I have always considered my climbing career as my own personal brand. If you want to be a professional athlete and earn a living from a niche sport, you have to be more than just physically talented. You have to be business savvy: you are essentially the CEO of a one-person company.
That’s the way it’s always been in adventure sports. Unlike players in professional competitive sports leagues, career athletes in lifestyle sports like climbing, surfing, and skateboarding have always relied on individual endorsement deals to make ends meet. National team sports are covered by all the biggest media companies. But in sports like climbing—where you’re performing solo—your accolades, images, and story are the assets you can leverage to forge partnerships with brands.
With social media, we have our own individual platforms to express who we are. Before I went to high school, if you wanted to be known in the climbing industry, an established magazine needed to take interest in you and your story. I distinctly remember the first time that I was in a magazine—Urban Climber, in 2002—with a photo of me climbing at a competition. I viewed it as a huge accomplishment, and my mom ordered all of the magazines that were in stock.
Today, how many followers, likes, and retweets you get influences some contracts. Collectively over half a million people around the world follow what I say on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. And although I do sometimes agree with a brand to deliver campaign posts for payment, I don't follow any sort of algorithm to decide what to post each day. Here are my five tips to defining yourself on social, whether you're an aspiring athlete or just someone who likes to get outside.
#1. Be Authentic
Reflect yourself and don’t try to be anyone else in your posts. The more genuine you are with expressing who you are on social media, the easier it will be to maintain that image. You won’t need to force-post: social media should serve as a catalog of your day-to-day. If you’re living the life you want, you will always have content. Just know your audience and try to keep what you post consistent.
#2. Quality Counts
Instagram is like a magazine you flip through, so posting quality content with a consistent aesthetic is key. Put some thought into the layout of your page and the theme of the photos that you post. Pictures and compelling captions can tell a rich story behind an adventure that can be interesting and inspiring. I try to avoid "spraying" about climbs and instead posting about what's real. I'd rather read a complete story rather than boastful captions.
#3. Consider Your Purpose
When I am unsure of posting a photo that may be tangential to the rest of my feed, I ask myself why I want to make the post. I am pretty conservative about advertising who I may be dating, for instance, because I like to develop a layer of personal privacy shielded from the spotlights on my life.
#4. Interact with your audience
We now have a platform to speak directly to our audience, so if you’re an athlete or brand, having giveaways that help show your gratitude for their support are great. Also, consider which posts have more fan engagement (likes and comments) than others and try to find patterns in the positive responses. I do read comments. I don’t respond often, but I sometimes "like" comments that I agree with or find flattering.
#5. Keep it natural and organic
At the end of the day, we all should put down our phones more often and go play outside. One of my New Year’s resolutions is to establish one day per week that I designate phone-free. Social media is supposed to be fun, not stressful. My basic philosophy is simple: be candid with who you are, portray what you genuinely love, and create your own source of inspiration through storytelling. If you aren’t defining yourself or telling a compelling story, no one will be interested in your brand. Values and identity are essential to any business—corporations and individuals alike.