After watching the presentation in class on the Golden State Warriors Twitter account a few weeks ago, I found myself scrolling through my own Twitter feed and thinking about how my own favorite teams were trying to curate their own brand online. What I found more interesting than my favorite teams, however, was how my favorite athletes were using their social media accounts to connect with their fans and formulate their own public image.
As a non-Patriots fan, it hurts to say this, but one of the athletes that has used social media the best (in terms of furthering his own brand) is Tom Brady. Brady, who has his own social media team, has used social media masterfully to promote himself and his TB12 brand. From posting self-deprecating photos to releasing a new edition of the “TB Times” after each Patriots victory, Brady has carefully constructed a persona online that has resonated well with fans across the world.
While some athletes view social media as an opportunity to cultivate an image, others view it as a way to just let people see who they really are. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has lately been subject fodder for tabloids and hot-take tweeters due to his brother’s appearance on The Bachelorette, and his relationship with actress Olivia Munn. He recently has become more active on social media, including joining Instagram, “Just to be understood a little bit more.” For Rodgers, it is less of a desire to cultivate an image or brand, but rather more of a way to express his true self and let his own words get out there without being paraphrased, opinionated on, or misconstrued.
A third way that athletes use social media is simply to connect with fans. Younger athletes in our biggest sports are using social media much less formally than athletes of previous generations. A great example of this comes from the sport of golf. Older golfers typically use social media very professionally,
while younger golfers, such as Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas, use social media much more freely. This shift in the way that golfers have used these platforms has benefitted the game of golf, helping to change the image of the game entirely. Golf is often portrayed as an old man’s game, exclusively for country clubbers and business meet-ups. With personal content on platforms such as Twitter and Snapchat, newer professional golfers are helping to make the game trendy, cool, and relevant on social media for the younger generation.
By generating authentic content, these players are keeping golf relevant in a social media scene that could easily leave the game behind.
Not all athletes are entirely successful on social media. The age of social media lets us send out our thoughts in an instant, so that athletes and others may send out messages in a moment of frustration that they could come to regret later.
In addition, incidents have occurred on several occasions on social media, such as Draymond Green’s Snapchat story of his private parts, or Laremy Tunsil’s video of himself smoking marijuana out of a gas mask, that have gotten athletes into trouble. While theoretically the dangers of social media for athletes are no different from the dangers of social media for you or me or anyone else, the exposure that athletes, for better or worse, are given, can cause these posts to blow up and spiral out of control. In addition, these posts could have a significant financial impact for players. For example, it is estimated that Laremy Tunsil lost an estimated $10 million due to the changing of where he was taken in the NFL Draft after the release of the video.
So how can athletes use their social media accounts to improve business? For some, like Tom Brady, it can be used to cultivate an image and build a brand. This brand, in Brady’s case TB12, can be monetized through products, shirts, hats, etc. For others, its use can be more personal. In the case of Aaron Rodgers, it is to control his narrative a little bit, and let his real personality show. In the case of Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler, it can be used to gain exposure for themselves and their sport. Personal exposure is good for business in terms of gaining popularity, and the sponsorships and advertisements that come along with it. Exposure for their sport is good for business as well, because a larger interest in the sport means more ticket sales, better TV deals for the PGA Tour, and therefore more prize money for the winner of every tournament. Social media, for us, is largely for fun. For many athletes, however, it is a business, and business is booming.