How much should athletes put themselves “out there” on social media?
In a world in which we all now have the tools to be storytellers, athletes should take their fans and followers along for the journey, according to Influencer (INFLCR) founder and CEO Jim Cavale. It’s more than just games — it’s the training, the travel, the behind-the-scenes access that helps build a personal brand that can have positive impact long after the playing career is over.
“You’ve got to understand the reality that the fans, they’re leaving their TVs and ESPN for their phones and your social-media channels. You are ESPN,” Cavale says. “You are your own network of social channels. And that creates a tremendous opportunity for you while you are in the spotlight that is college athletics to build your personal brand in ways that will help you for the rest of your life.”
In the early years of social media, one often saw coaches and teams to be fearful of social media, where irresponsible use by athletes could have a damaging effect on a program. The focus was often on what not to do, Cavale says, noting that there are countless examples of athletes doing the wrong thing to disastrous results. But as the platforms have evolved and the athletes have become more savvy about the power of social media, a growing number of coaches and programs are embracing the opportunity to help their student-athletes brand themselves within the context of the team brand.
Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops wants to empower his athletes to tell their own stories within the context of their experience as Kentucky football players.
“It’s absolutely important,” Stoops says. “As you learn more about social media, you learn all the positive things it can do. … I always get a kick out of coming to media day and (players) getting exposed to so many national media and the media getting to know these guys. They all have unique stories. They’ve all come from different backgrounds and are incredible young men.
“This is just another tool to get the positive message out there.”
Kentucky views INFLCR as a tool to empower its student-athletes on social media. Rather than tell them what not to do, UK has decided to help those athletes become better on the platforms, according to Guy Ramsey, director of strategic communication for UK Athletics.
“It is important to note that we work at a university and with young people between the ages of 18-22,” Ramsey says. “That means education is a core part of our mission. Our athletics director (Mitch Barnhart) talks about it often — athletics and the sport you play is really functioning as another major. One of the courses of study within that major is branding and social media. They are afforded a platform while they are here. It might be exceeded when they go to the next level, or it might not when they go into the real world.”
The opportunity to help their student-athletes leverage that platform, while in the spotlight of the SEC, has led UK to adjust its philosophy about social media.
“In the past, until the past couple of years or so, our primary goal would have been to protect them and make it so that they don’t do damage to themselves on a social media,” Ramsey says. “We now want to teach them how to best take advantage of the platform they are afforded and to build that for whatever comes next for them. We want them to take advantage of the content that we produce and the resources that we have and our huge fan base. It’s quite a change. …”
What sparked that change?
“We saw the massive opportunity that exists in social media,” Ramsey says. “We’ve been tasked with being innovative and coming up with new ways to connect with our fans. We recognized that we’ve got a great following on all of our brand accounts but our athletes far exceed that. They’ve got much greater reach and we can reach a completely different demographic than we would otherwise. … We realized we were doing our student-athletes a disservice if we were not teaching them the positive side of things.”
Cavale says those programs that seize the opportunity could gain a competitive recruiting edge, especially as the encounter a generation of recruits who have grown up with social media and smartphones.
“You are going see some big winners in the (social media) arms race and you will see some losers in college sports, because it really impacts recruiting,” Cavale says. “The young kids do care about programs who are going to help them with branding.”
INFLCR is a SaaS platform for sports team properties to store, track and deliver their content across their influencer network of athletes, coaches, former athletes, media, etc. Each influencer can access their personalized gallery of content on their INFLCR mobile app, which they can use to download and share specific content to their social media platforms, with all influencer user activity tracked back to an INFLCR dashboard for the sports team properties. In its first year, INFLCR has signed and renewed software subscription partnerships with more than 20 college, high school and professional sports team properties, including iconic college sports team brands like the University of Miami Football and the University of Kentucky Men’s Basketball. For more information or to request a demo, visit http://220.127.116.11/
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