Vedran Vukušić, former professional basketball player. Played for BC Ironi Iscar Nahariya (Israel), KK Cibona, KK Cedevita and KK Split (all Croatia). Graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill, USA.

Should a professional athlete be active on social network(s)? During a conversation with some  professional athletes, I got the feeling that they are very reluctant when it comes to using social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or others. What could be a reason for this? Maybe they want to keep their privacy to themselves? Could it be the fact they do not like publicity?

Are they sensitive about negative remarks and comments about their performance? Or is it the lack of knowledge on how to maintain a high quality page on a social network? All of the above seem like good reasons, but only if nobody has informed these athletes about the benefits (and there are many!) of having a social network page.

All professional athletes should have a page/profile on at least one of the two most predominantly used social networks (Facebook or Twitter).  In this way they can interact with their fans, strengthen their marketability, and attract lucrative sponsorship deals.

Interaction with fans

All professional athletes have fans who follow their every game, watch their highlights on Youtube, and know their stats better than their own mother’s birthday. At the same time, those fans want to see that the person they are rooting for is just as real and human as they are on an everyday basis. They want to see Serena Williams hanging out with her friends, Cristiano Ronaldo relaxing on his couch, Roger Federer shopping, or Kobe Bryant playing video games on his PS4 with the same enthusiasm as anyone else does. This is how fans identify themselves with superstars.

Professional teams all over the world encourage their players to interact with fans through social networks. However, basketball teams I played for, Cibona and Cedevita, both have Facebook and Twitter pages, but never encouraged any of us to be active on social networks. Athletes need to interact with fans to create a relationship, listen to what fans have to say, and respond to their questions and/or comments. This is the only way to gain their respect and attract more „followers“. For this reason, among others, it is important for professional athletes to not only be present on the Internet, but interact with their fans on a daily basis. And interact with style.

Sponsors are watching

Another big reason for pro athletes to be present and active on social networks is the possibility of marketing and branding. All of them are representing something – their families, universities, clubs, their respective sports, and most importantly sponsors. For example, with every FB post, Leo Messi is representing his family, FC Barcelona, and companies like Adidas or Samsung.

Professional athletes and social media

Photo: Thomas van Schaik (Global Brand Director, adidas) & Richard Ayers (7League), Sporto conference (November 2014), Portorož, Slovenia

Therefore, Facebook or Twitter are great platforms for big companies to market their products, and who better to represent those products but professional athletes. Companies recognize the marketing influence of these superstars, and the impact they make on their fans. Add that to the growing number of fans on social networks, and athletes have leverage when negotiating sponsorship deals. What is interesting is that some athletes earn just as much money from sponsorship deals as from their respective sports. And some make a lot more…


Two of the best football players in the world at the moment also have the largest fan base on Facebook and Twitter. This allows them to be the two most marketable football players.

Cristiano Ronaldo (134 mil. fans) – Real Madrid superstar is the best example of how pro athletes should use their social network presence. He has nearly 103 mil. Facebook fans, and over 31 mil. Twitter followers which makes him by far the most followed athlete on social networks. He (his PR team) interact(s) with fans on a regular basis by posting comments, photos, quotes, and letting them know what is CR doing on and of the field. He uses social networks to promote his clothing brand (CR7 clothing), but also to land huge sponsorship deals like Nike and most recently Tag Heuer.

Leo Messi (76 mil. fans) – The Argentinian is another big name on social networks with a little over 76 mil. fans on Facebook. His God given talent and humble personality has landed him some big sponsorship deals with Adidas, Samsung, Turkish Airlines, EA Sports etc.

These two star athletes/celebrities are just an example, there are many others who reap the benefits of social networking.

Quality vs quantity

The way athletes communicate with their fans is very important. Fans want to get as much information about their favorite athletes as soon and as personal as possible. Fans want to know what people are doing when off the court or field. Therefore, I believe, approach that Lebron James is taking is the way to go if you want to connect with fans on a more personal level.

He is tweeting on his own to create a more intimate relationship with his followers. He also has some promotional tweets, but most of his tweets are at this, personal level.

On the other side we have Leo Messi, whose Facebook page is maintained by Adidas. Therefore, it is more official and attractive then Lebron James’ page. It is an interactive page, everything is well written (in Spanish and English), and sponsors are represented more frequently on the page.

Personally, I prefer Lebron James’ approach to social networks because it is more personal. I feel that I appreciate him more because of the time he takes out of his day to interact with fans and posts random thoughts and comments on Facebook and Twitter.

What should you do?

We live in a digital world, and anyone who is not using everything they can to promote themselves, their team or sport, is fast becoming old news. Athletes and their bosses should realize that FB and Twitter are not used just to stay in touch with your friends, family and former teammates. It can be a means of interacting with fans, expanding fan base, promoting brands and getting sponsorship deals.

All things said, professional athletes should be online on a regular basis. Post, tweet, like, share, do whatever, and handle with care. If you lack knowledge on how to maintain a page on FB or Twitter, get educated. Hiring professionals is another plausible option. If you are struggling with maintaining a page or just don’t have time for it, we can develop and maintain a professional looking page/account/profile that will attract fans for you. It’s a small price to pay for what you might get out of it in the end. Just DO something.


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