How so­cial me­dia has changed the game – for bet­ter and worse

Kiwi sports stars now can con­nect di­rectly to their fans but some of their con­tent is sim­ply mar­ket­ing and the ‘old me­dia’ is still needed to ask the hard ques­tions, re­ports Olivia Cald­well.

Sunday Star-Times - - Sport - October 29, 2017

Kiwi sports per­son­al­i­ties are shar­ing ev­ery­thing in the dig­i­tal me­dia – from en­gage­ments, wed­dings, hol­i­days, births, eat­ing dos and don’ts, fash­ion dos and don’ts, apolo­gies and re­tire­ments.

So­cial me­dia is hav­ing an in­creas­ing in­flu­ence on the way we now see sport­ing star’s habits, mile­stones and per­sonal lives ev­ery day on our phones.

At no cost, we are now savvy to a glimpse of the day in the life of a sport­ing su­per­star along with mil­lions of other avid fol­low­ers on Twit­ter, In­sta­gram and Face­book

But don’t be fooled into think­ing it is all just su­per­fi­cial. So­cial me­dia is hav­ing a pro­found ef­fect on the role of tra­di­tional me­dia too. Ath­letes are ef­fec­tively try­ing to cut them out of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with sup­port­ers, yet when it comes to ask­ing the hard ques­tions that is a role still best served by jour­nal­ists.

Univer­sity of Auck­land me­dia sport lec­turer Dr Mar­garet Hen­ley said it is now eas­ier than ever for fans to en­gage with their sports he­roes, which helps pro­mote their brand and make them money.

‘‘Fans wish to have a con­nec­tion with their favourite ath­lete where they feel they are be­ing in­cluded and in­vited to a glimpse of their per­sonal/non-pro­fes­sional life.

‘‘There is a sense of recog­ni­tion and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion here that th­ese fans gain sig­nif­i­cant plea­sure from feel­ing as though they are part of it all. The sense that this vir­tual close­ness is au­then­tic is re­in­forced by the seem­ingly di­rect na­ture of this fan/ath­lete con­tact as it is not fil­tered through tra­di­tional jour­nal­is­tic prac­tices.’’

As far as so­cial me­dia rat­ings go, Kiwi ‘‘su­per­stars’’ have far fewer fol­low­ers than their in­ter­na­tional coun­ter­parts.

Foot­baller Cris­tiano Ron­aldo has 61.1 mil­lion fol­low­ers on Twit­ter alone and a fur­ther 113 mil­lion In­sta­gram ad­mir­ers.

To put this in per­spec­tive, the foot­ball sen­sa­tion has 20 mil­lion more fol­low­ers on Twit­ter than US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

For­mer All Black first-five and World Cup win­ner Dan Carter cleans out any other Kiwi sports star with 608,000 Twit­ter fol­low­ers and 808,000 In­sta­gram fans who sign up to see Carter’s posts on life abroad, play­ing for French rugby club Racing 92 and his trav­els around the globe.

All Black Sonny Bill Wil­liams has more Twit­ter fol­low­ers than Carter with 718,000 but less on In­sta­gram with 270,000 af­ter tak­ing a brief hia­tus from the photo medium. The proud hus­band and fa­ther of two, as it reads on his pro­file, of­ten posts pho­tos of his fam­ily, wife, team-mates on tour and var­i­ous char­ity work he sup­ports.

Carter has posted ten times the amount than SBW on In­sta­gram reach­ing his French, Kiwi and global fan base.

Au­then­tic or brand­ing?

Hen­ley said while some ath­letes may ap­pear to be just feed­ing their ego with posts on their so­cial me­dia pages, they are ac­tu­ally care­fully cal­cu­lated. They are pro­mot­ing a par­tic­u­lar brand and are of­ten ad­vised by pro­fes­sional me­dia man­agers.

‘‘You have to also con­sider the way in which so­cial is used to build a brand for a high rank­ing elite ath­lete. Many of them have the as­sis­tance of a me­dia man­ager who man­ages their client brand and mar­ket­ing strate­gies. Their so­cial me­dia pages are part of their brand­ing and mar­ket­ing.

‘‘Au­then­tic­ity is very im­por­tant for ath­letes – they are not pre­tend­ing to be ath­letes – they are ath­letes. They are not Kar­dashi­ans.’’

Hen­ley said the heavy and light use of so­cial me­dia is not an in­di­ca­tion of the ath­lete’s ego. For ex­am­ple, Ron­aldo’s reg­u­lar up­dates com­pared with for­mer All Black Cap­tain Richie McCaw’s non-use of so­cial me­dia is more down to cul­tural dif­fer­ences and age. McCaw’s Face­book ac­count has 517,000 fol­low­ers.

‘‘They may be very dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties, but they are also cul­tur­ally very dif­fer­ent but cru­cially, they are of a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion. McCaw was not born tex­ting or tweet­ing and he did come through the Gra­ham Henry era, which viewed all me­dia with deep sus­pi­cion.

‘‘There is also the com­mer­cial di­men­sion to this as elite ath­letes use the an­a­lyt­ics of their so­cial me­dia fol­low­ing to pro­mote their com­mer­cial worth to po­ten­tial spon­sors and ex­tend em­ploy­ment op­tions beyond their ac­tive play­ing life.’’

Hen­ley said many ath­letes choose so­cial me­dia over tra­di­tional me­dia con­fer­ences or press re­leases as it avoids be­ing un­der di­rect scru­tiny of jour­nal­ists who press is­sues fur­ther with hard ques­tions they of­ten don’t want to an­swer.

