Social Media Athlete Spotlight: Maia and Alex Shibutani

Maia and Alex

If you’re at all tuned into the world ice dancing rankings, then the dynamic sibling duo of Maia and Alex Shibutani is a pair you’re very familiar with. If not, let me introduce you to Maia and Alex.

The two surprised the figure skating world when they stole the 2011 World Ice Dancing Championships spotlight and grabbed the bronze medal. Many skaters begin their quest to the Olympics with their sibling. But, these two stand out and have successfully skated with a sibling for their entire skating career. Undoubtedly, a very interesting story.

Thank you, @usfigureskating! I've never seen this photo! 2011 World Championships in Moscow, Russia. #tbt

Like many athletes, the, “ShibSibs,” as they call themselves, have turned to social media to tell their unique story. They connect to their audience through their personal Twitter, Instagram, and Vine accounts. However, they excel particularly in their Youtube video productions, featuring many other top-level figure skating athletes.

They are prime examples of social athletes.

So, I asked them a couple questions about how and why they use social media. Here are my questions, their answers, and a few takeaway points on what we can learn about being social athletes from each answer.

1. You guys are very active across various social media platforms. What got you into using social media?

On a very fundamental level, our involvement with social media today probably has its roots in the fact that a very important part of what we enjoy as athletes – particularly in a performance sport such as figure skating – is the opportunity to share experiences. As siblings, we have always been very close. As partners, essentially “growing up” together in the sport, we have had so many unique experiences. Every step of the way – from our first time competing on a national championship “stage” as juveniles, up through our current fourth season on the senior international circuit – we have done it together.  To have an accessible way to share moments and memories is so enjoyable and satisfying.

Probably another important factor that enabled us to embrace social media so readily has been that we have always been interested in learning about and interacting with members of the “traditional” skating media. Skating is a small enough world that many of the same journalists and photographers who cover even National Championship level events, also covered events such as the Juvenile dance event at the Lake Placid Dance Championships. Maia and I were both naturally interested in understanding the sport from the journalists’ and fans’ perspective, and we were so fortunate to have some unique opportunities to become involved with the skating media as well.

Back in 2005, right after completing our first season of competing together and winning the silver medal in Juvenile at Junior Nationals, I asked for the opportunity to “shadow” a photojournalist backstage at the 2005 US Nationals in Portland. I wrote about my experiences in a piece which ended up getting published in SKATING Magazine, which I believe was a first for a skater my age 13.

The following season, after winning the Intermediate title at Junior Nationals, we attended the 2006 US Championships to watch. This time, both of us had the opportunity to work “behind the scenes.” Our experiences were posted online in one of the first “blogs” (most people didn’t know what the term “blog” was back then). The original posting has not been archived by USFS, but we have the verbatim text posted to our official website.

Maia has had many of her photographs posted to various sites through the years – including from the 2006 US Championships and from the 2007 Four Continents Championship when it was held in Colorado Springs.

The final key ingredient underlying our involvement with social media comes from our experiences as younger children – attending competitions and events, and meeting some of our skating idols. These included the 2001 World Championships in Vancouver, and the 2003 World Championships in Washington DC – as spectators, of course.

We met skaters like Michelle Kwan, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano and many others – all of whom made such a positive impression on us. Their kindness and genuine enthusiasm for what they were doing clearly attracted those around them to their presence and to the sport of figure skating. Those interactions became potent memories that inspired us.

Now that we are the ones on Team USA competing at World Championships, we have ingrained within us, a tremendous awareness of the responsibilities that come from being a “visible” representative of the sport. As such, we strive to be positive influences, and in our view, this includes sharing our experiences with fans.

The development of social media has been very exciting and has changed the way people communicate and share information. Our generation is innately comfortable with the broadening of communication channels and the interactive “sharing” component of social media platforms, which simply weren’t in existence for athletes a generation or two ago. For us, it feels very natural.

TakeawaysAthletes have inherent responsibilities as high-profile ambassadors for their sport. They are the people to look up to. Social media can be the connection that can help flourish and strengthen your sport, creating a strong bond between those in the sport now, learning the ropes, and the pros. 

The advantage of growing up with social media is a huge one. Maia and Alex grew up knowing how to connect with their audience on social media without any specific training. Athletes a generation ago didn’t have this kind of opportunity. 

