The Business of Social Media
A conversation with one of the leaders in social media marketing.
Not too long ago I wrote a piece where I discussed the negative impact the social media phenomenon has had on the NBA and some of its players. In the piece, an image was used of a Twitter cigarette box that went along perfectly with the “unfiltered” theme of the article. The image was designed by Carrot Creative, a New York based new-media marketing agency.
About two weeks after the piece ran, I received an email from Jeff Brunelle, Director of Sports & Entertainment for Carrot saying that while he enjoyed the article, we—SLAM—failed to give them credit for the image. After an apology and then a string of emails between Jeff and myself, I was able to set up a phone interview with the president of the company to discuss social media and its relationship to the sporting world.
The offices of Carrot Creative may be located in DUMBO, NY—a neighborhood in Brooklyn, for those unfamiliar—but the guys who work there are anything but. In fact, Mike Germano, the company president, could be considered a genius. In between starting the company five years ago, he ran for City Councilman of Hamden, CT and won using Facebook and MySpace to get elected. Once in office, he also used those platforms to interact with his constituents.
It’s this kind of forward thinking that has taken Carrot to the forefront of helping corporations in developing marketing and branding strategies in the realm of social media. He and his team have also taken those skills and applied them to the world of professional sports. From building Infieldparking.com, a social networking site for NASCAR fans, to building David Ortiz’s fan page on Facebook, they understand that the same marketing strategies that can be used in the corporate world can also be applied to sports.
Mike and I discussed a lot of things that couldn’t officially be placed on record in terms of prospective clients and future projects, but as two fans of basketball in particular, we did talk in great length on how social media has impacted the NBA and what the future holds for the League and its players as they progress into the world of new media.
SLAM: Why do you feel that athletes, such as NBA players have taken such a liking to social media?
Mike Germano: Brands want to communicate with customers, and there’s an equation there that can be easily replicated with sports in that players want to interact with their fans to create a more loyal fan base. [In terms of the NBA] social media allows players to very easily transcend just being a basketball player. It allows any athlete to take that next step in communication with fans and make it personal. That’s the real value of it.
SLAM: Do you think that social media will take the place of traditional marketing agencies when it comes to brand building and the marketing of players?
MG: I think that firms (marketing agencies) that start providing educational services and start educating the athletes in terms of social media marketing are going to be the ones that survive. These players don’t need anything anymore [in terms of services that marketing agencies provide] because they now own their own distribution opportunity. So I think the marketing firms that get players educated on building a brand, they’ll have more value [to players].
SLAM: In terms of what we’ve seen with players like Michael Beasley and his Twitter situation, how much responsibility do you think players need to take when using social media outlets?
MG: The power of social media is so great, that there is a tremendous amount of negatives with it too. Social media is so new that a lot of mistakes are being made and unfortunately they’re being used as the warning signs of what, and what not to do. The Beasley situation was a very unfortunate move, but maybe it was really a cry for help. But that situation aside, clearly I think it goes back to players need to be more educated on marketing themselves. Sure you’re playing a sport for two hours every day and it makes you money, but the reality is the way you make your real money, the way you make your money off the court, the way you leverage your future is based on how you market yourself.
SLAM: What are your thoughts of Stephon Marbury and his use of Twitter and uStream?
MG: I think Marbury is an example of how a player can live after the game is over. Ten years ago, when social media didn’t exist, if Stephon Marbury was around and he’d retired then, he’d have been forgotten about. But now that a player has control of their own distribution, they can live after the sport, after the game, after their playing days are over. We’re in the culture of this being the next evolution of reality television and unfortunately, crazy things are what get’s people’s attention. If all he would’ve done is talked about basketball [on uStream], he would’ve gotten one-tenth of his viewers. The reality of it is everybody was talking about Marbury. And not just in the sports world, everybody in the social media world was talking about this guy. It gave him an opportunity to get a lot of attention and stay in the spotlight.
SLAM: What do you feel are the dangers athletes face in using social media outlets, particularly NBA players who when it comes to Twitter, tweet more than athletes in any other sport?
MG: I’m very worried about players. There’s a lot of pressure and some of these guys are just kids. You know the mistakes that we made when we were in our 20s. These kids are coming out at 19 and 20 years old and they have all the pressure in the world. For example, take Michael Phelps. I’m not going to condone drug use, but kids do those things. He could’ve potentially lost hundreds of millions of dollars in endorsements because of that one activity. It sounds kind of silly, but with great reward comes great responsibility and these kids need to be more educated in what they’re doing.
SLAM: Do you think social media is similar to the Dot-Com Era in terms of it being big now but fizzles out later? And do you think social media is here to stay?
MG: The social media phenomenon has nothing to do with the Dot-Com Era. Only a handful of people lost a lot of money in that era. With Facebook and Twitter, people are investing their lives. Facebook has over 200 million users. People invest their time, their address books, their contacts, and their photo albums; all of this personal information. So, it can’t fail. Two-hundred million people invested their time, and time equals money. So now you have 200 million people investing money versus a couple of VCs (venture capitalists) investing in dot-coms. They can write that off and they didn’t really care. People are invested in Facebook. People are invested in Twitter. This is self distribution and it’s never going to go away. It’s only going to become easier, more effective and more mobile.
SLAM: In terms of leagues like the NBA, how do you feel social media is going to become a part of its culture?
MG: It’s an avenue for players to make more money. If this makes them (the NBA) money and builds player’s brands and helps them with endorsements, there’s going to be people behind it.