LeBron James and Social Media

Why Reputation Management Isn’t a One-time Tactic

Fueled by a scarcity of information and conjecture about where he was going, the impact of LeBron James’ social media presence exploded, creating social media impressions valued at over $20 million according to General Sentiment.  After LeBron made his announcement on ESPN, he went silent across the social networks that he had used to generate positive buzz, thereby appearing to have used his social media prowess only to market himself. In so doing, he broke several of the cardinal rules of social media marketing.

Even without the aid of social media platforms, sports fans tend to be loyal and engaged, especially when it involves a hometown hero like LeBron. By not interacting with his base after delivering the “bad” news, LeBron left his followers feeling betrayed. As a result, their discussion turned negative. Based on research from General Sentiment, the words describing LeBron went from positive including superstar, win, leading, celebrated and strong to negative ones including regret, shiftless, hurts, miserable and dirty

Given the build up to LeBron’s announcement, there was time to consider and execute a social media response plan. While this wouldn’t have fully eliminated the bruised feelings of his loyal Cleveland Cavaliers fans, it would have gone a long way to keeping their hearts. Here are three alternatives that would have mitigated the impact of LeBron’s perceived “desertion” of his hometown.

  1. Apologize to his Cleveland fans. Show them respect for the love that they felt for him as a hometown hero. Acknowledge what he learned from growing up and playing in Ohio. Make it personal by highlighting various individual fans on Facebook and Twitter.
  2. Provide his fans and those who hoped he would join “their” team  with a channel with which to communicate with him and each other in real time after the ESPN announcement. Participate in the conversation as a real person.
  3. Create a means to give back to Cleveland through an existing or new not-for-profit organization. LeBron should have made a significant a donation and asked his followers to give their money and/or time to this effort. Additionally, get a sponsor to help the cause with additional money and advertising. He could make it social by asking followers which causes he should focus on.

As a marketer, the social media lesson is to always be prepared and continuously engage in social media. This needs to be done whether the news is good or bad. Keep your ear to the ground to determine who your fans and influencers are. Have a back up plan ready in the event that something goes awry. Remember that it’s impossible to know what issue will create an explosion of interest. Have a team ready with the tools and permission necessary to react quickly and effectively when the occasion calls for it.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen


For some additional insights on this topic, check out: 360 Influence Deck

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