2. You have multiple accounts between the two of you and your combined accounts. Do you find that it’s tough to manage, and are there an managing tools that you use?

Managing multiple accounts across different social media platforms is definitely a challenge. We’re on Twitter (3 accounts including ShibSibs), Vine, Facebook, Instagram (3 accounts including ShibSibs), Tumblr, and YouTube.

We recognize and appreciate that each platform actually has a distinct “positioning” and “audience.” So far, we’ve learned a lot about leveraging each individual platform to hopefully enhance (not duplicate) what we’re sharing/posting to the others. To maintain so many accounts is indeed a lot of work, but we genuinely enjoy the process.

We don’t currently use any social media-managing apps. It helps from a time management standpoint that we are actually able to manage almost all of our accounts with our phones.

Takeaways: On social media, go where your audience is. Note that your audience isn’t everywhere. Maia and Alex aren’t actively using every social network out there. Also, without the use of any fancy tools, Maia and Alex have successfully created a strong social media presence while traveling all over the world. It is possible! 

 3. What’s the greatest benefit of being on social media for athletes?

There are a multitude of reasons why it is beneficial for athletes to actively participate in various forms of social media. First and foremost, social media gives athletes a voice. Rather than always answering questions that are asked of them by the general media, social media allows athletes to take ownership of their “message”, and have a good amount of control over how they present themselves beyond “the field of play.” We recognize that this can actually be a double-edged sword if common sense and good judgment are overlooked. In our opinion, athletes who choose to stay off of social media have a harder time connecting with audiences.

People’s impressions of athletes are only based off of how they perform in their sport and handle general media. By using social media, an athlete can show their interests, and present different facets of their personality which may not be evident during a four-minute free program or 10 second mixed zone interview.

For us, social media allows us to connect with people and share our journey. Being able to interact directly with people who are interested in what you are doing or who have similar interests as you, regardless of where they may be in the world, can be a really rewarding experience.

Timeless quality, versatility, and genius. Happy Birthday, MJ. Thank you for inspiring us. So lucky to have Stacy Walker and @travispayne1 on this journey with us. @maiashibutani #MichaelJackson

TakeawaysSocial media allows you to have a published voice and opinion within your athletic network. People will know your message and tone, sometimes before even knowing you in person. This must be taken with a grain of salt, however. Anything posted online is there forever, and athletes have to be careful about what they post. On a more positive note, social media also allows the athlete to convey what they want about themselves over a longer period of time than you would get in an interview, for example. You have more longterm control. 

4. How has your presence on social media grown? Has that necessarily been connected to your success in skating?

In some ways, the growth of our presence on social media has benefitted from timing. We have been fortunate to be essentially growing up at the same time that social media itself has grown, developed and gained global mainstream adoption.

Naturally when we were younger, we enjoyed writing blogs, taking photos, and making videos. As various social media platforms have improved and evolved, they have made sharing our experiences easier.

This is our tenth year of skating together as a team. We have been through a lot and people have watched us grow and develop – not just as athletes, but as people as well. It has been a very special for us to have the opportunity to share these experiences with each other, our family, and friends – and also with the broader audience of skating fans.

For sure, as we have had the opportunity to travel internationally at the senior level and achieve success at various events, we have had more opportunities to engage with a wider range of people, from all over the world.

Great day of practice today! So excited for Short Dance tomorrow. #NHK2013

TakeawayHaving the opportunity to travel the world has exposed Maia and Alex to a wider audience. However, it’s the strength of the connections they make with the people they connect with online that will keep those interested coming back. 

 5. What are some pieces of advice that you can give athletes looking to begin using social media, or improve their “social media game?” 

Perhaps the most important guideline that we keep in mind, is that it has always been important to us is that our social media presence be very authentic. We really strive to be ourselves. Advice: Be yourself.

Like anything worthwhile, social media takes time and effort. Any athlete looking to get involved should recognize that in order for it to be truly worthwhile, involvement needs to be consistent, and this takes commitment and discipline.

We really enjoy sharing all the wonderful things we get to experience in this sport and while we put in a lot of hard work on the ice, we also have a lot of fun. Sharing the fun with skating fans and hopefully a broader audience as well is perhaps one of the most rewarding experiences.

