SXSW 2014 – As part of the SXsports track this year, Richard ran a session “Social on the Field: Sports stars and Social Goals”. After a 15 min intro presentation, citing key examples from world sports of athletes and their use of twitter (shared here later), he interviewed UFC fighter Johny “Big Rigg” Hendricks to get an insight into what it’s really like to fight online as well as in the octagon.
My session in the newly christened SXSports part of the Interactive conference was to focus on the impact of social media on an athlete’s performance. I could have talked to a Premier League footballer, or a Premiership Rugby player, or any one of the other exciting sports that we are lucky enough to work with. But, in another moment of christening, it seemed perfect timing to announce our new partnership with UFC EMEA by bringing Johny Hendricks onto the platform with me.
You could not get two more different men sharing a stage. Texan and Londoner, fighter and geek, t-shirt and tweed. Oh, and his driver will go 315yds where I usually drive 290… greater hand and club-head speed, you see. And, more relevantly, I run social media channels for a living – part of the broad Seven League skill set – and he runs it for himself. Only golf and Johny’s motto of “Go Beard or Go Home” seemed to unite our worlds.
My hypothesis is that social media is a personal communication channel that, with the right thinking and the right message, can be a powerful part of a sports team or sports star’s armoury. Johny doesn’t talk about it that way – he just does it.
Some facts: Johny is a welterweight title contender in UFC. He has short “t-rex” arms, but packs a punch. He has a wife and three daughters, and two german shepherds. He likes golf. He is extremely disciplined in everything he does and, in the context of all the other athletes I’ve worked around, has one of the highest levels of discipline and one of the most exacting training regimes. He has a love of his job, a respect for the fans, and a philosophical approach to life – several times during our session he referenced his fathers advice to “be like a duck and let abuse be like water of your back”
It was this philosophical and attitudinal approach that came out strongest for me in the session. Johny is well balanced – he can brush off rude or abusive tweets, saying “they don’t know me” – even if his wife finds it more difficult to do so. When he gets compliments, he loves it, but the criticism doesn’t have an impact – and there’s no way that social media impacts his performance in training or in the octagon.
Does he do it all himself? Mostly – his wife occasionally tweets because, when you have 140,000 followers, there’s a lot of replying to do. Too much, in fact, so he just replies to what he can. He puts time aside in his disciplined schedule and will do 30 mins of tweeting while recovering from a training session but before family time.
He has a verified twitter account – but not analytics – and he manages the account through the twitter iPhone app.
His editorial policy is “humanising and humorous” though those are my words, not his. He likes to talk about things that are in real life – things that aren’t about fighting. He never talks about an upcoming fight. He’ll skim over comments on training – particularly because if you say it was a ‘good session’ then you can get a load of stick of people asking “why only good… why not great?!”. So his tweets are as likely to show off his new slippers or a comedy t-shirt at Disneyland as they are to be talking about UFC. He’s quite happy to see other fighters commenting on their condition before a fight because it might just give him the edge in understanding his opponent – but he’d never do that himself. As for ‘trash talk’ he doesn’t go in for it – but some do.
We covered the UFC policy a bit, but as Johny said “I’m someone who gets punched in the head for a living, so that’s all above my pay grade”. But the suggestion that UFC might artificially hype a contest or acrimony between fighters didn’t ring true – it seemed much more like the general atmosphere of being open and accessible to fans – and that fighters can make their own minds up how to behave – means that there is plenty of genuine tumult going on – no need for hype, just sensible social media management in
reaction to what gets said.
Johny has a list of sponsors and regular social media contractual requirements – but always aims to over-service them. Some clients are prescriptive, about what words or links to use, where others may request he forms a message in his own words.
This is the philosophical trait coming to the fore again – he thrives on the fan support, but stays focused on his goals – and when people start causing trouble, he doesn’t rise to the bait. If only all sports stars showed such restraint.
So , what did I learn about how to do social media when you’re a sports star?
and a Healthy psychological approach are the keys to success.
But then I’m never going to make it as a sports star anyway.