Leighton Levy, Gleaner Writer
Using social media is the most cost-effective online or mobile method for advertising that has global reach and attracts targeted groups of people or customers for any specific brand.
That is the view of Carlene Edwards, senior corporate communications officer of Supreme Ventures Limited (SVL), who was speaking at a three-hour workshop: 'Social Media and Athletes', held at The Jamaica Pegasus on Tuesday.
Edwards was one of several presenters who highlighted to the small gathering the potential benefits that can be accrued by athletes, as well as organisations, using social media, and the impact that can be generated using the media to build brand awareness.
The workshop is an extension of the Business of Sport seminar that was staged in May by Carole Beckford and her partners, Strategic Corporate Interventions (SCI).
According to SCI's Milton Samuda, Tuesday's workshop was about breaking out subject matter from the seminar so as to "inform athletes about the use of the tools (they have at their disposal) and the dos and don'ts of using those tools".
In addition to her role at SVL, Edwards is general secretary of the Kingston and St Andrew Football Association (KSAFA) and handled communications for the Jamaican athletics team who competed at the IAAF World Athletics Champion-ships in Daegu, South Korea, from August 27 to September 4.
She pointed out that with more than 800 million people on Facebook and more than 100 million more using Twitter, athletes have an opportunity to push themselves to a wide and varied audience, which in turn increases their potential to attract sponsors and expose their charitable work. It also allows athletes to extend their brand into other areas of interest once their careers come to an end.
Traditional marketing, she said, pushes a message to a large audience in the hope of getting a small response rate. Using social networks allows for the engagement of two-way conversations with customers and prospects creating new connections, new traffic and new business. With the athlete as a driver on the social network platforms, the potential exists to market in ways that would not be possible via traditional means, but the athlete has to be the right fit.
Edwards explained that the athlete must exhibit the potential, possess the qualities to be an ambassador for the brand, be a consistent performer, and demonstrate longevity. She cited Usain Bolt and his relationship with Puma as an example of how an athlete can be the right fit for a brand. Bolt's performance at the recent World Championships triggered a 10.2 per cent jump in sales of Puma products.
Conversely, she cited derogatory comments about the West Indies Cricket Board tweeted by West Indies batsman Chris Gayle and Tiger Woods' philandering as ways in which athletes can make themselves unattractive to sponsors.
Her sentiments were echoed by Rashid Hall of the University of the West Indies Department of Sports, who showed how the university was using Facebook to interact with students and build a significant following of students who were interested in what was going on on campus and with the sports department.
Patrick Anderson, sports editor at RJR Communications Group, spoke on how traditional media and social media were in a convergence, allowing for the almost instant and more far-reaching coverage of events happening worldwide. Social media, he said, also allows for closer scrutiny of occurrences that would not necessarily be possible in traditional media.
"It is very clear that traditional media and social media are at a point of convergence," Anderson said.
He recently returned from a stint at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, where he was exposed to how impacting social media has become in news coverage.
"One cannot do without the other. Traditional media will be relying a lot on social media, and at the end of the day it is depth of reporting, context, accuracy by traditional media incorporating social media that is going to win out the day."
Beckford was happy with the workshop and promised similar workshops in future.
"The workshop was successful in bringing about the message that we want to get across. It's a small group (comprising representatives from several sports across the Jamaican landscape, including netball, swimming and volleyball), but it's an important group, and I think they will take back the information. The Business of Sport continues and we will forever be grateful to the people who support it."