We believe that as athletes, it is not just about presenting ourselves, but that there is a duty to know that you are a representative for your sport and your country. Advice: Have respect for the opportunity to have a “voice” and use common sense.

TakeawaysBe respectful, be interesting, but most importantly, be yourself. 

ShibSibs: Twitter | Youtube | Tumblr | Instagram

Make sure to check out the Shibutani siblings on social media, as well as on their personal accounts linked throughout the post! Let me know what you think about how they use social media to connect with people in the skating world.

Try out some of their social media tactics and see how they world for you. You may see your network slowly start to grow.

How To Post On Social Media When You’re Busy All Day

Although we would like to think it, not all of us can be big star athletes with unlimited money like Michael Jordan. Unfortunately for us, the nature of our sports often has the opposite affect and causes us to struggle to make ends meat, much less have loads of excess cash. This leaves us stranded and unable to hire a team to professionally manage our social media accounts and post for us during our games, practices, and competitions. We’re on our own.

Now, before you panic, this isn’t actually a bad thing. We’ll be more authentic over social media. We’ll be more present and accessible. But most importantly, we’ll have control!

Twitter FeedThis all sounds amazing before you really think about how much work being on social media is. You have to post every day. You have to engage with your audience. You have to add value to your audience. Before you even ask the question… yes, this can take an enormous amount of time, especially if you’re using just the old school Twitter iPhone app.

I get it, believe me. We don’t have time to be tweeting all day. We have practices, games, competitions, and meets we need to be ready for. Being on our phones all day can be distracting and tiring. But, I’m going to show you an example of a few apps I use to get tweets out there on a daily basis. The best part?

 

 

I plan most of my social media posts in 15 minutes in the morning.

Let me introduce you to one of my favorite apps: feedly. In technology terms, this is an RSS service. Basically, this is an app that brings news to you in whatever category interests you. I’m interested in technology, so this is my technology feed of news.

Feedly Tech Feed

This article particularly interested me because, duh! social media and sports!

In the morning, I search for articles that interest me. Once I find an article, I open and read it. Don’t skip this step.

Knowing exactly what you’re sharing on social media is essential to running your own presence. Whatever you put out there, you’re associating yourself with. Choose wisely! 

If the article I chose passes my judgement, I open the options, and copy the link to the article.

From there, I open my favorite app of all time. This is the app that will allow you to save time when scheduling your social media for the day. The app is called Buffer.

According to their website, Buffer is an app that, “shares your content at the best possible times throughout the day so that your followers and fans see your updates more often.”

 

Can you say jackpot?

Buffer Tweet ExampleWith Buffer, athletes can schedule tweets, Facebook posts, and Google+ updates (lol) throughout the day without having to continuously be on their phone all day. This leaves more time for practicing, perfecting your sport of choice.

Once I find an article I like, I copy the link and post it to be “buffered” in during the day. However, there’s no concrete rule that you have to post a link when scheduling your tweets.

Popular things to post on social media for athletes are motivational quotes. These are easy to find, valuable to your followers, and are great things to associate yourself with as an athlete. 

 How can you tell if people are actually reading what you put out?

Buffer has an awesome function that shows you how many people favorited, retweeted, and clicked on any provided links as long as you did the post through Buffer.

Buffer ResultsAs you can see, among tweets of relevant articles, my motivational quote post is one of my top tweets through Buffer.

Test out Buffer for yourself. You’ll find yourself having a lot more time during the day to focus on your training and workouts. More time for training means more chances to improve your game, which means this app is “must-have” for any athlete.

If you’re looking for articles to post relevant to what you’re interested, don’t forget to test out feedly as well.

Have you tested out social media scheduling? Has it opened up time for you to go about your day? Let me know in the comments.

What The New Twitter Means For You

Twitter revealed today a whole new way of looking at your timeline. Instead of having pictures hidden within tweets in a link,  they now show a preview on your timeline before clicking on the individual tweet. It feels a lot like a combination between the popular picture sharing app, Instagram, and the six-second video king, Vine.

