Over the last six months or so, a trend we’ve noticed as I’m sure you have as readers, is the popping up of ‘Athlete Pages’ on Facebook. Now there’s nothing new in this, some of the ‘leading’ girls and guys in our sport have had athlete pages for sometime now. But were not talking about leading runners here, we’re talking about regular ‘Joe’s’ and ‘Joette’s’ setting up a page so people can ‘like’ them and follow their progress. As part of this article, what we’d like to do is throw it out on the table and debate a few points that look at this trend in more detail. Firstly, what constitutes being an ‘athlete’? Why do people set these pages up and if you are seeking to use for personal gain, what are some lessons you can learn in the process?
Now, I’ve used the term ‘leading’ above because that’s what I feel people are. I often hear the term ‘elite’ being used more than you can shake a stick at. To be frank, I think it’s one of those overused, ostentatious words and it really grates on me.
Back on topic…
With regards to the leading runners in our sport, it’s a natural extension of their ‘brand’ activities that they create a persona for themselves on the Book of Faces. After all, they win races and people look to them for advice and a sense of how they achieve what they do. Blogs spring up, they are profiled on websites such as ours (although we have made a conscious effort to move away from focusing on the individual), and the Book of Faces is a natural path to follow given that’s one of the biggest platforms for us all to use to communicate with one another.
Then we have the everyday Joe’s and Joette’s setting up a page. People you’ve probably never heard of and then a ping comes through on Facebook asking you to like their page. Now, are they setting these pages up simply to keep a record of their training? A natural extension of say a blog? Or is it more a bit of a lack of self-awareness about their own standing/ability and a subtle form of narcissism?
But to analyse further, one thing we need to look more closely, (and which I feel swings the debate for some people) is the definition of the word ‘athlete’. ‘What constitutes being an athlete?’
I’m not quite sure what Facebook’s intention was when setting these up, be it to allow global leading sportspeople the chance to build a following or to allow anyone the chance to have their Andy Warhol moment. Let’s look at this in more detail. My own interpretation of the term ‘athlete’ is someone who runs, races and trains pretty full-time i.e. it is their profession for the most part and whom regularly wins races at most events they take part in, and is competitive on a global scale. A good local example for Australia is Brendan Davies.
Naturally, there are exceptions to the rule here. Stu Gibson (TNF100 winner) is probably an anomaly in that he probably wouldn’t describe himself as a full-time athlete (although he was previously a former GB 1,500m rep – look him up), but heck does he win races and he’s competitive on a global level too. But that’s simply my interpretation. For me as a writer on the sport, to warrant focus as a ‘leading’ runner, the individual has to be competitive not only at winning a multitude of competitive events in Australia, but that it also translates across to a global scale.
But, who the hell am I to clarify who is and who isn’t an athlete? You’re right, I have no right in a wider community sense. All I’m doing is applying the term and clarifying it a sense of writing for a publication that reports on the sport. Anyone can quite rightly call themselves an athlete whether they win races or not. That is not for me to decide and people are within their right to do what they like.
But let’s delve deeper…
Why the need for everyday hacks, similar to myself to set-up pages? What’s driving the need to do this? We’ve had some brief discussion up top about why some of the leading guys and gals set up pages, but why the normal Joe’s and Joette’s? We had an interesting debate on our Facebook page, where a couple of people who had set-up pages chimed in with their very valid thoughts. Some of those who commented have ‘public’ facing roles and felt there was a need to separate out their personal Facebook accounts to their public facing ones. Others simply wanted to a place to track and record what they do in their training, in a similar vein to a blog. In short, why not? People have been writing running blogs for years (I did one for a while), so why not do a similar thing with Facebook? It’s simply a natural extension, and if you like, a shifting of the medium from blog to Facebook i.e. a movement of the audience from one place to another.
I think as long as you have a good sense of self-awareness and not grand delusions of epic greatness based off running a 3 hour marathon, then that’s perfectly fine. In fact I’d actively encourage people do it. If it helps motivate and drive others, that’s only a good thing. In fact it’s a great thing. Our sport needs role models, whether you’re a leading runner or not – as long as there is a sense of humility and self-awareness. We all like to ‘humble brag’ on occasion, but it’s when bragging goes beyond the realms of self-awareness that I think the problem with athlete pages start. The most important consideration when setting up an athlete page is whether or not you actually have something interesting to say, and that adds value to people. It’s all about the content and the product i.e. you!
One of the areas of middle ground is those ‘athletes’ or runners on the rise. Those guys and girls who show a bit of promise, but seek to take it to the next level? This is the focus for our ‘where next’.
People will use Facebook athlete pages as a way of building up a following in a bid for sponsorship and awareness. One of the first things potential sponsors look for when making decisions about a person to align with is the reach they have i.e. numbers of fans. BUT, this is only half the story. Numbers are all well and good, but there is a secondary and much more important factor many ignore and this is how influential someone is.
I’ll be frank with you. The numbers game is easy. Any muppet can pay an outsource shop in the Philippines a couple of hundred dollars to ‘find’ 1000’s of fans for them. I’ve seen it done within own sport. I can’t prove it explicitly, but I see the signs. The trick is to look at how engaged those fans are, something that’s very easy to find on Facebook and more people (and brands) need to be aware of. If you see a page with a large number of fans, yet very low engagement, you kind of know something is amiss.
If you’re a runner with potential and you’re seeking to build your own awareness and look for sponsorship (as many are who have set-up pages), then some advice I’d offer is to get the results under the belt first. Be a great runner first and great promoter second.
There’s a saying in marketing that if you have a great product, you don’t need to market it – it would put people like me out of a job – oh the irony 🙂 But it’s so true. Everything starts with the product, and the product is you as an athlete. Many people I see setting up ‘athlete pages’, trying to build a profile for themselves, are running before they can walk. Get the results in, prove you’ve got what it takes and then shout about it. There’s nothing more off-putting than someone who has a bit of talent, but clearly not enough to be a ‘leading’ runner, who shouts louder than a screaming child with no dinner on their plate.
To be honest, there’s a whole host of things to explore in this topic as each individual and the experience is different. What we’ve tried to do with this article is bring a few of the main points to the surface, and of course present a few different sides, scenarios and experiences. There’s no right or wrong in my opinion, just a number of different criteria to think about as you design or build an athlete page for yourself, should you choose to. Here are three simple considerations if you’re thinking about stepping into the Book of Faces athlete pages:
#1 – Why am I setting this up?
#2 – Have I got something interesting to say to people?
#3 – Can I sustain updating it – after all, an athlete page is not just for Christmas, it’s for life 🙂
What do you think of Facebook athlete pages?