3 lessons you can learn from the social capital of star athletes

3 lessons you can learn from the social capital of star athletes

The term ‘social capital’ is bandied about so often it risks being discarded along with the likes of ’synergy’ and ‘rock star’. Not so fast.

Today’s celebrities, particularly well-known athletes in a potential-sponsorship-rich environment, aren’t just social media savvy (for the most part). They’re social media brands and legitimate social media businesses.

In a recent forum entitled “Unrealized Value? The Social Capital of the Savvy Athlete,” Richard Sherman (now infamous for his post-game interview with Erin Andrews following the 2013-14 NFC Championship game) was on hand along with fellow NFL players Arian Foster, Larry Fitzgerald, and Domonique Foxworth to discuss the power of Twitter, social media marketing, and social issues surrounding social media.

Per Arian Foster, running back for the Houston Texans, “the more followers you get, the more opportunity for monetary gain.” For Foster, that is quite literally true. He agreed with startup Fantex Brokerage Services to offer up a piece of his brand for fans and investors to buy—literally selling shares in his brand.

While sponsorship opportunities are plentiful for professional athletes, even those without official sponsorships have great power to influence consumers. For instance Richard Sherman is a Fruit Gushers fanatic and often finds a box full of freebies from the brand on his doorstep a few days after a tweet mentioning his love for the snack.

Takeaways for Social Media Managers

In the social media era, influence is power.

Follower count isn’t everything either; Arian Foster’s Twitter following is just half that of Richard Sherman and only a quarter that of Larry Fitzgerald, yet he was approached by Fantex and offered $10 million for a stake in his brand due to the weight of his social influence and his future potential.

Don’t get bogged down in vanity metrics. Every step of the way along your brand’s social media growth, focus on quality of your interactions with your audience and scale in a way such that these interactions remain manageable and retain the expectation of quality you set in the earlier days of the brand.

Leverage influencers to multiply your message.

Richard Sherman and his Gushers habit might be an extreme example, but brands have influencers of all shapes and sizes. Pay attention to your social interactions and identify members of your brand community who are highly engaged and/or are helpings to spread your message as evangelists. Reward these influencers with recognition of some kind and arm them with stories of great interactions they’ve had with your brand.

Learn from social criticism, adapt, and come back stronger than ever.

Athletes, even those who are generally well-liked, are constantly bombarded with criticisms and personal attacks on social media. For some brands, especially large ones, criticism is just as free-flowing and you must learn to have a thick skin. While athletes deal with criticism of their performance on the field of play, brands deal with criticism that often arises from misunderstandings or honest mistakes. Don’t take these things personally.

Accept criticism, learn from it, adapt your business, and move forward as a brand slightly better than you were before. The open forum of social media presents a double-edged sword, but you get to choose whether it cuts you down or slowly shapes you into a better version of your brand.