By Iacovos Iacovides, APC Sports
There used to be a time when athletes were afraid of paparazzi exposing their private lives, but nowadays they seem all the more willing to do that themselves through Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms. There is, of course, a rational explanation for this—in most cases a financial incentive. Nonetheless, it seems virtually impossible in the 21st century to live without any social media presence. Like the rest of us, however, athletes are not immune to all the traps that come with going online.
The impact of social media has been under intense scrutiny for the past few years and for a good reason. Social media is full of anger and hate. Unhappiness, anxiety, depression, insomnia, low self-esteem and countless other negative emotions and conditions have a positive correlation with social media use. On the other hand, social media help people staying in touch with loved ones and offer the opportunity for instant communication. As far as athletes are concerned, both the pros and cons of social media are amplified since they are by nature of their profession in the public gaze. Put simply, athletes can become famous and enhance their brand through social media while at the same time, the wrong tweet can send their careers down the gutter. Some notorious examples: Rashard Mendenhall’s tweet on 9/11, Tyler Seguin’s homophobic comments, or perhaps college footballer Kris Boyd’s surreal halftime tweet expressing his intention to leave for another college team.
Nonetheless, social media are much more than socializing platforms for athletes; they are arguably part of their job description. In other words, social media is the means for cultivating and ultimately “controlling” your public image. Athletes can use social media for brand-building, telling their story, expanding their fanbase, keeping in touch with their fans, which in turn can help them connect with traditional media, raise awareness for something they care about—be that a social justice project or anything else— and of course make more money as their public image and popularity determine to a great extent, sponsorships and/or endorsements. The benefits of social media are thus double-fold. Not only is it a platform through which athletes can promote products and services, but if they manage to run their accounts efficiently, then the value of their brand will also increase and they will reap the benefits in the real world.
At the same time, there are disconcerting reports coming out of locker rooms; of coaches being forced to give “social media breaks” to enable athletes to concentrate more, of locker rooms stricken with silence and athletes “socializing” using their fingertips instead of chatting with the teammate next to them, of increasing anxiety and unhappiness among professional athletes, and many more. Moreover, the magnitude of the effects is still largely unknown to us, with psychologists and sociologists warning that the impact on millennials will be much more profound than on Generation Z. Social media do not discriminate between the haves and the have-nots or the famous and the non-famous; they can alter your identity and injure your sense of self-worth notwithstanding who you are.
If the athlete decides—like many celebrities—to abstain from the online community, then they will avoid all the negative feelings and emotions that are part and parcel of social media. They will effectively, however, let go of the benefits as well. Such as the opportunity to increase their online presence and revenues, establish a loyal fanbase, build brand awareness and so on. Furthermore, a successful brand can go a long way in creating opportunities beyond the world of sports, and also after the athletes’ retirement from sport.
The decision to be on social media and how to use it, remains with the athlete. There is a series of variables that an athlete should take into account when deciding if and to what extent they are going to be active on social media. For example, how to deal with the dangers, how to prevent addiction, how to deal with the inevitable negative comments and generally how to maintain a distance between them and the online community and ultimately manage to define their relationship to social media as a strictly professional one.
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