With every social media update, comes a huge amount of backlash. It seems as though every time Facebook updates or changes its website, havoc ensues and users threaten to, “delete their accounts,” and , “never come back again.” But before we say that about Twitter, let’s take a step back and analyze this.

Ever since social media rose in popularity, a main goal out of the new medium has been to go viral. Going viral entails creating content that is unanimously shared within your niche community, spreading to a community you haven’t reached before at a rapid pace. This, in turn, increases your visibility online. For many social media users, this is a goal that is always looming over: increasing visibility and followers.

With the introduction of these new features, I would argue that this has actually become more possible on Twitter after this update. Let’s take a look at an example.

Before the Twitter update, tweets had to be opened individually to be interacted with. The tweet only received one interaction.

 

Twitter Example

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now, let’s look at that same social media moment on Instagram.

Instagram Example The photo posted on Instagram has 51 more interactions than my Twitter post. Keep in mind that this is the same content! I would argue that the Instagram version of the picture received more interaction because it is easier to interact with, and see. The picture is right there, and the option to like or comment on the picture couldn’t be easier to use.

Twitter following in the direction of services like Instagram, Facebook, and Vine with more visible content will lead to the potential of more viral posts because content is now more accessible and easier to interact with. 

What does this mean for you?

We’re in a waiting period now. As seen in the past, these updates to our beloved social networks have been notorious for creating conflict. People may resent seeing pictures and videos in their Twitter feeds, and purposefully not interact with them because of annoyance.

We’ll also have to shift from a strategy that focuses on words to a more visual strategy.

However, if the conflict over this small update blows over, like most of them do, I think people will have some interesting opportunities to use Twitter for new viral posts.

Twitter has made it easier for users to interact with your posts. Before we all freak out and quit Twitter, let’s think about what this means for us. More interactions. More followers. More potential to go viral.

Do you think the new Twitter will help or hurt engagement? Let me know in the comments!

Three Athletes Getting It Right On Social Media And How You Can Improve Your Game

Athletes are inherent role models. Their daily lives consist of being physically and mentally fit and being able to perform at a moment’s notice. Many people become fans of athletes because they admire and respect their hard work. Some athletes don’t realize that they can use this to their advantage.

Because people can connect instantly, social media is the perfect vessel to use to increase and retain a following. Building that following gives you a support system that often goes unnoticed. Before social media, reaching an athlete to send encouraging words was much more difficult. Now, all you have to do is send them a tweet. And, let’s face it. Sometimes reading words of encouragement from random strangers gives you that extra boost of motivation that you need.

Here are three athletes using social media to increase motivation and capitalize on their following. What can we learn from how they use social media? Make sure to check each social athlete tip.

1. Tom Daley

The winning dive #TomDaleyPhotoADay

Mr. Daley exploded into popularity at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games as millions of people noticed his insane diving talent coupled with his powerful good looks. However, he remains as one of the only divers we remember after the Olympics because of social media. Tom uses Twitter and Instagram to stay relevant even after the always popular Olympics.

Tip: Stay relevant after taking part in a big event by providing your new followers and fans with content that will interest and benefit them.

2. Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson

This 17-time WWE champion doesn’t just throw it down in the ring. He’s got some pretty awesome social media skills as well. I’m not a wrestling fan, myself. But, I find myself following The Rock’s tweets because of the pure enjoyment for life he has. He’s very real with his followers and brings them with him wherever he goes. But, maybe the best part of The Rock’s social media presence isn’t his presence at all. Johnson makes a point to connect with his fans offline as well.

Tip: Don’t focus so much on your online following that you forget about real world connections. Face-to-face conversations are still the best, and if you can meet fans or other athletes in person, you’re more likely to make a lasting impression.

3. Serena Williams

The Williams sisters are THE athletes for US Women’s Tennis. They’ve won countless matches together and separately that have really allowed them to grow as very popular athletes. While Venus has a very impressive million followers on Twitter, Serena has four times that number! Why does this happen?

Serena engages with her fans in a very personal way. She goes the extra mile of answering specific questions tweeted to her. Her fans engage with her, and she engages right back using her personality. Here’s my favorite answer from this weekend’s #SerenaFriday.

Tip: Don’t ignore your followers. Engage with them to keep them engaged with you.

