There's a funny push-pull with athletes and social media. They know it can unlock major opportunities and yet so many of them are afraid of it, don't like it all that much or simply cannot figure it out.
Unexpected, right? Who'd have thought this generation of elite athletes (largely Zoomers and young millennials) would find themselves in a tug of war with social media? Aren't they supposed to be experts at selfies, hashtags and algorithms? You might be surprised to find out that while they spend a huge chunk of their time in digital land, they still have fears and reservations about how to use social media as an athlete.
When, we ask athletes "What do you want to leverage your brand for?" Social media comes up seven times out of ten.
But when we follow up with "What could hold you back from building your brand?" they tell us that while they want to shine online, it's something they're not all that confident pursuing.
Of course there are exceptions to the rule. Some athletes just 'get it'. They love working out what's trending, what gets good engagement and how to position themselves in a niche. But they don't represent the majority.
So why has social media become an issue for athletes, when so many know it's a powerful tool? And how can we help them stand out online and find the joy in sharing their journey with an audience?
Expectations are high and there's a lot of pressure to 'get it right'
Social media evolves rapidly. What could make you go viral on Thursday morning is old news come Friday evening. So for many athletes, it feels impossible to stay up to date with what's hip and what's out of style.
And athletes love structure and rules. They thrive when given a clear process and roadmap on how to get from Point A to Point B. The idea that there's a 'right' way to do social media is compelling. They want to keep up with the changes and stay on top of every trend so they can succeed.
But here's the thing. There is no perfect formula to getting social media 'right'. One person could keep up with every trend, every algorithm change and follow all the rules and find their strategy falls flat. Another, could do their own thing, ignore all the rules and go viral overnight.
And athletes simply don't have the time to obsess over minute algorithm changes. If they love the science behind social media – awesome! But 90% do not need to get caught up in making a career out of studying what's trending to find success online.
Athletes aren't influencers
Athletes operate in this strange place between an influencer and a regular user. There's a temptation to squeeze them into one of these boxes. But the truth is, they rarely fit in either.
We hear this one a lot. 'I do not want to do what everyone else is doing.' By everyone else, they mean influencers. (And no shade to influencers, who do a cracking job in their own space.)
That's why it's essential athletes understand they don't need to follow an influencer model.
Athletes have their own online niche. We trust them more and they inspire us not with their lifestyle but with their pursuit of something extraordinary. The average Joe will never touch a podium, but we're still fascinated by how to get there.
That's why we follow them. We aren't interested in seeing them copy the influencer model. We crave a peek into the secret life of an athlete so we can understand them better.
This gives athletes a hefty amount of freedom to do their own thing on social media. And while it might sound cheesy, it really comes down to them just being themselves and bringing people along for the ride.
Make it fun (and purposeful) again
Take it back to the basics. Make it fun again! Put aside the science and focus on content they like creating and finding connection with their online community.
Social media doesn't have to be complicated.
When athletes enjoy using social media, they post more consistently, they don't compromise their integrity, their content is A+ and their engagement goes up.
So what's the secret to finding the joy?
Firstly, find a reason to be there. Most of us are online because everyone else is. We haven't had a good think about why we actually joined in the first place.
If athletes don't have a solid reason to be online, they have a shaky foundation to build on. They need a reason to show up.
Do they want to spread a message? Connect with community? Service or attract sponsors? Inspire the next generation of athletes? Whatever it is, to enjoy social media you need a purpose for being there.
Next, athletes need to give themselves permission to be more than just athletes online.
Many athletes are stuck in a cycle of doing the same old thing online: posting training shots, comp results and maybe a couple of 'weekend with friends' snapshots. There's nothing wrong with that strategy. However, athletes have told us time and time again they actually don't find it a fulfilling approach.
When they open up that content bank to include posting about their interests outside of sport, their passions, sharing the behind the scenes of athlete life or a message they feel strongly about, social media becomes a lot more fun.
As a bonus, it will help them stand out from the crowd. We'll remember them as 'the athlete with a killer flykick who talks openly about mental health.' It adds an extra qualifier that helps us distinguish them from other athletes.
And finally, just enjoy it
Social media metrics only tell us so much about the quality of a post. Your impression reach only tell us how the algorithm felt about your post that day. It doesn't tell us about all the people who saw that post and were inspired by it or relayed your message in a conversation with friends later. It doesn't tell us that your post about your journey with mental health influenced a young fan to open up about their own struggles to their family later that night.
Social media was created as a way for us to connect and share stories. It still offers us that opportunity. So take it, have fun with it and stress less about the science.
Meet The Brand Builders
We teach athletes how to build their brand and connect with the opportunities that are uniquely right for them. We're passionate about helping athletes elevate their journey in and beyond sport.
Our Athlete Brand Education is delivered to the world's leading sporting organisations via workshops, webinars and 1-1 mentoring. We're based in Brisbane, Australia but work all over the globe.
Want to learn more about our approach? Catch our latest webinar on how the 99% of athletes can benefit from their brand.