How Social Media Pros Can Encourage Athletes to Publish Content on Instagram

As social media marketers in sports, we are well aware of just how powerful Instagram can be. You understand its impact on culture and ability to draw unmatched engagement for your team or league channel. But you’re likely also aware that there’s an even stronger group of users in your network — athletes. And if you’re like us and our partners, you want to get more of your media published onto the Instagram channels of those power users.

But there’s a catch.

Instagram’s overwhelming popularity — especially with athletes — also comes with significant personal preference and protection. Most users are very deliberate about what they post to their Instagram feeds and stories. They may even have a specific aesthetic that they look to maintain with their channel.

This can present challenges for social and creative teams when trying to encourage your strongest ambassadors to publish your content.

While the challenge can be real, first understand what some of the most influential people are posting on Instagram – and more specifically what they’re not.

Most likely, they are posting a mix of personal and professional photos and videos instead of text-heavy graphic or content that is heavily branded.

“If you find it difficult to come up with content for your social media posts, remember than authentic means ‘real.’ Let people get to know the real you… People crave authentic connections to one another—and yes, that extends to a connection to their leaders.” – Forbes

Part of your role as a sports organization’s social media leader – maybe even a majority of it – might involve designing detailed and informative graphics for marketing purposes for your organization.

Those visuals are perfect for your organization’s social channels as fans and media likely follow your accounts for that information. A great way to expand the reach of those posts is to share them with your roster via Twitter as retweets or quote tweets to add a more personalized message.

If those graphics feature an individual from your organization, it may seem natural to share them with that user for their social channels… and you’re absolutely right. But getting an athlete or coach to share your media sometimes requires a channel-specific strategy. 

If the visual or video is a marketing graphic or includes CTA language to click a link, it’s probably best for Twitter or a Facebook Page.

Learning From The Best

Consider some of the most popular athlete Instagram accounts. Cristiano RonaldoLeBron JamesAlex MorganSerena Williams… the list goes on. A significant majority of the media these icons share is not graphic or text-laden. Instead, they publish candid photos and videos from their professions and their daily lives. Because it’s an authentic reflection of who they are. That’s what drives engagement.

In-Game Content Encourages Sharing

LeBron is among the most media-covered athletes in the world but yet he is still consistently posting photos and videos straight from the court. In doing this, he is able to be the go-to source for LeBron content. Rather than allowing ESPN and B/R to be the sole providers of his highlights, he is able to manage his own story on his social channels and grow his brand with his +70 million Instagram fans. He is able to take a few seconds from a game and make it live forever.

“…a play that might have had a shorter shelf life had (LeBron) James not posted and reposted 14 pics and clips of it from various angles. (It was a really good dunk.) James dunked on a bunch of dudes in November — 36 times on his Instagram account alone.” – New York Times

Speaking of LeBron’s dunks, he’s one of his aforementioned posters, which became one of 2020’s most popular Instagram posts by an NBA player pre-Spring shutdown:

Overall, it’s a pretty simple post. It’s an amazing moment posted twice – the first likely with some minor filter editing, the second with a little more filter editing (both potentially done by LeBron and his team after receiving it). Pair it with a great caption and the result is over 4.3 million engagements.

This exposure and engagement help grow all the brands associated with LeBron: the Lakers, the NBA, Nike, not to mention LeBron’s personal brand.

The purpose of the post may not be an #ad but it still benefits every logo in James’ orbit. All from posting simple and basic media content like photos and videos.

And when I say “simple and basic”, I do not mean that in terms of quality or the time it takes to capture; I mean that in terms of the fact that the content does not require any additional editing or design to be effective.

Even more impressive is looking at the exact same photo but published on the Lakers channel.

Same photo and another great caption…but look at the engagements. Only about 770,000 likes and under 2,500 comments. Why? The Lakers have one of the largest and most loyal fanbases in sports, but the truth remains: it is the faces in the feeds that slow the scroll. That face being LeBron’s certainly doesn’t hurt, but athletes have proven to out-engage teams time and time again, at every level of fame and sport. 

So when it comes to posting marketing content and graphics, save those for your organization’s social channels or for the Twitter and/or Facebook channels of your roster if it features them.

When it comes to Instagram, keep the content you share with your roster simple, authentic, and real. They’ll thank you for it… and publish more media that benefits all involved. 



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