Living In a Twitter World
NBA players, teams go to Twitter to increase their brand awareness.
by Kyle Stack / @NYsportswriter
Hundreds of NBA players use Twitter on a consistent basis, giving the League and its players as large a presence on the popular social media platform as any other sports league in the world. Yet not all of them maximize the benefits that could be derived from using Twitter properly. Case in point: LeBron James.
As documented in this space Monday, James is suffering from at least a temporary lull in his popularity due to a series of events that led to his declaration in early July to sign with the Miami Heat. Engaging fans on Twitter could be one way for James to revive his brand, but he didn’t initially take advantage of the platform after he joined July 6. It’s unlike the way another NBA superstar, Shaquille O’Neal, embraced the platform when he started Tweeting.
“It was clear to fans when Shaquille was starting that he was excited,” said Amy Jo Martin, founder of Phoenix-based Digital Royalty, a social media consultant which counts O’Neal among its clients. “That ability to connect with fans on that mutual level [is important] but I’m not seeing that too much here with LeBron.”
Indeed, James has produced only about 50 Tweets since joining Twitter. Most of his initial messages referenced inspirational quotes, congratulatory wishes to his new teammates in Miami and links to his website which brought up answers to fan questions. Aside from one bulk Tweet acknowledging the fans who submitted questions to his website, there hadn’t been any other interaction with his followers during July. That’s not the way to embrace the platform, according to Martin.
“The more individual brands shape the conversation, the more powerful [it becomes],” Martin said.
James could take a hint from his new teammate Chris Bosh, who asked his fans before free agency officially kicked off July 1 where they would like to see him end up. It’s unlikely Bosh ever seriously considered his fans’ wishes, but it displayed his willingness to engage them on a platform ideally suited for that scenario.
The way Bosh has interacted with his Twitter audience is more representative of the individual branding that can be attained on the website. Hugh Dornbush, founder of the celebrity sighting website OMGICU.com, proclaimed the NBA is in a unique setting.
“The NFL has been tighter with things its players can do,” Dornbush said. “The NBA recognized that individual personalities are a good thing. You see it manifesting itself here [on Twitter].”
The big victory for the NBA, according to Dornbush, is that the much-hyped free agency period, coupled with many of the highest profile free agents using Twitter, provided an unusual amount of coverage for the NBA during July. It’s typically a month dominated by the PGA Tour’s U.S. Open, MLB’s All-Star Game and the start of NFL training camps. Yet NBA coverage was seemingly everywhere and some of the pub could be attributed to players like Bosh and Dwyane Wade documenting their free agent process through Twitter.
“They were able to leak information, or misinformation, that drove everyone crazy,” Dornbush said. “They did a good job of leaking out little bits of information that turned into stories.”
Others see NBA players having used Twitter in a way different from just trading messages with fans. “They’ve become transparent, ad-hoc general managers,” said Ed O’Hara, Senior Partner at SME, a brand consultant firm in New York City. In other words, players could be caught recruiting others on Twitter. Good luck to NBA teams or the League trying to control what the players write there, although Dornbush noted that rules could be enforced in the future if the players gain influence at the expense of the NBA.
A conversation of NBA players on Twitter wouldn’t be complete without also mentioning how NBA teams operate their brands on it. O’Hara mentioned that persistent player movement has caused teams to lose their identity. The Lakers aren’t Showtime and the Knicks aren’t a group of bruisers looking to physically pummel the other team’s best player. In fact, each team’s philosophy is the diametric opposite of the one upon which they built their reputation. That means each team has to work harder to develop its brand.
While it remains to be seen how the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors will evolve their brand after the loss of James and Bosh, respectively, the teams that get the best players don’t always brand themselves the way they should.
Martin wrote a July 9 post on the Digital Royalty website calling out the Heat for mysteriously going silent on their Twitter account immediately following LeBron James’ announcement that he would sign with Miami. It was a time for them to be proactive in presenting their newly restructured team yet little action was taken place.
“They didn’t use Twitter as a resource during a very crucial time when the spotlight was on their brand,” Martin said. “If you’re gonna put yourself out there and have a presence, you can’t disappear at times like that. Not only is it a missed opportunity but it’s confusing to fans.”
The same goes for players. Even though James failed initially to capture the Twitter stage, he’s shown more savvy recently. He ran a contest in San Diego Aug. 1-2 in which he dropped off a pair of signed shoes on the campus of the University of California San Diego and challenged his followers in the area to find it. A prize was waiting for the lucky fan and it was all communicated by James through his Twitter profile.
That’s the way James and other NBA players can raise their brand awareness and endear themselves to the legions of fans who follow their every Tweet. And as Martin emphasized, the players’ authenticity to be on Twitter is real. “They want to be there,” Martin said. If they become more personable in that space, so will their fans.
This is the second in a two-part series about the way NBA players branded themselves during free agency. The first part appeared Monday.