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Kobe Bryant’s Social Media Enigma

When we think of social media in basketball, a lot of names come to mind. Shaq was the pioneer. Steve Nash engages with fans with the same smoothness he does orchestrating the basketball court. Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh make announcements on Facebook. LeBron makes notes of his haters. The list goes on, but Kobe Bryant isn’t on that list. No, Kobe Bryant doesn’t understand Twitter or the importance of building his online brand at all.

Mind you, he does have a website with attached Twitter and Facebook accounts but they are merely a microphone to announce his latest shoes, and I’m pretty sure none of it is run by him personally. In the age of social media where authentic content is key, Kobe just doesn’t quite get it.

Or that’s what he’d like all of us to think. You see, Kobe actually knows a lot more about social media than we all think. Even as he pretends not to know how to use Twitter or Facebook, he understands, maybe better than anyone, the power of building an online community.

In an interview with Yahoo! Sports writer Adrian Wojnarowski, he lets this quote slip: “Guys have voices now, want to build brands. I don’t identify with it, but I understand where it’s going, why it’s going there. That’s not for me. I focus on one thing and one thing only – that’s trying to win as many championships as I can.

You see, what he understands and we often forget is that Kobe’s brand equity is not on par with the Charlie Villianuevas and  Jared Dudleys of the NBA. He’s not even on the same level as Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, or LeBron James. Wait, hold on a second, not on the same level as LeBron? Yeah that’s right. LeBron, for all his powder throwing, customized Beats by Dre headphones, and engaging tweets (synced to his Facebook) has 4.4 million fans on Facebook. A huge number, no doubt, but it’s still second fiddle compared to Kobe’s 5.5 million*. And that’s with Kobe doing absolutely nothing on Facebook at all.

Yes, Kobe understands that in North America, the only thing that defines his brand is winning. He can get caught trash talking his own teammates, ignore millions of fans on Facebook and Twitter, and not be hurt in the slightest because he is only focused on winning. Because of his skills on the court, the rings on his fingers, and the big spotlight of Los Angeles, he doesn’t need to spend time engaging with his fans on Twitter. Barring a PR nightmare a la Tiger Woods, his fans will remain fans as long as the Lakers keep winning.

And in true Kobe form, he is never one to stop finding new ways to push himself. With the same drive and determination that won him multiple championships, Kobe wants to win as much as he can with his brand equity as well.

Having already conquered the North American market, he has set sights on becoming a global sports icon. He may not be involved online locally, but he is discretely (at least to the North American eye) reaching out to fans in China. He recognizes the Chinese audience as one of his targets, and tweeting won’t help him win there. Chinese Internet giant Sina would, and he signed a partnership with them.  He has been blogging in Chinese on the popular network for almost a year, where he chimes in on trade rumours, Team USA, and his friendship with the most popular player from China – Yao Ming. The content on the blog is authentic, engaging, and rich – exactly the type of stuff social media experts preach about. And with 100,000 unique membership visits and more than 900 comments per blog entry , it’s safe to say he’s got a nice little online community there.

Kobe Bryant may never get any social media awards, but there is no doubt that Kobe cares about his brand. He is simply so laser-focused on dominating on a global level that ‘tweeting’ (at least in English) is the last thing on his mind.

*Having a successful Facebook community is not about the number of fans, but I felt the numbers in this case provided simple evidence for Kobe’s gigantic brand equity

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Image by Keithallison

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10 Responses to Kobe Bryant’s Social Media Enigma

  1. HarrisonPainter December 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    Agree 100%. While he might not be personally active, his website has it’s own mini social network, and he has all of his social media real estate accounted for. He is, and should be, focused 100% on winning. That is what any true Laker fan wants him to do. There will be plenty of time for him to build that 360 brand and engage in social media when he retires! Smart guy!

  2. RicardoBueno December 14, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Love this part: “I focus on one thing and one thing only – that’s trying to win as many championships as I can.”

  3. anothersamchan December 14, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    @RicardoBueno me too. The Woj article actually has some great content from Kobe, although I didn’t particularly care for the Michael Jackson spin it took.

  4. anothersamchan December 14, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    @HarrisonPainter Glad you agree! In sports, winning is still the best social media tool today.

  5. colinokeefe December 14, 2010 at 7:46 pm #

    One of the more interesting things about Kobe Bryant and his relationship with social media is that it’s very likely we’ll never see something like it again. The pre-eminent athlete who is not actively involved in SM is a dying breed. In today’s world, premier athletes usually don’t make it out of college without first getting on Twitter.

  6. anothersamchan December 16, 2010 at 9:37 am #

    @colinokeefe Very good point. Especially in basketball, where a ton of players (and almost every single rookie) has a twitter account.

  7. MichaelHolz December 16, 2010 at 1:23 pm #

    Interesting read. I was the account director for kb24.com when it was run on our custom platform (1 version prior to the current site).

    Working closely with Kobe and his team, I quickly learned that his dedication and focus on winning championships is virtually bulletproof. He’s a very honest guy and the quotes you listed are spoken from an incredibly genuine place.

    I’d also like to add that he and his team absolutely understand – and value – the expanding branding opportunities created with social connecting tools. As we all know, building a successful brand requires constant peppering of info to / on these networks. Kobe puts more effort into preparation (game tapes, training, select media) because he believes true success lies in the accomplishments you’ve left behind. Not a twitter update on what you ate for dinner.

    You guys might see him on social networks one day. When that day comes, expect the same level of dedication you see on the court.

    p.s. Just a little side note on success we had without KB’s direct involvement:

    We were the first athlete site to embed the NikeID builder (shoe contest where winning entry was worn by Kobe on an ESPN televised game), worked with VitaminWater to host a branded bus tour of Kobe’s LA hot spots and built his facebook from 250k to over 3.5 million.

  8. LewisHowes December 16, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    @MichaelHolz Great stuff Michael, when Kobe starts using Twitter we’d love to hear about it and do an interview or story about his decision to start using social media more.

    Thanks again!

  9. anothersamchan December 16, 2010 at 5:49 pm #

    @MichaelHolz Thanks, MIchael! “true success lies in the accomplishments you’ve left behind. Not a twitter update on what you ate for dinner” – this is gold, and I think when as we work with social media on a daily basis, some of us seem to forget that.

    I’d love to sit down (well, virtually) and chat more with you about kobe, nikeid, etc. if you’re interested!

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