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This podcast was recorded on Tuesday July 6, 2010, and it was a historic day for Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Superstar LeBron James. No, it was not the day that he announced which team he was going to via free agency. It was the day that LeBron joined Twitter.

Let’s look at the lessons learned from LeBron James’ first day on Twitter.

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1) Major brands need to engage in social media

Let’s face it, LeBron James is a brand. He is worth millions, is recognized worldwide, and generates revenue and profits on everything from ticket sales to merchandise. Until now, he has poked fun at Twitter, but he has finally broken down and signed up. Any major brand looking to engage with fans that does not have a social media presence does so at their own peril.

2) Your social circle strongly influences your decisions

What is the goal of nearly every company’s marketing department? To build a product with strong word-of-mouth marketing. Did you start using Google or Facebook because you saw a TV commercial about them? No. You found out about them because someone you know said ‘Hey, you need to check this out.’

A person that does this consistently, finding the newest products and spreading the word to multiple people is called an early adopter and a hyper-influencer. If you don’t follow basketball, you might not know who Chris Paul is. Well, he’s another NBA superstar and good friend of LeBron, and it was he that finally convinced LeBron to create an account. It’s this kind of marketing – trusted, and free – that helps spread the word.

3) If you build it, they will come

If you build a strong user base and have a brand that people love, true fans will want to associate with you. Once word of LeBron’s Twitter account surfaced, the followers came rolling in. He became a trending topic, and went from 0 to roughly 200,000 followers in less than 24 hours.

4) If the content is there, design can wait

The reason I believe this was a spur-of-the-moment decision by James, and not something entirely crafted by his PR team – despite the fact that the NBA is advertising on Twitter – is that he didn’t immediately add a ‘corporate friendly’ Twitter background. Personally, I feel this would have been quite easy to do, as I’m sure he has hundreds of graphics and backgrounds to select from various marketing campaigns. It also would have added a better first impression to the tens of thousands of people signing up today. But there it was, his brand new account with the vanilla, generic, baby-blue, default background. Just like anyone else’s first day.

5) Have something to say

The timing couldn’t be better for LeBron, as this is the most anticipated NBA announcement of the last few years. Even the most casual fan of the league probably clicked the follow button today. Additionally, the link on his twitter page goes to his LeBronJames.com website, which is also in the early stages and appears to be yet another way for users to get LeBron information.

On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that if you’re a company you should wait until you have a product to announce to create a social media presence. In fact, if you create a Twitter account and then immediately jump on and start talking about how people can buy your products, without providing value first, your new media efforts will most likely fail.

6) Be authentic

While reading articles when the story first broke but before the account was verified (great job by Twitter for acting quickly and verifying the account), I came across a sentence that made me grimace. It said something to the effect of ‘It is unclear whether LeBron will be tweeting for himself or if he will have a team tweeting for him.’

Perhaps it’s that it has been drilled into our heads as a best practice in my 3+ years enveloped in all things social media, but it’s amazing that this is even a question anymore. I think Shaquille O’Neal said it best when talking about rapper 50 Cent being outed for not writing his own tweets, ‘It’s 140 characters. If you need a ghostwriter for that, I feel sorry for you.’

So it was refreshing to see LeBron’s first tweet, which was clearly written by him.  As a stickler for grammar and punctuation, I would point out inconsistent capitalization, incorrect use of quotations, and both a misplaced and missing period.  But at least he did a lot better than Oprah’s first tweet, in which she basically made up the word “Twitters” and effectively YELLED AT ALL HER FOLLOWERS by using ALL CAPS, a gross violation of internet etiquette (and also misplaced 2 periods, what’s up with that?).

However, I’m willing to forgive the typos because a) he only has a high school education, and b) because it’s his voice. For example, although I understood the context of the term ‘gas’d,’ I jumped over to the Urban Dictionary to try and get some more insight (not very helpful).

Also impressive was his @ reference to his friend Chris Paul. Maybe he had someone looking over his shoulder and helping, but including Paul’s twitter handle (@oneandonlycp3) in the message equates to a public ‘thank you’ for helping him trying something new, and I’m sure garnered Paul several thousand new fans as well.

7) Control your message

LeBron has been surrounded by a constant media frenzy from his high school years until today. Every move has been documented and every TV and radio station, newspaper, and website has taken his words and actions and interpreted them to the world. Creating his own Twitter account allows LeBron to speak directly 1:1 with his fans.

However, like Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility.
– A tweet sent near gametime will get him in trouble with the NBA [policy]
- A message sent in anger criticizing the refs will get him fined [Dallas owner Mark Cuban was fined $25,000 in 2009]
- A piece of information released too early could cause trust issues [Player Kevin Love tweeted that coach Kevin McHale was out as coach before the team announced it publicly]
- Anything you say can and will be used against you in the court of internet public opinion

Day 2 and beyond

I have no doubt that LeBron will try out this new social media toy for the next few days, including announcing which team he will be going to. I’m sure the league will remind him of the rules, his PR team will snazzy up the page like his buddy Chris Paul (below), his Nike reps will make sure the brand is represented jusssst right, and he’ll learn a little etiquette from Shaq and his other pals. That’s the easy part.

But the true test will be the weeks and months to come. Will he embrace this new communication platform and provide the consistency and content that his fans crave once the shine has worn off?

Just like his NBA plans, we’ll have to wait and see.

Game on.

[I’ve had a Twitter account for quite awhile now, with more than 2,200 followers and 1,500 tweets sent. I talk about marketing trends, tweet when there’s a new podcast that goes live each week, but also provides value by sharing links I think you’ll like and insights into my personal life. Check it out at twitter.com/hopkinsonreport.]

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