Instagram: The Preferred Platform to Build Athletes’ Brand Image

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In the last decade, brands made a shift in communication strategies, in order to best use social media to raise brand equity. Instagram is a social media platform allowing brands to communicate via images. According to a SumAll study, its visual nature permits brands to benefit from higher fans engagement than on other social media platforms contributing strongly to building brand equity.

According to Lauren Smith and Jimmy Sanderson, Instagram is the fastest growing social media platform and it has gained popularity among athletes. Andrea Geurin-Eagleman and Lauren Burch say this is due to the mass consumption of this social media by sports fans coveting the intimacy provided by this platform.

Benefits for Individual Athletes

Individual athletes have an interest to use social media for building and maintaining their personal brand equity since they do not enjoy as much media coverage than athletes from professional teams according to Ann Pegoraro and Naila Jinnah. Also, interacting with fans on an online setting contributes to obtaining more loyal consumers says Michael Green.

Moreover, Smith and Sanderson suggest having a positive public perception can provide athletes with endorsement opportunities. Finally, social media permits individual athletes to have a certain control over their public presentation than what is being portrayed in mass media. Throughout this article, we will examine Usain Bolt, a successful Olympian in his sporting career. He benefits from Instagram as a way of leveraging his personal brand image

Benefits for their Stakeholders

Successful athletes’ personal brand can have a positive impact on their stakeholders’ business activities. For instance, Usain Bolt is sponsored by Puma and his strong brand image on social media and his athletic success benefit his sponsor.

In addition, athletes are often associated with their National Sport Organization (NSO) by the public. Therefore, these sport organizations benefit from encouraging their athletes to developing a strong brand image that is congruent with theirs according to Geurin-Eagleman and Burch. Once again, the ex-sprinter Usain Bolt’s image have had a positive impact on his NSO (the Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association).

Best Instagram Practices to Enhance Athletes’ Brand Equity

Based on the social media trends toward Instagram and the benefits for athletes and their stakeholders from using social media, there are some preferred Instagram practices that can be identified in order to influence positively athletes’ personal brand equity.

1- Varying content

Based on two exploratory research studies conducted by Smith and Sanderson and Geurin-Eagleman and Burch , the most popular captions on Instagram are athletes’ personal life followed by business life content such as their endorsement activities. Moreover, Geurin-Eagleman and Burch identified varying content on Instagram as the preferred strategy for athletes to reach and engage more fans. Usain Bolt is using this strategy and it permits him to reach a bigger and diverse audience.

2- Responding quickly and with value to fans

The way athletes respond to fans is extremely important to consider. Green says responding quickly and with value is a good practice in order to foster fans’ loyalty. This will contribute to building a strong relationship between the athletes and their followers contributing to a higher engagement rate on their Instagram page and a stronger brand image.

3- Staying authentic

Accordin to Smith and Sanderson, an important feature for athletes to put forward when presenting themselves on Instagram is their authenticity. Matthew Thomson said social media followers dislike “fake brands” and brand images that seems created. Thus, athletes should select carefully the content they want to share with their Instagram fans in order to ‘‘create an aura of authenticity,’’ according to Pegoraro and Jinnah.

For instance, a good way for athletes to be transparent on social networks when endorsing products is to mention they are being sponsored by the company somewhere in their caption. Usain Bolt and many other athletes simply use hashtags such as #ad and #sponsored. Also, the caption could clearly indicate it is a “paid partnership” as the example below.

4- Develop a clear image

Last but not least, developing a clear personal brand image is a good strategy for athletes to use on Instagram. By knowing the direction they want to go with their image, it permits them to use their Instagram page more effectively. A good model they can use to develop and evaluate their brand image is the “Athlete’s Brand Model” below developed by Akiko Arai, Yong Jae Ko, and Stephen Ross. It is based on Kevin Keller’s brand equity theory, but it is adapted to athletes.

Image created by Akiko Arai, Yong Jae Ko & Stephen Ross.

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