to something that has happened in the news or on TV and interact in real time with people around the world. The more followers you have, the greater your online influence, which makes you an attractive proposition for sponsors and event organisers. More followers also mean an increased profile for you as an athlete, which is always positive.
How can you get a large following on twitter?
- Be successful – this is largely the biggest predictor as to how big your Twitter followers can be. The more successful you are as an athlete, the more followers you will have. However, you can offset some of this by having a good Twitter policy.
- Have a memorable/easy-to-use Twitter handle – it should sum you up well. It should be easy to remember. It should be short enough to fit easily into a tweet. Mine is @craig100m. It serves its function well; it contains my name, my event, and is short and memorable. Lolo Jones (an incredibly successful twitter athlete) has @lolojones as hers. Again, short, descriptive, memorable. If mine were @craigpickering100m, it would be descriptive and memorable, but not short enough to fit comfortably into a tweet. Don’t change your user name often (if it all) – it makes you harder to find for other users who will be used to your previous name. The more your Twitter name can be linked to you, the more likely media outlets are to use it when they refer to you in a tweet. If these news outlets have a high number of followers, this is a good change for you to attract a few more followers, so make it easy for them to do so.
- Show the real you – this is your opportunity to show what you are like in the 99.9% of your time that exists away from being on TV. You can choose how much or how little to give away, but it’s your chance to show a side to you that other people don’t know exists. On TV, I come across as intense and a bit moody, whereas in real life, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I use Twitter to put this side of me across and show my other interests. It also allows you to give an insight into the daily life of a sportsperson, showing things your average fan might not know about.
- Be authentic – if you have a Twitter profile, make sure it’s you that’s tweeting. Most users can tell if the tweets are coming from somebody else, and it’s a real big turn-off for your followers.
- Engage! – This is your chance to interact with fans and followers. Encourage them to ask questions or to find out more about you. Ask them questions. Embrace the community aspect of Twitter, and you will gain far more followers. Very occasionally, I will get a tweet from someone famous, and it makes my week; you can have that affect on other people!
- Don’t take yourself too seriously – If you can be funny, you will do well on Twitter. People that are funny have plenty of followers. If you’re not funny, that’s fine, but please don’t take yourself too seriously. There are going to be people that don’t like you and will want to call you out; let them. If you can think of a funny comeback, then by all means, go for it. I personally believe that if somebody says something rude or mean to you online, you’re well within your rights to say something back, just as you would in real life. For some reason, people seem to think they can say what they want online. If someone has said something offensive, let them know. However, don’t let it degenerate into name-calling – know when to walk away.
- Know when to tweet – Don’t tweet when you’ve had alcohol, and don’t tweet when you’re angry. You’ll only say something you’ll regret.
- Use pictures – a picture is worth a thousand words, which means you can fit in about 38 tweets worth of information in one photo. Pictures are eye catching; they stand out on user’s timelines. Pictures also tend to increase engagement; through my use of Twitter analytics, any tweet that contains a picture tends to get more retweets/favourites.
- Retweet – be useful to your followers. Retweet things they might find interesting or things that are funny. You should also retweet positive feedback you get from various sources – but not too much! You don’t want your timeline to come across as endless self-promotion. Remember, a retweet is an endorsement, so if you’re going to retweet something, make sure it’s something with which you agree.
- Don’t have a private profile – you want as many people to see your posts and be able to retweet/tag you as much as possible. Making your account private defeats this purpose.
- Be aware of Twitter’s policy of use – News organisations can use whatever you tweet so long as they link to the actual tweet. So, if you say something on Twitter, make sure you’re comfortable with that being reported.
In my opinion, there are two ways to use Facebook: either as a more personal experience than Twitter (where you interact more with people you have selected as your friends) or as an additional way to increase traffic to your profile. I use it mostly as the former—it’s a bit more private than Twitter, so I can interact more closely with people. It’s also a great way to catch up with friends and family whilst you’re out of the country at training camps or competitions. There are some things to consider when using Facebook:
- Privacy settings – How you’re using Facebook depends on how strict you want your privacy settings to be. I think it’s a good idea limit the audience of your posts to friends of friends, so at least you have some say over what is thrust into the public eye. I also have timeline review enabled, which means if I am ever tagged in a post or picture, I can review it before it goes onto my timeline. This is useful in the event I’m tagged in any pictures I don’t want the public to see, but as I am old and boring, that won’t happen anyway.
- Setting Up a “Like” page – Facebook also enables you to set up a like page. This can be useful if you want to keep your profile for personal use, as you can use this like page for more general social media posts.
- Decide on your “friending” policy – who do you want to be your friends? This will depend on what your goal of using Facebook is. I accept every friend request I get because I have the policy that the more exposure I get across social media networks, the better. Therefore, I have to vet carefully what appears on my timeline as it all contributes to me public image.
Other Social Networks
Instagram is a fast growing social network that allows you to post pictures and videos. I don’t personally use Instagram all that much, and the people that do tend to just re-post pictures they have posted onto Twitter. One positive of Instagram is that it can increase your social media reach somewhat, although most people that use Instagram also use Twitter.
LinkedIn is a much more professional and business-like social media platform and should be treated as such. It’s not the place to post photos of you from your free time or sporting career, but more a place to cultivate your business interests and network. Most people using LinkedIn do so in a fully professional capacity, and so you should too; failure to do so will lead to you coming across badly.
Vine is another fast-growing social network. Vine works by allowing users to upload up to 6 seconds of video. This can be useful as it allows you to show action shots of various things, such as you competing or giving your opinion on things. Vine has the added advantage of being integrated into Twitter, so it can help your Twitter image too. I don’t use Vine because I hate being in front of the camera, but some athletes use it well to give a bit more insight into their day-to-day lives.
Finally, there is the option of using a more traditional blog site, such as WordPress, or a mixture of blog/curator sites such as Tumblr and Pinterest. These sites have the advantage of not being character/word limited like as Twitter. You can create much longer pieces by giving your opinion on various things. If you do so, make sure that you use your other social network outlets to promote it. I Tweet about every blog post that I do as Twitter is an excellent way to increase the visibility of your content.
Elite Athletes Show Their Social Media Skills
Lolo Jones demonstrates her sense of humor by providing feedback on hurdle technique.
— Lolo Jones (@lolojones) September 29, 2014
Dai Greene using social media to promote sponsors.
Who is that pasty Olympic finalist? pic.twitter.com/aw2buwMCsV
— Dai Greene (@DaiGreene) March 9, 2014
Tyson Gay is very good at interacting with fans.
— REZZIE (@TysonLGay) August 24, 2014
Social media has the power to increase and improve both your image and exposure. However, it also gives you the opportunity to wreck your public image completely. Here are some things you might want to consider:
- Remember, it’s there forever – What you tweet is there, on the internet, forever. Even if you delete it a tweet, it hangs around in the background. We’ve all heard the stories of people that have tweeted inappropriate things that have come back to haunt them years down the line. Don’t be that guy.
- Avoid scandal – Similarly, we’ve all heard stories of people tweeting sexually explicit pictures of themselves that have then been leaked. This is obviously going to be very embarrassing, and also hurts your public image. Don’t do it.
- Remember your goal – You want to come across well. Don’t swear, be racist, sexist, xenophobic, or abusive.
Overall, social media can be a positive tool for athletes, and utilized well can increase your profile and exposure. There are many examples of athletes who are good at using social media, so you can always look to them for inspiration and guidelines. Or, failing then, you can tweet me at @craig100m, and I’ll try and help you out.
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