Building a Social Athlete

I’m going to the athlete village in a few hours to hang out (1600 to 1800, Wednesday) and be the resident geek for any athletes who want some advice on how to launch a blog and use Web 2.0 tools to tell their stories, share their experiences and build their careers – athletic or professional or both. Figuring it would be good to actually think about the topic before arriving in our International iLounge, I thought I’d post some thoughts and seek some input from my faithful readers.

Why would an athlete blog? I can’t speak for anybody else’s motivation, I know I am propelled by an itch to write, a raging ego, and an inner nerd that likes to mess around with new stuff. But if I project myself into the Nikes of a 25 year-old elite athlete, I would be looking for the following:

  1. Recognition. The investment of time, practice, and pain is considerable. An athlete performing at the world level is sacrificing school, career, and free time to train, travel and compete. The first return, at the very least, should be acknowledgment of that sacrifice.
  2. Support. A blog is an excellent way to provide supporters with a channel to leave their cheers and questions. Those supporters can be a family many time zones away, friends and alumni from former lives, a former teacher, fellow teammates, and sponsors
  3. Sponsorship. As brands invest in athletes they are going to make blogging a requirement. Whether the sponsor provides editorial and technical support, or a sports marketing agency offers it, or a sport federation (like USRowing) gets in on the action, high visibility athletes will see blogging show up in their contracts more than ever. For an athlete seeking financial support (and most are), a blog is the single most effect way to get recognition and attention to one’s cause, particularly in the non-mainstream sports that have fierce sets of fans, but no attention from the mainstream sporting press.
  4. Satisfaction: for some people, not all, a blog and all that goes with it can be a very personally gratifying experience. It is not for everybody, but for people who like to write, who like to photograph, who have fun with a video camera, who like to build connections and relationships through technology … well, I personally regard this stuff as one of the highlights of my day, but I’m an old reporter who like to write and needs to share it. Some athletes will love it, others will dread it. But ….

Enough preamble, now to the practical 1-2-3 steps to follow. Loyal readers can skip this. But for someone coming to this stuff for the first time, here’s the basics:

  1. Permission. Does your sport or event have any rules regarding blogging by athletes? Find that out first. The IOC has guidelines for all sorts of athlete activities and I would counsel a would-be sports blogger to read them, understand them, discuss them with an agent, attorney, parent, or friend. The first thing is not to do anything that would endanger one’s eligibility or permission to participate.
  2. Blogs: do-it-yourself or quick-and-dirty. A DIY blog offers some better branding if you can register yourname-dot-com. If the athlete has a technical background or inclination, a self-hosted blog can be both fun and frustrating. For the rest of us, there are several excellent free hosted blog services such as Google’s Blogger. WordPress. Typepad. Etc. My advice – ask around, a lot of Lenovo’s athletes went with Blogger. I am a WordPress guy (self-hosted). The registration process is drop-dead simple. So, open the blog first – everything else (pictures, videos) plugs into it. Pick the name carefully, make it something that can be easily communicated verbally and remembered (if you have business cards have the address printed on them).
  3. Tools of the trade: get a good PC (an IdeaPad or ThinkPad with a SD slot for the little camera card: any athlete who wants a discount should find me for my discount code).
    1. Software – pretty much a web browser is all that is needed. Some photo software can’t hurt (Adobe Photoshop Elements is a great tool, but $$$).
    2. Video – definitely look at the PureDigital FlipCam – at $150 with an hour’s capacity and no software or wires, it is a good tool but terrible on recording audio outdoors.
    3. Camera – a decent (3+ million megapixel) digital camera is key.
  4. Accounts: along with the blog two other accounts are needed for putting pictures and videos into a blog. For Photos – there are a ton of solutions. Google Picasa is good if one is a “Googly Person,” Flickr is my photo host of choice. Both have little tools that allow one to easily upload photos right onto one’s account. So, after lighting up a blog, light up a photo service. Then go to YouTube and register for an account there. All of this stuff is free. (Flickr Pro account permits unlimited uploads for a small annual fee)

Now, what to write about? How often? What works? What doesn’t?

I wish I had an easy answer. A lot has been written about “how to blog” – some people are very focused and particular about what they write and put a lot of care into it. Typos, misspellings … I am relaxed about such stuff and have a tendency to publish first and correct later. Topics? You can take on the world’s issues, you can talk about what you just had for dinner (actually diet is probably a fascinating issue for many athletes to share and discuss). Just be interesting. Relax. It’s only the entire world that can read it!

I would emphasize:

  • brevity (which I am not doing in this post)
  • bullets – put your points into little chunks like this
  • pictures (people like to see some images in the middle of a big snake of text)

Comments and Community

The blog is launched, it has a few posts about the upcoming competition. The design is nice. Some pictures are posted. People are now figuring out it exists. How? Well, first you tell the world by linking to other bloggers in your sport. Think about blogs as a big …. Web …. Of interconnected blogs. You link to one blog that blogger will be notified automatically (it’s called a trackback), you comment on another blog and happen to drop your blog’s address in there ….. Building an audience is about building connections. That’s a topic for another discussion in more detail.

As the audience arrives, so will the comments. Your mother will probably post the first one. Or a teammate. Or a coach. Reply. Say hi. Read your comments. Check them religiously. Don’t pay attention to jerks, anonymous idiots, or spammers. Delete them.

Be aware the press is going to discover your blog. As an ex-reporter I can attest that reporters love a good quote and like the rest of us their search begins on Google. If they need a quote from a water polo goalie and the blog is “optimized” correctly, expect a phone call or an email.

Sponsors and branding

Your sponsor is going to want some recognition, maybe your sport’s federation as well. Help them out. Put their logos on the blog. Give them some recognition and they will appreciate it. If they are like Lenovo they will also help pull this altogether, but I would advise, in fact demand, that ghostwriting and management of the blog by another person, especially a sponsor, not be permitted. If you have a PR person, sure, have them help. But don’t let a sponsor or any third party put words in public that you didn’t write or at least approve yourself. Readers can sense that from a distance and to invoke the Social Media Cliché – it’s gotta be authentic.

Summary:

  1. It’s fun. Keep it that way and you’ll keep it alive.
  2. It’s cheap. Don’t spend money on it.
  3. It takes patience. A lot of traffic and recognition won’t happen overnight. Don’t do it for the numbers.
  4. It’s better than a diary or a scrapbook. It’s your blog and it’s yourself made digital and shared online with the world.
  5. People care. Sports is one of the planet’s universal passions. We’re all fans at some level. This is how we can all get out of the stands, out from behind the television and reach out and actually touch the most important people of all – you, the athletes. To hear Elle Logan tell the story of her gold medal race, of the strategy, the inside jokes, the move they made at 1000 meters. NBC and EuroSport can’t tell that tale. Only you can. Tell it!

 

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

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