How many times does a marketable professional athlete post on social media?.. And why does this matter for student-athletes approaching the NIL era?
At Opendorse, we’ve hosted over 30 NIL education sessions with hundreds of student-athletes at dozens of schools.
At the end of each session, we often ask, “What’s one thing you learned?”
The most common answer?
“I need to post more.”
So that’s why this matters as NIL changes near. Student-athletes are looking for context and direction in brand building on social media.
But what is “more?” How many times should a student-athlete post to help grow their audience, and ultimately, their earning power?
Learning from 7,000+ Pros
We analyzed a pool of 7,000+ athletes who participate in leagues and circuits that compete in North America. These athletes range from the NBA to NFL, NHL to NWHL, NASCAR to WNBA, UFC to tennis… More than 15 leagues total.
In total, these 7,000+ professional athletes posted 1.14 million times across Twitter and Instagram in 2020.
The athletes with 1,000 or more followers published an average of 159 posts per year, or an average of three posts per week to their personal social channels.
When we said “more,” it would be fair to expect a large number. But three posts per week is reasonable. It’s obtainable for any athlete.
But the gap from an athlete with 1,000 followers, to some of the most followed (and marketable) athletes in sports, can be a big one. So let’s dig deeper.
Audience Size and Post Frequency
To understand how posting frequency can impact audience-size for athletes, we broke the 7,000+ athlete sample into buckets of audience sizes.
1,001 – 10,000 followers
Athletes with 1,001-10,000 followers averaged 68 posts in 2020 – a little more than one post per week.
10,001 – 100,000 followers
Athletes with 10,001-100,000 followers shared an average of 143 posts in 2020 – about 3 posts per week.
100,001 – 1 million
Athletes with 100,000 – 1 million followers (approx. 1,875 athletes), averaged 280 posts in 2020 – more than 5 posts per week.
For “Club Million” – the 327 athletes sampled at the end of 2020 who had over 1 million followers on Twitter and Instagram – posted an average of 369 times on the year – just over seven posts per week. Basically, once a day.
Growth Rate and Post Frequency
While the data above relies on audience size (or total followers), it may not tell the whole story. Many of those athletes had large followings coming into the year. It doesn’t quite speak to those who performed well specifically in 2020.
To understand the activity that led to growth in 2020 alone, let’s look at the professional athletes who had high growth rates during the year.
The top 100 professional athletes based on growth rate of Twitter and Instagram followers in 2020 shared between three to four posts per week – 180 times on the year, on average.
This group’s average growth rate was 655 percent.
Let’s expand that, though. One hundred is a relatively small sample (only ~1% of athletes analyzed).
The top ten percent of professional athletes in North American sports based on growth rate, who averaged a 193% growth rate, posted five times per week – 238 times in the year.
Comparing Activity – Twitter vs. Instagram
Another factor to consider is that tweets and Instagram posts are different. The volume of tweets vs. posts in an Instagram feed is not the same.
The top 100 professional athletes based on Instagram growth in 2020, averaged 33 posts in their Instagram feed. That’s about one post every ten days.
But top 100 in growth may not be a good measuring stick because many of these individuals are outliers. They could be someone who made the jump from college to pros, had one big win in a fight, or maybe a big victory in a tournament.
In other words, what about those who didn’t have a single “moment” in the year to boost their following?
With that said, what if we expand the sample size to the top 500?
The top 500 athletes measured by Instagram follower growth averaged 49 posts in the feed. That’s basically once a week (taking Christmas, New Year’s and let’s say, Memorial Day weekend off).
Compared to the top 100, that’s an increase of 16 posts in a calendar year.
As for Twitter, the top 100 in follower growth, averaged 191 posts on the year. That’s 4 times a week with an average engagement rate of 11.74%.
Of the top 500 on Twitter, the average number of posts in a year was 258 – about 5 times a week. This group averages 52.4 thousand Twitter followers and an average engagement rate of 8.63%
Some important context to those engagement rates: the 3,236 professional athletes sampled with 10,000 or more Twitter followers have an average engagement rate of 2.13%. So one way of looking at that is the athletes who post 4-5 times a week not only have higher followings but also can see 4-5 times the engagement.
Tying it all Together
Top athletes in terms of growth on social media post frequently and consistently.
How frequently? A few times a week, as in 3-5 times. That’s it.
If you’re an athlete and wondering what does this mean to you, it’s simple: you want to grow your followers? Post. Consistently and frequently.
But don’t just “post.” Posting for the sake of it is not efficient and could cause more harm than good.
Instead, try this sequence: Plan. Set goals. Take action.
Create your map (plan). This is you creating your “why.”
Establish checkpoints on that map (set goals). These are helpful because you can track your progress and adjust when needed.
Determine how you’re going to move through your map (take action).
But as the data shows, your map as it pertains to social media and posting is not your whole life. It’s a part of it. Social media companies, like any product or service, want you using their app as much as possible. That’s a large part of the whole game.
But for the sake of your personal well-being and mental health, don’t consider it your 24/7 job. Consider “what are my next 24 posts over the next 7 weeks?” – about 3 posts a week.
Also ask, “In addition to posts, how can I engage with others?” As Opendorse CEO Blake Lawrence recently tweeted, “post seven times and reply eight.”
Post seven times and reply eight.— Blake Lawrence 🚪 (@Blake_Lawrence) February 18, 2021
Engage your audience and your audience will engage you.
When an athlete engages with their audience, the audience will engage with them. And more people will start to follow.
What you post, though, needs to be authentic. It needs to be you. And don’t forget to engage with others.
An easy equation for your content can be:
Authenticity + Personality = Content
Ultimately, be intentional. Carve out time. And also make time to do other important things, like class, practice, or (real) social activity with others in life.
The point of all of this in essence is “brand building.” Your posts are your promise to the community that follows you, saying “this is what I’m about.”
You’re creating your future on your time.