Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, LinkedIn, YouTube, SnapChat, Google + and Vimeo, the choices are endless, and everything from celebrities to politics to world issues and even food are posted about, liked and shared millions of times daily. Over the past decade social media has become a huge part of our lives, there are over 1.09 billion active Facebook users in the world.
Whether you are one of the billion or not, you can’t deny that it has, to some degree, changed the way businesses and individuals go about their lives. But what is its effect on sport? Is the increased use of social media within the sporting realm enhancing or taking away from our training, racing and lives?
Have you ever been midway through a really good run and had to stop because you saw the perfect photo opportunity? No me neither. Ok, let’s be honest, I do it all the time, but in my defence I live in Noosa Heads, running along the National Park is breathtakingly beautiful. Also I’m not a professional athlete, I’m in this sport because I love it and if there’s a chance for a good photo, I’m going to stop and take it.
What about the time wasting? If you spend time taking photos in addition to scrolling your newsfeed before you get out of bed, at lunch time, after work and before you go to sleep could any of that time be better spent doing something more productive? I often say ‘I don’t have time’ to use my foam roller, could 10 minutes less social media per day be better spent on body maintenance and injury prevention?
Then there is the focus factor, if your brain is engaged in social media, it’s not concentrating on the task at hand, this is particularly important during race time. If you’re studying for an exam, or working on your companies budget forecast, it’s easy to understand how frequent checkiang of social media accounts would be considered a distraction. Now consider an elite athlete, where their sport is their job and you can realise why the Australian Olympic committee has warned athletes it’s “Tweet or Compete” for the upcoming Rio campaign, sighting social media distraction’s as one of the contributing factors to lack lustre results at London’s 2012 Olympics.
Another drawback of social media can be comparing yourself to total strangers. Comparison is the thief of joy. Everyone may appear to ride faster, lift heavier weights or run further than you, and how about the abs of steel you can only dream of? Don’t compare your chapter one to someone else’s chapter 20, and on that note, don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Did they really ride 100km in the time they said… How about you #stravaproveit?
Unfortunately there are people in society who hide behind the anonymity of a computer screen and post hurtful and damming comments. Call it “Tall Poppy Syndrome,” jealousy or down right nastiness, if you’re successful be prepared for the backlash from a minority of people (trolls) who aren’t. Take it with a grain of salt and don’t be offended. Remember: People only rain on your parade, because they’re jealous of your sun and tired of their shade.
Luckily for every negative person on social media there are thousands of positive ones who can lift you up, inspire, encourage and even just entertain you. In Australia, we have a great little Instagram triathlon community, although race day can be challenging. It is almost necessary to put our Instagram names on the race bibs instead of real names for ease of recognition.
If you’re low on motivation and contemplating jam donuts vs going for a run, scrolling through photos of people looking like they are enjoying exercise can make you want to get up and go. So many people post positive, happy photos post exercise or whilst enjoying a vibrantly coloured smoothie bowl for breakfast. Finish line photos and post race highs are my ultimate inspiration, and hearing about a good long run can leave me feeling envious and wanting to pound the pavement.
The benefits of social media also extend beyond friendly banter and motivation, word of mouth is arguably the best form of advertising. Companies are using ‘age groupers’ or everyday people with social media followings to promote their business or products and it’s mutually beneficial. Brands have targeted exposure to people with specific interests, and athletes are given products or experiences in return. I would never have come across Thanyapura Phuket and been offered the opportunity to be a Brand Ambassador, if it wasn’t for social media.
Forbes published an article last year on how Social Media has been a game changer affecting sport, they reported that over a third (37%) of Twitter users will buy from a brand they follow. Once upon a time advertising was limited to the high flyers that could afford billboards, television or magazine ads, but now companies are able to use tailored campaigns to reach their target audience through social media.
So what’s the verdict? If we aren’t professional athletes should we have to choose to “Tweet or Compete?” In my opinion no, whilst I do think as a society, we need to reduce screen time, whether it be email, social media, games or television, I believe the use of social media in sport has more potential benefits than negatives. Inspiration, motivation, networking, friendship, brand exposure and an everlasting photo album.
Next time you’re riding along and see a perfect photo opportunity, don’t be afraid to pull out the camera and take a snap, then share it with the world… “Sometimes you will never know the value of something until it becomes a memory.” -Dr Seuss