5Across Classic: Olympic Athletes on Social Media

    by Mark Glaser
    July 30, 2012
    Olympian Natalie Coughlin explains how difficult it is for an athlete to balance getting personal on social media and being vulnerable

    We decided to pull up this 2010 episode of 5Across about athletes using social media because of its relevance to the current 2012 Olympics, especially as the roundtable includes two U.S. Olympians: Natalie Coughlin and Donny Robinson. Not much has changed in the last couple years, except that even more athletes are on social media — and more are connecting with fans and slipping up. UPDATE: One more thing has changed: Now Coughlin has 12 medals after winning a bronze at London.

    A Twitter relationship or a Facebook relationship is not the same as a real relationship." -- Natalie Coughlin

    Back in the day, the only coverage of a sporting event came from the accredited media. But now, you can find out more from fans in the seats taking pictures and posting to blogs — or from the athletes themselves who are getting hooked on Twitter and Facebook status updates. In fact, Major League Baseball has warned players it is watching what they tweet, and the Manchester United soccer team took over social media accounts from their players.


    There is an obvious shift in power, with athletes trying to find their own voice on social media, and fans getting to have their say online. Where does that leave traditional sports journalists? Having to adapt, both by monitoring social media for more news (and missteps from athletes), and using it to keep in touch with readers. We convened a special roundtable discussion and party for 5Across to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the show, with special guest Olympic athletes Natalie Coughlin and Donny Robinson. We talked about the shifting landscape for sports media, the balancing act for athletes sharing personal details with fans, and the faux pas that happen when you give a star a global megaphone.

    5Across: Athletes on Social Media


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    Guest Biographies

    Andrew Braccia was one of the initial investors and currently sits on the board of SB Nation, the largest and fastest growing network of fan-centric online sports communities. He joined the investment firm Accel Partners in 2007 bringing with him a decade of experience at Yahoo. His primary areas of investment interest include consumer Internet and software businesses with a focus on web search, digital media, online gaming and online advertising.

    Natalie Coughlin is an Olympic swimmer who has won 11 medals in the 2004 and 2008 Games — winning a medal in every event she has competed in. She is the first woman to win back to back gold medals in the 100 meter backstroke. She was a judge on “Iron Chef” and competed in the show “Dancing with the Stars.” You can follow her on Twitter @NatalieCoughlin or become her fan on Facebook.

    Award-winning columnist Ann Killion has been following the world of sports for more than two decades. She worked for many years at the San Jose Mercury News and is now a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated and Comcast Bay Area Sports Net. She is also communications director of Vivo Girls Sports, a social network for girls who like sports. You can follow her on Twitter @annkillion or read her blog here.

    Hannah Patrick works at Sports Media Challenge where she focuses on training, consulting, and media analysis for major sports celebrity clients such as Shaquille O’Neal, Danica Patrick, and MotoGP World Champion Nicky Hayden. She also championed SMC’s efforts with the innovative social media segment for SportsCenter’s Blog Buzz segment. Hannah develops new media strategies for a wide-range of clients including the Big Ten Network, Conference USA, and ESPN Regional Television.

    Donny Robinson is a professional BMX bike racer, having won a bronze medal in the 2008 Games, and a World Championship in 2009. He was the first man to win world titles in all four BMX classes. He lives in Napa, Calif., and you can follow him on Twitter @DonnyRobinson.

    If you’d prefer to watch sections of the show rather than the entire show, I’ve broken them down by topic below.

    Personal Details

    Best Practices

    The Numbers Game

    Athletes Behaving Badly

    Democratization of Media


    Mark Glaser, executive producer and host
    Darcy Cohan, producer
    Charlotte Buchen, camera
    Julie Caine, audio
    Location: Vega Project & Kennerly Architecture office space in San Francisco
    Special thanks to: PBS and the Knight Foundation
    Music by AJ the DJ


    Thanks to Vega Project for hosting 5Across

    What do you think? Do you follow athletes on social media, and which ones do you think do it best? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

    To see photos from the 5Across shoot and anniversary party, visit this Flickr set.

    Mark Glaser is executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. He also writes the bi-weekly OPA Intelligence Report email newsletter for the Online Publishers Association. He lives in San Francisco with his son Julian and fiancee Renee. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.

    Tagged: ann killion athletes donny robinson facebook natalie coughlin pr sports twitter

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