Just because we are friends, fans and follow our favorite athletes on twitter, that means we must have some sort of relationship with them, right!? Or do we just think we do?
Dissecting the Relationship
Just like Terrance, I too read Sanderson’s Its’ a Whole New Ballgame: How Social Media is Changing Sports. It helped me to better understand the relationships that build between athletes and their fans through social media. Just like the topics that athletes (college and professional) talk about that were discussed in my previous blog post, such as posts about sports, being funny and just plain old boring day-to-day posts, many of these post subjects are interactive with followers and fans.
Social media has provided fans with increased access to their favorite athletes. This allows fans who cannot physically see their favorite players and interact on a face-to-face level to connect in another legitimate way. Digital media provided the opportunity for fans to feel “closer” to the athletes. For example, one athlete tweeted his phone number out and allowed fans to call him on his phone to chat. Twitter allows this to be communicated and reach a broad audience quickly.
Athletes do have risks when it comes to having an “online personality”. While these relationships grow, fans also start to feel more entitled to offer their opinions or advice on player’s performances (or lack there of) or personal lives. Fans have done this increasingly to up the chance that an athlete will actually read or respond to their post. Building this “relationship” allows fans to obtain a feeling of intimacy. This is what Sanderson calls PSI, or parasocial interaction.
Perceived vs. Social Identity
Due to athlete’s social identity, fans believe that they know them. Sanderson argues that fans begin to identify with the athletes and their teams. This identification stems from the fans perception of similarity between them and the player. Because athletes tweet about their day to day activities, fans have a better opportunity to relate with them than say, a post-game interview.
Social media allows athletes to have broadcasting “channel” to communicate. With this platform comes responsibility. Athletes can have great influence if they use their accounts in a smart and positive way, but there are many opportunities for missteps. Some fans actually think that they have a real, genuine relationship with these athletes, when they really just have a some sort of attachment to their “social identity”. Either way, many fans just seem okay with getting more access to their favorite players.