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Living in the interconnected world today we are constantly surrounded by various forms of social media. Millions of people each day scroll through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and many others. Furthermore, one cannot view these platforms without noticing the presence of sports, as well as athletes across all levels. These athletes are drawn to social media platforms because they are “architected by design to readily support participation, peer-to-peer conversation, collaboration, and community” (Smith & Sanderson, 1). What better way to connect with the world then through social media? These athletes have access to potential future teams, teammates, fans, and so much more. These platforms also grant them access to state their views, share pictures, and build relationships. Ever more important in the world of social media for these athletes is their personal brand.
We all know what a brand is, such as Apple and Nike, but what exactly is an athlete brand? Being a student athlete here at the University of Kansas I had the opportunity to learn about this personal brand from sports telecaster Holly Rowe. She described the athletes personal brand as “a direct representation of your personal views, beliefs, and skills, as well as the representation you provide for your team and university”. Rowe stressed the importance of social media in building my overall brand. This personal experience led me to a very important question. What really are the effects of social media on an athlete’s brand today and what exactly are athletes doing to shape their brands?
Often times we only see athlete representation in the spotlight from mass media coverage such as ESPN, Fox, or other large sports corporations. With the introduction of social media this has all changed. “Using these platforms, athletes take a more active part in their public presentation and share more aspects of their identity than is typically portrayed in mainstream media coverage” (Smith & Sanderson, 2). Now what exactly does this mean for the athlete? Being able to have more of a personal representation allows the athlete to counteract how they are shown in the media, along with being able to express their personal views. Moreover, what specific platforms are athletes using to do exactly just that and build their brand? To totally understand how powerful these platforms can be we first need to understand just how large of a following some professional and college athletes hold on social media. When professional basketball player Lebron James posts a picture it can be seen by “a majority of 8.2 million followers on Instagram, or 18 million followers on Twitter” (Beahm, 2). The potential reach of over 25 million gives James ultimate power in the social media world. However, he does not even crack the top 5 for most followers in athletic. Soccer players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, and Neymar have a presence exceeding 55 million people (Brogin, 1). These professional athletes hold some of the most influential social media accounts in the world but college athletes also hold a presence as well. How influential can college athletes really be though? First off, “92% of college students are online and 88% engage in social media” (Smith, Rainie, & Zickuhr,1). With the ability to reach an extremely large portion of the students of their respective universities, as well as their team’s fans, the power granted is extremely large. For example, Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones has over 330,00 combined Instagram and Twitter followers. Kansas point guard Frank Mason also holds the ability to reach over 85,000 people including myself being a KU student. With great power comes great responsibility. What exactly are athletes across all levels doing in their social media activities? Furthermore, what are the effects that are taking place due to their interactions?
Social media has the ability to spark positive interactions as well as foster negative ones. It is ultimately up to the athlete to determine which side of the spectrum they fall into. Many platforms are available with Twitter and Facebook often being the most common and thought of. “However, visual platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat are becoming increasingly popular” (Smith & Sanderson, 2). These two newer forms of social media have a widespread user base and are gaining more users each day. With such a wide variety of media to express their views and feelings these athletes hold a lot of power and responsibility. Twitter was designed to be “an urban lifestyle tool for friends to provide each other with updates of their whereabouts and activities” (Weller, Bruns, & Burgess, pg x). Athletes, myself included, are doing just that to stay updated and inform others of what is going on. In fact, athletes are using Twitter for three main reasons: “keeping in contact, communicating with followers, and accessing information” (Snyder, 57). Athletes are just like everyone else and they strive to stay connected. Instagram is also growing exceptionally fast in popularity. Instagram is a photo sharing platform of social media in which the user can post photos that the world can see immediately. Knowing that all sorts of athletes from the NCAA to the professional level use these platforms I came to wonder; what exactly shapes the media presence today for these athletes?