She said there was an in­creas­ing drive for sports bod­ies such as New Zealand Rugby to con­trol the pro­duc­tion of con­tent which is linked into their com­mer­cial and mar­ket­ing strate­gies.

‘‘Huge sports em­pires such as Man U [Manch­ester United] with their so­phis­ti­cated broad­cast­ing and live-streaming and mo­bile de­liv­ery sys­tems are ef­fec­tively con­trol­ling the medium and the mes­sage.

‘‘Toy­ota con­trolled sig­nif­i­cant as­pects of the pro­duc­tion of con­tent and ac­cess to Team New Zealand per­son­nel and the team com­pound at the re­cent Amer­ica’s Cup. This is a good ex­am­ple of the way in which ma­jor spon­sors and sports or­gan­i­sa­tions are mak­ing it very dif­fi­cult for main­stream me­dia to gain first-hand ac­cess at a ma­jor sport­ing event – even when they have me­dia ac­cred­i­ta­tion and are re­port­ing for the New Zealand pub­lic.’’

The jour­nal­ist’s role

Ath­letes to­day can of­ten ‘‘cut’’ jour­nal­ists out of the equa­tion al­to­gether through us­ing so­cial me­dia more reg­u­larly and promi­nently.

Hen­ley said such ini­tia­tives from sports bod­ies and ath­letes alike con­stantly re­in­forces a sense of mis­trust in the es­tab­lished me­dia.

‘‘What th­ese [so­cial] sites of­fer is fan ac­cess to high-pro­file ath­letes at a time when thought-pro­vok­ing fea­ture ar­ti­cles are be­com­ing rarer in tra­di­tional me­dia.

‘‘Old me­dia’’ is in a con­stant state of change as it ad­justs and adapts it­self to the in­tro­duc­tion and prac­tices of so­cial me­dia.’’

Hen­ley said tra­di­tional sports me­dia and jour­nal­ists need to keep work­ing on strate­gies which re­in­force pub­lic trust and re­spect and also cham­pion their fourth es­tate role of ask­ing the hard ques­tions.

‘‘They [es­tab­lished me­dia] are not com­pro­mised by be­ing pri­mar­ily a fan or an in­sider with a com­mer­cial con­flict of in­ter­est and there­fore can ask the hard ques­tions which need to be asked and to pro­vide com­ment on tough is­sues that those on the in­side ei­ther do not see or wish to dis­cuss.

‘‘Be­ing rel­e­gated to chas­ing the sto­ries via so­cial me­dia post­ings from out­side the perime­ter fence is not sus­tain­able or de­sir­able.’’

There are count­less an­nounce­ments from sports per­son­al­i­ties in so­cial me­dia first and in the news me­dia sec­ond. Va­lerie Adams and Ser­ena Wil­liams an­nounced their preg­nan­cies on their so­cial ac­counts and again showed the first pho­tos of their new-borns the same way.

Carter apol­o­gised for his drink driv­ing charge in Paris and All Black Ben Smith an­nounced his re­sign­ing with New Zealand Rugby. Th­ese an­nounce­ments can be as low key as an In­sta­gram post that needs no fur­ther ex­plain­ing – mak­ing ex­pen­sive and timely pub­lic an­nounce­ments a thing of the past.

Massey Univer­sity school of sport lec­turer Dr Ash­leigh-Jane Thomp­son agreed that with so­cial me­dia, the power is now more than ever in the hands of the ath­lete rather than the jour­nal­ist.

‘‘In terms of fol­low­ing th­ese ath­letes on so­cial me­dia, the tech­nol­ogy has brought fans closer to their sport­ing idols/he­roes. Stud­ies have re­vealed that sports fans ap­pear to be largely mo­ti­vated by in­ter­ac­tion, in­for­ma­tion, and en­joy­ment. Fans [and brands] want to see the real peo­ple, and not just their sport­ing per­sona.

‘‘Sport fans are also in­ter­ested in get­ting a ‘peak be­hind the closed cur­tain’, or get­ting ac­cess to con­tent that they wouldn’t have been privy to pre­vi­ously. Ath­letes pro­vid­ing this type of be­hind-the-scenes con­tent has been likened to the no­tion of get­ting an all-ac­cess pass.’’

‘‘Get­ting a like, share, retweet or a re­ply on one of the var­i­ous so­cial plat­forms is the new au­to­graph for fans. It’s a con­tem­po­rary form of ac­knowl­edge­ment and recog­ni­tion.’’

Thomp­son said so­cial me­dia use with sports ath­letes has pro­gressed from the the early days when it was sim­ply about fol­low­ers and likes to now hav­ing ‘‘gen­uine and sus­tained en­gage­ment’’ with fans to build their brand.

‘‘More re­cently we are see­ing ath­letes us­ing so­cial me­dia as a plat­form to speak about so­cial causes and phil­an­thropic en­deav­ours.

‘‘Pro­vid­ing them with op­por­tu­ni­ties to by­pass tra­di­tional me­dia and com­mu­ni­cate di­rectly to au­di­ences, and in so do­ing pro­vid­ing them with op­por­tu­ni­ties to craft the nar­ra­tive.’’

Many of them have the as­sis­tance of a me­dia man­ager who man­ages their client brand. Dr Mar­garet Hen­ley


Dan Carter, right, with David Beck­ham. Carter uses his so­cial me­dia chan­nels to al­low fans a glimpse into his life­style - the best bits at least.

Beau­den Bar­rett.

Sonny Bill Wil­liams.

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