When it comes to responsibly using social media, many have learned hard lessons.
Take, for example, the case of Mahopac, NY student-athletes who recently tweeted racist comments about their opponents after a tournament semifinal loss. Those 140-character messages turned out to make unfavorable news for school, the students in question were suspended, and the team’s coach (also a former graduate of the school) resigned, noting his heartbreak over the situation.
The voice we are provided via social media is not only for leisure. Social media are now fundamentally tied to our personal brands, and the information we share on the web becomes intimately tied with our perceptions of people in real life. Athletes are particularly susceptible to personal brand blemishes due to their on-field spotlight. Inevitably, that spotlight transitions to new media when fans try to connect with their hometown teams or sports idols.
This is why athletes in particular have a strong impetus to use social media responsibly. A few weeks ago we shared three key principles for student-athletes to effectively use social media, but a “lead by example” approach is often the most effective teaching tool.
The following ten athletes (listed in no particular order) serve as positive examples of how athletes can effectively leverage today’s most popular social media to build their brand, engage with their fans, and promote positive causes. By following their example, student-athletes can positively build their team’s reputation and, of course, bolster their own.
Shortstop for the New York Yankees over the past two decades, Jeter has chosen to dedicate his social media accounts to his Turn 2 Foundation, which he created to promote healthy lifestyles among youth. Recognizing his popularity in the sports world, Jeter realizes he can extend the amount of good work accomplished by his foundation; this is exactly why he is so effective in the social sphere. For Jeter, his voice off the field – largely focused in social media – will help ensure his legacy and the continued good work of his foundation.
Helping in their community, the Kalamazoo Jeter’s Leaders ran stations at Indian Prairie Elementary School’s Carnival pic.twitter.com/t9achTxVYv
— Turn 2 Foundation (@JeterTurn2) March 25, 2014
Former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins uses his Twitter account to connect, converse with and thank his fans. He wears his faith on his sleeve just as strongly as he displayed his enthusiasm on the field and, in so doing, seeks to be a role model and inspiration to other athletes. His lead is a good one to follow, as Dawkins knows his personal brand and displays it consistently via social media.
— Brian Dawkins (@BrianDawkins) February 19, 2014
Elena Delle Donne
Delle Donne currently plays in the WNBA for the Chicago Sky and formerly played college basketball at the University of Delaware, where she led the nation in scoring during her junior year.
Elena uses social media to provide a responsible behind-the-scenes look at her life. While many of her posts are focused on sports, others also afford a glimpse into her personal life as a daughter, sister and friend. Her posts are responsible and fun, and demonstrate how athletes can use social networks to develop personal connections with their fans.
— Elena Delle Donne (@De11eDonne) March 28, 2014
World-renowned soccer star Mia Hamm is another athlete who understands the benefits and consequences of social media. She regularly retweets or shares content from worthy causes in order to amplify their reach and promotes her Mia Hamm Foundation (dedicated to raising awareness and funds for families in need of bone marrow or cord blood transplants). Hamm often connects with her fans and colleagues, congratulating them on victories, wishing them good luck, or letting her followers know what she is up to. She remembers to keep the “social” in “social media” and helps set a positive example of how an athlete can leverage these networks.
— Mia Hamm (@MiaHamm) February 24, 2014
Robert Griffin III
Even a quick review of Griffin’s social networks reveals him as a thoughtful and fan-friendly athlete. The quarterback of the Washington Redskins regularly tweets (or retweets) pictures he has taken with fans, building his personal brand as one that centers on gratitude and kindness. He is also strong in his faith life and often includes words of encouragement in his posts.
Consider your personal brand, just as Griffin does. Are you happy with the way you are presenting yourself to the world?
“No matter how happy or successful you are in life there is always gonna be people who try to bring you down … Don’t let them”
— Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) March 19, 2014
Soccer star Hope Solo’s unique social media contribution is the way she prompts followers for questions, then follows up with useful answers. Sometimes the questions are very simple and are based mainly in curiosity, such as “what is your favorite color jersey?” Other times, the questions are deeper, like “what inspired you to become a goalkeeper?” Solo answers the questions on this personal webpage, then posts links to those answers on her social profiles. This is a great example of a player who understands the value of interaction via social media.
You asked: What is your weekly workout routine? @luckygirljenny http://t.co/lIVMwWRbCB
— Hope Solo (@hopesolo) March 16, 2014
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels directs his followers straight to the foundation he created with his wife, Heidi. The Hamels Foundation, which seeks to support children both in the United States and abroad through quality education, has become a major project for the Hamels and the Foundation’s social media accounts keep fans abreast of all the latest projects and news. This is another perfect example of an athlete who recognizes the attention he has been afforded through sports and is effectively leveraging social media to support a worthy cause.
Did you see our video of students learning first-hand what it’s like to learn w/out the luxury of desks and supplies? http://t.co/RXjyMhYuRk
— Hamels Foundation (@TheHamels) March 24, 2014
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has gained fame recently for the team’s Superbowl win this past February. Off the field, Wilson is heavily invested in his community and his faith, and his social media accounts strongly reflect that commitment. Wilson’s philanthropic and community-oriented mindset is a reminder: our social media presence should not be just a constructed image, but a reflection of our real-life selves. Wilson is succeeding in that goal, while also drawing attention to some great causes like the Seattle Children’s Hospital.
— Russell Wilson (@DangeRussWilson) March 25, 2014
New York Mets outfielder Curtis Granderson is another pro athlete who clearly recognizes the power afforded him by way of his visibility in the MLB. He is constantly engaging with teammates, other athletes, friends and fans on social media. Like others, he is also happy to call attention to worthy causes in the New York City area. Granderson’s posts are professional, well-written, and even follow social media best practices with his use of user handles and hashtags. Because of that effort, he provides a great example of the way athletes can use their personal profiles to connect with friends and fans alike.
— Curtis Granderson (@cgrand3) March 24, 2014
NASCAR star Danica Patrick is not lacking when it comes to GoDaddy branding, but her social profiles also reveal a personal side chronicling daily moments of importance, her interaction with friends, and outreach to her fans. Many well-liked athletes do get involved in corporate sponsorship – Patrick included – but her new media profiles show a healthy balance of posts related to both her personal and professional life.
— Danica Patrick (@DanicaPatrick) March 26, 2014
Ultimately, social media profiles are extensions of ourselves. Athletes, who are often placed in the spotlight, should carefully consider every post. Are your posts representing your own personal brand? Are they furthering something you care about? Are they reaching out to people and stimulating conversation? Most importantly, are you happy with the way you are presenting yourself to the world?
Featured image via Daily Deal Media