Surrounding the platforms on which they interact is the content itself that is posted to their respective accounts. Athletes often take to Twitter to discuss performance, interact with fans, and post more about their personal life (Hambrick, Simmons, Greenhalgh, & Greenwell, 455). Now while using the platform to do exactly these things it is what the athlete posts that directly shapes how they are viewed in society. I have seen many athletes take to Twitter to have a friendly conversation with a fan, encourage fans to come to an upcoming event, or promote a charitable or promotional event they are connected with. I know I have myself and seen other athletes encouraging fans to come out to their respective events. These interactions on social media would all be considered positive interactions. The positive use of Twitter is not only beneficial for their respective teams, but for their personal branding. Having their respective followers view them in a positive light is a direct representation of how they are presenting themselves. Every athlete has a brand but almost all strive to have a positive one. It is these particular actions that can significantly build that brand. Instagram is also a great way to build up this brand. Many athletes today will offer a glimpse into their personal life through pictures and video that give their followers a sense of their life that takes place each day. For example, Lebron James often posts pictures of his workouts, or what he is eating throughout the day. Many athletes professional and collegiate, also use Instagram to promote their teams, or in the professional case, endorse a product. Giving the followers and fans a look into their real life offers connection and boosts the fan base. Many potential employers will also check social media and this can be make or break for these athletes. Employers are checking the content of the posts that the athletes have regularly, especially after an interview or meeting with them. Having favorable content and showing themselves in a positive light is extremely beneficial for the athlete. Employers are far more likely to offer a job to an athlete that has built a positive brand than a negative one. While there are many athletes using social media in a positive way as mentioned above, there are many who are not.
The interaction that takes place on social media is often positive but often times it is not. What exactly is considered a negative social media interaction? Often times an athlete will lash out after a bad game replying to criticism from a fan. KU basketball coach Bill Self had to break up argument between player Tyshawn Taylor and fans on twitter. Tyshawn tweeted back to fans unhappy with performance and said they should not be so critical because they aren’t the ones playing college athletics (Snyder, 33). Fan comments often get in the head of the athlete and the they will respond, most of the times in a negative light. Twitter can also be used to spread the information tweeted by others through retweets. These retweets often get athletes in trouble because the content is inappropriate or vulgar. Things that others tweet can also destroy a brand. The athlete has no control over what others post so they must be alert at all times. Laremy Tunsil was a star football player at the University of Mississippi. Minutes before the NFL draft a video surfaced of him smoking out of a bong with friends. NFL teams saw this and many took him off their list. It is these posts that can completely reshape the career of an athlete and significantly hurt their brand. The personal connection that Instagram provides can be fantastic for building a brand, but it can also destroy it. Many athletes have not thought twice about what they are posting and it has destroyed them. Johnny Manziel was the star quarterback for Texas A&M, but when he began to post pictures on Instagram of himself drinking and using illegal drugs it destroyed his reputation. It is this activity that can be extremely detrimental to an athlete’s brand. Just one slip up on social media can change the way the public views them forever.
In conclusion, social media has widespread effects on athletes across all levels today. Whether it be a collegiate basketball player or professional football player, what an athlete chooses to post on respective accounts can have lifelong impacts on their personal brand. As I mentioned earlier this personal brand is a direct representation of personal views, beliefs, and talents and the representation of the athlete’s team or university. Social media has multiple uses in the account of this brand. However, there are two distinct sides, positive and negative. Positive interaction for athletes occurs often. Many choose to positively interact with fans, invite followers to games, or post hints into their personal lives. Often times the negative is displayed as well. Athletes have been seen to lash out at criticism from fans, and post or repost inappropriate content on their accounts. Social media is an ever evolving world in the 21st century society and athletes are at the heart of it. As I came to examine the effects of these platforms on athletes brand I found numerous answers. Encompassing it all is the fact that social media can be distinctly positive or negative for the athlete. In all, what an athlete posts ultimately shapes their brand for a lifetime. These forms of media have been shown to have direct impacts on an athlete’s brand. The overall shape of their brands lies exclusively in their hands. It is these hands that control the power of their accounts, and as shown, their brands for a lifetime.
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