2009 will be marked as the year social media networking became mainstream. Facebook has become one of the most popular websites on the internet and everyone is getting on the site to communicate with their network of friends. The more instantaneous communication bridge is twitter. Everyone from politicians, to athletes, to college professors are getting on twitter to communicate to whoever will listen. As I've watched what NBA players are doing on social media these days, I've started to think about how it has revolutionized how fans are connecting with players in a new way. Whether these players know it or not, they have become pioneers of social media, and are becoming more accessible to fans than ever before. The mystique of the professional athlete is being slowly unveiled through the new options for creative exposure on the internet.
Lets start with Shaq. He is one of the most marketable athletes in the history of sports and it is due to his affable and unpredictable personality. Shaq's twitter is always a treat, but the reason I put Shaq at the top of this is because of his new reality show. His show is a great idea in theory, and we will all undoubtedly watch because watching Shaq step out of his element and challenge other top athletes is going to be hilarious. But lets really think about why we enjoy this, and why twitter has become so popular among celebrities. It is the connection that a common person can share with them. To know that Shaq is actually mortal in an athletic endeavor is a comforting and relatable thing. In essence, it is like Shaq is one of us. What Shaq will do on a field that is not a basketball court is very similar to what you and I would do against these athletes. We can appreciate that Shaq, the 7'1 325lbs Superman, is making himself vulnerable. (It is also worth noting that T.O's reality show is achieving the same effect as Shaq's show in opening up allowing us to relate to him better.)
Love him or hate him, Stephon Marbury is doing some great stuff online. His 24 hour webcam was outrageously entertaining. For all of the flak Marbury was taking in the last few years, we have to respect a guy who opens up his life to us and unabashedly entertains us for no good reason other than to be a clown. As fans, we want that exposure and connection to an athlete. It is more than a chatroom that some PR rep for the player is undoubtedly responding on while the player is watching a movie on a 60+ inch flat screen tv. Marbury was not only responding to chatroom messages, but honoring requests from chatters. In one instance, a chatroom messager told Marbury that his chains were making too much noise and Marbury playfully removed the chains. It was a stunt by Marbury that I hope catches on around the league.
The last player who I can't get enough of recently is Ron Artest. Artest has taken this social media deal to another level. The guy posts his phone number on twitter and starts taking calls from fans. How great can it get? Can't we take comfort in the fact that Artest willingly did a telethon with fans without being forced by his agent? Artest used a bit more of an innovative way to connect with fans, but it isn't for everyone.
The bottom line is increased exposure and willingness to connect with fans translates into more marketing potential for the player. These players get it. Put yourself out there and people will start to look at you as more than a basketball player and one of their friends. That is how you move your brand. I won't be surprised if this becomes more mainstream among athletes who decide to become more innovative in the way they use social media. These campaigns by these players are a way for them to show us a side of them off the court in a setting where the player isn't trying to sell us a product. They are just showing us who they are, and that is something we can hang onto.