Green Bay running back Ryan Grant remembers when teammates would mock him and others for having a Twitter account. That was last year, prior to the Packers winning Super Bowl XLV and word spreading throughout the sports entertainment community that leveraging social media could help an athlete's personal brand.
"Since we won the Super Bowl [in February], about 10 extra guys have Twitter accounts," Grant said. "I laugh at them now because they recognize it."
Partnering with Brand Affinity Technologies (BAT), the 28-year-old NFL veteran has run social media and online campaigns for Ford, Versus, and BAT's consumer web browsing tool called Fantapper. For Versus, he has pushed the cable channel's NHL coverage in hopes of getting the attention of Wisconsin hockey fans. Here's an @RyanGrant25 (76,000 followers) promotional tweet from late January: "The NHL All-Star Game is tonight on VERSUS. Be sure to check it out! [short link]".
Grant spoke with ClickZ yesterday about what he's learned about Twitter marketing, who on his team uses the micro-blogging site best, and the social media phenomenon in Cincinnati Bengals star Chad "Ocho Cinco" Johnson. BAT CEO Ryan Steelberg also joined the discussion.
ClickZ: The NFL Draft begins tonight. What advice would you give the young guys coming into the league when it comes to social media marketing?
Ryan Grant: I'd tell them it can be a gift and a curse. I would tell them social media and the Internet are taking athletes and celebrities by storm. It's important. At the same time, if you are not [careful], it can hurt. I would tell them to be beware and to have people in their corners helping them. I think it can be phenomenal for players. It can really help them out in the exposure and marketing sense. Across the board, it's a way for them to connect with their fans.
CZ: You've been in the league for seven seasons. Compare the number of players who are active on Twitter and Facebook compared to just a year or two ago?
RG: The numbers have jumped phenomenally. I think all athletes are recognizing the power that it can have... Last year if you were on Twitter, some guys would say, "Ah, you guys on Twitter are ridiculous." Since we won the Super Bowl [in February], about 10 extra guys have Twitter accounts. I laugh at them now because they recognize it.
CZ: What percentage of your teammates are using social media for commercial purposes?
RG: I don't know that because it's a personal thing. We don't follow each other [away from the team] as much as you might think.
CZ: Ryan Steelberg, why are professional athletes and Twitter a good marketing marriage?
Ryan Steelberg: Obviously, Twitter is nationally focused. But if you were to make some analogies, I think Twitter is similar to endorsed radio. And for the most part, it looks like satellite radio. If I do a tweet, it goes to everybody. However if you look at stars like Ryan Grant who have high affinity in their local respective markets, if you can aggregate these types of brands potentially at scale, Ford and others can get great activation through Ryan to his fans with great targetability.
CZ: Are pro athletes using geo-social platforms like Foursquare, Gowalla, or Scvngr?
RG: No, not that I know of.
RS: In reference to the several hundred celebrity campaigns, I don't believe I have heard an agent or a star mention any of those companies.
CZ: Ryan Grant, do you only endorse products on Twitter that you like or use?
RG: You can over-market yourself, and you don't want to do that. Fans don't want to feel like you are just there to sell them things. I think it is important to associate something you are excited about, you like, or feel proud of. For instance, I don't drink. So if you were to ask me to endorse alcohol products, I wouldn't do that…I only promote a product that I am comfortable with because that makes it better on both sides.
CZ: Who is the most self-promotional NFL player on Twitter?
RG: I think everyone knows on Twitter, it's Chad [Johnson]. I don't think Chad will feel badly for me saying that. He's done a phenomenal job of self-promoting. Honestly, you can look at what he did - he's one of these pioneers for using Twitter for self-promoting in great ways. And if you look at direct on-the-field performance, usually a player's marketing ability is based off of his on-the-field performance. Chad knew how to maneuver and build that social media thing...Greg Jennings is doing a good job, and I think Clay Matthews is probably the biggest one [on the Packers]. Clay has that hair. You know, once again, it's about the on-the-field performance. But if you have a certain image, it only helps. So for the Packers, Clay Matthews, and Chad Johnson for across the league.
CZ: Justin Upton told our publication earlier this week that more NFL and NBA players are on Twitter compared to MLB. Do you agree? And if so, how would you explain the phenomena?
RG: I'm not really sure why that is the case. Is Brian Wilson from the [San Francisco] Giants on Twitter? He's my favorite.
RS: There's actually only a few baseball players that have more than 1,000 Twitter followers. Whereas with football there are dozens that have several hundred thousand. Twitter has really been much more embraced by the NBA and football, and we are encouraging baseball…Just the sheer breadth of games they play and the ability to have something to say. There's a big opportunity there.
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Christopher Heine was a senior writer for ClickZ through June 2012. He covered social media, sports/entertainment marketing, retail, and more. Heine's work has also appeared via Mashable, Brandweek, DM News, MarketingSherpa, and other tech- and ad-centric publications. USA Today, Bloomberg Radio, and The Los Angeles Times have cited him as an expert journalist.
December 12, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT