“I can make money?” How college athletes can leverage social media

Did you hear that?

The sound of crickets in your comment section.

The radio silence on your twitter feed.

The deafening sound of lack of engagement on your tiktok.

The quietness of your empty pocket.

Social media is one of the world’s most popular forms of advertisement, and is quickly growing. Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat all have immense impacts on our younger generations today, Millennials and Gen-Z alike, and are growing for older generations such as Gen-X. Social Media also provides job opportunities unlike any other industry in the world, where you can sit on the floor of your bedroom in pajamas at 1am, video yourself ranting about how cute puppies are, and 1 million people will like your video leading to cash going straight into your pocket. However, not every video is bound for greatness, or a fat check. This way of making extra cash is extremely popular with college athletes seeking NIL money. Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) became legal on July 1st, 2021, and athletes have been securing endorsements and money ever since. However, when it comes to social media, knowing who owns your posts can become tricky. This is where understanding the difference between Paid, Earned, and Owned media comes into play.

“where you can sit on the floor of your bedroom in pajamas at 1am, video yourself ranting about how cute puppies are, and 1 million people will like your video leading to cash going straight into your pocket”

Paid Media is content you pay to place in front of an audience. This can include any form of advertisement or sponsorship such as billboards, tv/radio ads, sponsored posts on social media, etc. This type of media is most likely not going to be posted by a college athlete. Instead, it could include types of media such as the Dr. Pepper “Fansville” commercials that feature Alabama QB Bryce Young, or a sponsored Instagram post by Nike featuring UCLA soccer star Reilyn Turner. Paid media also featured advanced targeting options, and is a great way for a business to reach their desired target audience in digital marketing. It is not, however, the best approach for an athlete attempting to make money on posts.

Bryce Young Fansville Commercial

Earned Media content is any content developed by others about you. This will happen a lot to college athletes, as content such as tweets about how a player did in their game or a video of their highlights posted by their team, would be earned media. This is media that you cannot necessarily control. As an athlete, you are a public figure, and there will always be content being written and posted about you. Many will say that this is out of your control, however that isn’t fully true. Social Media provides the unique ability to post anything, anytime, anywhere. Therefore, you can post as much good news about yourself as you want. Your public image can be as carefully constructed on your page as you want. However, this is true for you, and it is true for everyone else. Anyone can take a video of you at any time, and post to their own feed, therefore creating earned media about you that you may not have wanted to be posted. This sounds scary, but as long as you develop an excellent media presence and are careful about what you give credit to online, all earned media is manageable. 

Finally, and arguably most importantly, you must understand owned media. Owned media is what most college athletes are going to be creating and using for their brands and NIL deals. Owned media is content you create and publish for free. This includes all of the posts on your own Instagram page, your Tiktok, your Twitter, your Facebook, etc. Every post game photo you post on Instagram, every silly trend video you post on TikTok, every tweet you send about how the referees in that game made a terrible call, all of this is your owned media. This is the biggest type of media for any college athlete to use to promote themselves and make some spare cash on their NIL. Owned media can also be broken down into a trifecta of targets to hit.

For your owned media content, the content itself is the most important factor in being successful. Your content needs to engage your audience, be relevant to their interests, and be valuable to them as consumers. For an athlete, this means posting “slice of life” types of content. Popular examples are “day in the life” kinds of videos where you take small videos of your day and edit them together to show your followers what it’s like to be you every day. This type of experience is something most of your followers will never get the chance to see or be in, so video content makes them feel included and special. Fans want to be a part of the team, they love to see the inside scoop on game content and your everyday life. Posting these things is important, what you do during the day, what you do before games, highlights of you in games, etc. However, it’s also important to control how much of this kind of content you post. If you post this type of content every day, it will no longer be special for the community you built. Spread out your content, do a slice of life as the seasons change or your schedule changes. Post game content after all of your games but only once. Post funny (but appropriate) content a few times a month. You want to let your audience get to know you, however you want to remain mysterious enough to still be special and get your audience excited when you post. 

Developing a community and building context for your content is also an important part of your owned media. Your followers should be able to communicate with each other in your comments section or by retweeting your content. This allows you to build a stronger and more loyal community. You can also reward this loyalty with access to a private page where you post more content, or by posting discounts to your merchandise on your main pages. This rewards loyalty in your followers and deepens it. This creates a strong community and context for your content.

Below are some great examples of how athletes are using our announcing their NIL deals on social media. These athletes use knowledge, such as is included in this blog, everyday to make money and impact their universities, communities, and college athletics as a whole.

Arkansas Football Player Trey Knox signs deal with PetSmart.
Miami Volleyball Star Hannah Cavinder displays her NIL deal leading to a billboard in Times Square
Alabama Football Player Kool-Aid McKinstry has deal announced with popular drink brand Kool-Aid.
Texas Football Star Bijan Robinson announces NIL deal with Lamborghini-Austin.

So next time you think there are crickets in your comment section.

Or there’s radio silence on your twitter feed.

Or a deafening silence coming from lack of engagement on your Tiktok.

Or you really want some spare change but don’t have a lot of extra time to do events or find sponsorship deals. Focus on your owned content on your social media pages. Focus on developing engaging, relevant, and valuable content for your fans, and reward them for their loyalty on your pages.

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