Using these tips will grow your support system through social media. Who knows? Next time you’re having a bad practice day, tweet your need for words of encouragement. You might be surprised with who tweets back to you.

Who are your favorite athletes to follow on social media? Let me know in the comments.

How Social Music Can Fuel Your Workout

“Hey, have you heard this song?”

This is something I hear at least once a day. Music has that amazing natural ability to connect humans with each other. You’ll find people who like jazz standing in the corner of a room, snapping their fingers. You’ll find people who like hip-hop popping and isolating to awesome rhythms. It’s all about sharing an experience without using words.

Naturally, music and social media were made to work together. Both are media people can use to share experiences. Personally, an experience I like to share with others is working out. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s the competition or the comradery, but working out in a group is just so much more enjoyable for me.

You could say it is an athlete’s job to work out. And, let’s face it. It’s a lot less annoying to work out with people you know listening to some great jams. But, how can athletes utilize music and that workout community to make their workouts even better? They can use social music platforms!

Pandora LogoOne wildly popular platform is Pandora Radio. Pandora allows you to type in an artist, song, or genre you are interested in listening to. It then provides you with a playlist tailored to your specific interests. You can make your playlists, or, “stations,” as specific as you want. The great part about this service is its social aspect. Pandora introduced the ability to follow your friends and see what stations they are creating so you too can listen to the same music.  If you want to have a simple social music experience and do not like customizing your playlists, Pandora is for you. Create a station, have your friends follow you, and you all have access to the same station to go workout together.

However, if you’re like me and love to create your own playlists with specific songs for your workout, let me introduce you to the king of social music, Spotify. Spotify gained its popularity when it integrated with Facebook in 2011. As long as you connect Facebook with Spotify, your music choices stream right to your profile, which can be great, but also very embarrassing. I love seeing what music my friends are listening to and discovering new artists. However, when I decide to go on that Britney Spears listening binge, I’d rather it didn’t stream to all my friends and family. (Thank you private sessions.)

Spotify LogoWhat makes Spotify so great is the ability to share playlists with your friends. Create that perfect playlist, and send it to your trainer. Now, without having to remember to update your phone with the latest music, you can instantly have a personal workout playlist every day you train. Sick of listening to the same songs? Go home, and update the playlist with fresher beats!

Working out can get very monotonous, especially when you are training for sports because you do similar things every day. Use these social music platforms to excite you for your next workout. And when you get bored, cycle in another pandora station, or update your Spotify playlist. Using these strategies and social music platforms, you’ll transform your workouts from forced, monotonous motions, to a high-intensity sweat-draining workout that will prepare your body for the worst your sport can dish out.

Here’s a great playlist that my brother made. I love listening to it when I workout, and I think it exemplifies the power of social music very well. He made this playlist, and is able to share it with anyone in the world. Now that’s what social media is all about.

What songs do you like to listen to as you workout? Do you think social music is a good motivational tool when working out? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter.

About the author: Jimmy is a senior level pairs figure skater at The Skating Club of Boston. He is a full-time public relations student at Boston University. Follow him on Twitter and .

What’s This Blog About?

If you landed on this blog, I’m going to guess that you are probably at least aware of social media. You browse Facebook, occasionally retweet people, and have an Instagram account.

But, what you might not be aware of is how you can use this to your benefit. There is a revolution happening as I type this blog post around social media. It is becoming THE way humans communicate with each other. I’m not just talking about letting your family know about your last soccer match. I’m talking about real-time communications between brands and their customers.

Athletes have been some of the first adopters of social media. They are some of the best people to follow because it gives you a more personal look into some of America’s heroes. For whatever reason, people love to see how Olympic athletes train and perform. (It might have something to do with their superhuman abilities, like this guy.)

But, there’s room for improvement. I believe athletes can use social media to enhance their athletic skills, connect with colleagues, and interact with fans. This is what social media is all about: connecting like-minded people so that they can work together and improve themselves. I’ll explain how this can be accomplished using social media as the vessel.

“Social media sparked a revelation that we, the people, have a voice, and through the democratization of content and ideas we can once again unite around common passions, inspire movements, and ignite change.”  - Brian Solis, Author of Engage

*Disclaimer* – Many of my examples may come from figure skating and other Olympic sports. If you read my About Me Page, you will understand why.