In 2012, an NBA player (or really any professional athlete) without a social media presence is behind the times. It's an easy way for players to connect with their fans, and more often than not it helps them seek out business opportunities and expand their brands. For the modern athlete, those are important things.
Social media has taken over the NBA enough, in fact, that they're now going to start handing out awards for being good at Twitter. On June 20, NBA TV will televise the first-ever NBA Social Media Awards. Here are the details from the press release (via SLAM):
NBA TV announced today that the first-ever NBA Social Media Awards — celebrating NBA players, teams and fans for their social engagement throughout the 2011-12 NBA regular season — will be televised Wednesday, June 20, at 9 p.m. ET. Three-time NBA World Champion Rick Fox (@RickaFox) will host the show, joined by TNT and NBA TV analyst and social media guru Shaquille O'Neal (@SHAQ) and SLAM magazine's social maven Lang Whitaker (@Langwhitaker), along with contributions from The Basketball Jones' JE Skeets (@jeskeets) and Tas Melas (@tasmelas). The show will recognize some of the best moments from the 2011-12 NBA regular season which resonated with fans and generated the most social engagement.
There are awards for overall social engagement, the most-shared dunk, the most-shared blooper, and many others. Fans can vote for all 12 awards at this link over the next two weeks.
We at BDL are in favor of these awards, even if it's just a way for some of our friends to get some airtime on TV. While there's something a little goofy about handing out awards for tweets and photos, social media plays such a big role in the league these days that it makes sense for the NBA to reward that activity in a formal way. Plus, the awards can act as a sort of list of ideal social media practices, so that players have a sense of how best to use their Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts. (I hear Aaron Gray is really active on MySpace, but he's the only one.)
The only potential problem, really, is that, as social media becomes a larger part of the NBA's corporate identity, the individual player accounts will become less interesting and more uniform. The best examples of professional athletes on social media are often the least self-conscious, such as when a player tells an off-color story about a road trip or starts a minor argument with an opponent. If Twitter accounts become all about players promoting their charities and holding contests for tickets, then they become useful but not necessarily essential. In other words, a once-vibrant community ends up as yet another arm of the NBA's marketing department. That's the way of the world, in most cases, but something will be lost if we don't keep NBA social media weird.