My goal here is to analyze a representative sample of superstar Kobe Bryant’s posts on social media in order to determine how effective he has been at rebranding himself after a public incident that greatly tarnished his reputation. Kobe Bryant has received public backlash throughout his career, especially after an alleged rape in 2003. This alleged rape destroyed his public persona, and many fans still remember the daily ESPN coverage of Bryant’s 2003 trial. However, to his credit, Bryant has been able to successfully transform his image over the past year by increasing his use of social media.
Bryant’s first use of social media occurred in April of 2009 when his official page joined Facebook. Bryant’s official page was clearly not always run by him. Many of the first posts were simply highlight videos, pictures, or Bryant advertising either himself of one of his many endorsed items. Kobe was initially receiving approximately 5000 likes per post. His posts continued to be very general, posting pictures, or sharing links about endorsed items. Through early June of 2012, he was still averaging around 5000 likes per post, and his Facebook page wasn’t really making any impact on his social image. He wasn’t able to connect with people who weren’t already his fans.
However, starting in June of 2012, the number of likes per post began expanding. One of the biggest reasons for this increase was because many of his posts started to center on the Olympics, and Kobe was able to gain a huge amount of support simply because he was representing our country. If you look at those posts, some were clearly written by Bryant, including some about events at the Olympics. He posted one on July 25, 2012 about the women’s soccer team. That post received 17,000 likes. A similar post on July 31st congratulating the women’s volleyball team received 58,000 likes. I feel the biggest difference was not in the individual posts, but what happened in between those two posts. During the time span, he posted multiple photos of himself and Olympic athletes with personally written captions on his page. They all received upwards of 70,000 likes and many were liked well above 100,000 times. I think Kobe realized people were very interested in seeing him support other athletes, and hear his opinions on the events themselves, and he started to capitalize on this by recording many additional posts during the time of the Olympics.
I also feel that another reason Bryant used so much social media during the Olympics was because he saw the impact it had on his teammates’ popularity abroad. Kobe has generally been considered one of the most popular international players, and yet at the Olympics it was reported that younger player jerseys such as Chris Paul and LeBron James were being worn more often. I think after seeing those young superstars successfully interact with fans on Twitter, he may have wondered if he could use his Facebook in a similar manner. It was mentioned multiple times that Bryant did not have a Twitter account.
After the Olympics, Bryant’s Facebook page remained extremely popular, with a simple picture of some fruit he ate for breakfast getting over 100,000 likes. He also started posting his own opinions more often, at a rate of around one post per week with his commentary. These posts included topics ranging from the charity he supported, to information about sponsors, to information about his work-outs and practices. And one thing remained constant, his gain in likes. Posts by Bryant continued to be extremely popular. Another thing that Bryant did extremely well in his posts was making sure that the reader felt involved. One example of this was his post on October 10th, 2012 where he said “IF and When I announce my retirement, I will do so directly to you first.” He also started posting his opinions on issues more often, like he did in an October 13th post where he described his views on leadership, responsibility, and teamwork. This allowed fans to feel like they were getting to know Bryant better. Many of his posts showed his extreme dedication to winning, which many fans respected and wished of their own favorite athletes.
Bryant’s posts continued to retain their popularity as the calendar turned to 2013. One of his most liked posts occurred just after the New Year, when he announced that he and his wife were going to stay together instead of going through with their planned divorce. It was crazy that such a post received almost 200,000 likes, because many Americans probably supported Vanessa Bryant in her initial decision to divorce Kobe.
In early January 2013, Kobe got a Twitter account. He also started to use Instagram and Chinese social media website Weibo. Many of his initial posts were well received, netting him around 5-10 thousand retweets and about half that amount of favorites per post. He was constantly posting at least one post a day on Twitter. Many of his Twitter posts were also linked to his Facebook account, and those posts continued to gain at least 10,000 likes. His posts remained popular throughout the regular season, and it seemed like Bryant had simply become another, although more popular than most, athlete on Twitter. This, however, was a huge step-up from where he had been viewed in popular opinion before he started to use social media.
On April 12th, 2013 Kobe tore his Achilles tendon during a game a couple of days before the end of the regular season. Kobe wrote a Facebook post about this event at around 4:00 AM the next day simply venting his feelings. He appeared very honest and transparent regarding his frustrations about getting injured right before the play-offs. It allowed many readers to sympathize with him and get into the mindset of what it takes to be a world class athlete. This post was extremely well received with over 440,000 likes.
Kobe Bryant’s image has been fully rehabilitated from what it was in 2004 after his court trial. He remains a fan favorite throughout the country with one of the most popular jerseys ever sold. A lot of this renewed support has happened because of his increased presence on social media. With over 2,400,000 followers on Twitter, 16 million likes on Facebook, and 750,000 followers Bryant has been able to put the image of him dressed in a suit at his trial to rest.