Shaylee Gonzales fits the definition of a “social media native” to a T. She downloaded Instagram and Snapchat around the age of 14, and has had her hands on social media ever since. In Junior High, the now-BYU hooper started watching Youtube and fell in love with vlogs – more specifically those featuring student-athletes. In High School, Gonzales created a channel and began sharing gameday vlogs with her teammates.
Success wasn’t immediate. It rarely is on social. Coming into college Gonzales only had 260 subscribers. Now as a Sophomore on the BYU basketball team, she has over 126 thousand subscribers.
Building a Personality on Social
Looking back on her Freshman year at BYU, Gonzales said, “I just really focused my freshman year on basketball, school, and YouTube. Of course, basketball and school always come first, and my subscribers, they know that.”
Her content had focused on gameday vlogs and showing the day-in-the-life of a D-1 athlete. That same year Gonzales gained traction on TikTok, bringing even more exposure to her Youtube channel. After winning the West Coast Conference, going to the NCAA tournament, and being invited to Team USA U19 tryouts as a Freshman, Gonzales tore her ACL while preparing for her Sophomore season. She was extremely open about the entire process and used her social media platforms as outlets to share her road to recovery.
“I shared that story on my YouTube channel and it blew up,” Gonzales explained. “That’s where I’m being unique and genuine. I wanted to let people know what happened and that it was a really hard time in my life. I wanted to let people know that bad things can happen to anyone. Coming off of a high freshman year and then, unfortunately, tearing my ACL, that turned into a nine-month recovery, and was very devastating.
I wanted to be open about that and to share my experience. I shared what it was like, not just the ups, but also the downs. That was really hard for me, but I feel like that is what makes me different from others is that I got to share that story. It has helped so many kids and so many athletes to know that you can come back from an injury and, that even though you get injured, you can still be the best. You can still come back and be the best, player you were or even better. I think sharing that story really helped me personally become a better person and to inspire others and obviously helped my social media grow a lot.”
Almost every athlete and sports professional we interview talks about the importance of being authentic. Every athlete has their own story and social media gives them a platform to share it. To grow an audience and platform, it’s important to connect with fans and share the appreciation.
Gonzales gets it. “It’s super important to be genuine. That’s what makes you unique. That makes you special and why people will want to follow you. Be your own self, and create content that’s different than other people’s.It’s super important to come up with your own ideas.”
For Gonzales, authenticity drives her to engage in 2-way conversation – going beyond her own posts, to interacting with fans in DMs and comments.
“Most of my comments and DMs are very positive. I try my best to get back to people on the comments on YouTube, and I think it’s important if you have a social media presence to engage with your audience.”
Inspiring others is a big motivator behind Gonzales’s social media channels and content. She wants to continue to be a student-athlete people can look up to and give an authentic behind-the-scenes experience of competing at a division one level.
“It has given me an opportunity to have a voice on social media and to inspire others. I think it’s really awesome that as a division one athlete you have the power to inspire and to be a role model for younger kids, and other students and student-athletes as well. I think it’s super important to be that role model because a lot of kids and people look up to division one athletes. It’s something so special that not a lot of people get to experience.”
One of the most challenging processes for student-athletes comes when the game is over and they can no longer compete in their sport. This makes it vital for athletes with post-career aspirations to embrace their personality beyond the court. Gonzales has realized this and is already preparing to take her brand to the next level.
“Are people still going to want to follow me after basketball? I’ve been thinking about that and thinking, okay, I need to post other things that aren’t related to basketball. I think that it’s super important to just be your genuine self and to always share all sides of your life, not just basketball, because, you know, we are more than just basketball, we’re other things as well.”
Gonzales claims that she’s felt like a businesswoman running her own channels and preparing for the NIL era. With the help of her dad, she’s preparing to create her own logo and build her own website. These skills she’s learning now by building her own personal brand will benefit Gonzales after she graduates and pursues a professional career.
“I think it will definitely help me in the future. With my career, being a voice like I said, taking charge, and just inspiring others.”