When most people consider a work environment they think of cubicles, bad coffee and water cooler conversations. However, for some their work environment is a locker room and a stadium. According to Forbes in 2012, there were approximately 5000 professional athletes in four North American leagues (NBA, MLB, NHL, and NFL). These athletes have more platforms than just interviews to share their thoughts and opinions. Social media is no longer only for mammoth corporations with large marketing budgets. Athletes are using social media for their own personal branding and in some instances to start conversations about tough topics. To begin to understand the power of social media, three ideas should be considered: trust, influence and engagement.1
In August of 2018, Serena Williams tweeted a message to fans after an unusual loss at Wimbledon. Her message wasn’t about how she was going to dominate again on the court, but rather a very honest conversation about postpartum depression. Her tweets made millions stop and talk about this issue with many women giving her support around the world. Was Serena the first to face this depression? Obviously not, but she was using her visibility to talk about a subject that has often been talked about in shame and whispers. Her influence with the media and her fans allowed the tweet to go viral.
Social media has also been used by athletes to bring social issues to the forefront. LeBron James is known for his dominance on the basketball court. Recently he began vocalizing his opinions on many hot button issues. In Jan of this year, he tweeted:
This tweet reignited conversations about a variety of topics. One being on whether athletes should be sharing their opinions on social media and potential ruining the brands of their organization or league. While the NBA doesn’t have rules around a player’s tweets there are guidelines in place for social media staffs managing team accounts. These guidelines were reinforced when two team accounts were a bit too spirited in their trash talk. The second conversation that was started was about social activism and athletes roles. Recently, James opened up a school in his hometown of Akron for underprivileged children. James went on CNN to be interviewed by Don Lemon. The initial tweet followed by an interview caught the attention of the President of the United States. This started a snowball of other athletes speaking out in support of James on their social media platforms as well. LeBron’s engagement with his audience allows his platform to have more credibility and trust. This trust gains momentum and he can influence on a greater scale.
Athletes speaking out about important topics of the day isn’t new. For example, there were many outspoken athletes during the Vietnam War. What is the difference now? In the 1960s, an athlete’s platform was extremely limited and usually in the form of interviews. The audience was smaller and information was slow to get out. In this day and age, everyone has a very powerful computer in their pocket at all times. While most never their use their phone for more than just games and texting. Others are able to conduct business all from their phone. The ability to reach a large audience with the click of a button has affected the way organizations market to their audiences. Athletes, musicians, actors and well, just about anyone can tweet and have their opinion be beamed out to the world.
Not everyone has experience with social media in their day-to-day jobs but most have seen ads on social media. Those companies have taken the time to learn about what their audience want to see on different platforms. The digital ads can have regional information or even show political candidates in their state. While athletes are able to use their platform for high visibility, so do digital ads. These ads can make it easy for people to get information about anything quickly.
When athletes are able to use their platform does this help social media stay relevant? Some may argue that the platform would have stayed relevant because of musicians or actors. However, consider that almost every university has a social media policy for college athletes. Some of those policies include not engaging with fans trying to get into your head. While other warn athletes about posting pictures with alcohol or drugs. Some even go a step farther and don’t allow the usage of any social media during the sport season. Which approach is best? It may be too early to tell. One thing can be certain, with athletes using social media more and more it makes sense for universities to start the social media education to all young athletes. It is never too early to learn how to protect your brand.
Overall, social media is proving to be a force to be reckoned with and should not be underestimated. This platform has allowed people to raise money for sick, dying children in a matter of hours while on the hand it has also allowed a cyber bullying to appear. For most businesses, social media can enhance visibility for an organization or a cause. This possibility of enhancement means that all organizations should have a strong strategic communication plan around all social media moving forward. Social media is not going to go away anytime soon and organizations need to always improve their digital presence.