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
Image by Keithallison