The chronicles of a social savant

Philadelphia 76ers third-year center, Joel Embiid, is pretty much a household name in the world of sports nowadays, but it wasn’t too long ago that the 7-footer was nothing but a forgotten shadow. After several broken bones and two missed seasons, the Cameroon-native became somewhat of an afterthought (some even labeled the former no.3 pick in the 2014 draft as a bust).

Yet, here we are in 2017. Not only has Embiid morphed into a serious candidate to represent the East in this year’s NBA All Star Game, but the big man has completely reinvented himself into one of the most likable and followed athletes across the entire sports landscape.

While many will credit his increased presence on the court as the backbone of his recent fame, the true reason for his rapid ascent to stardom causes us to dig deeper. The real causal mechanism to his rise in fandom: self branding through social media.

Yes, social media, believe it or not, is what has truly propelled the 22-year-old onto the global stage.

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Over the last several years, Embiid has used both Twitter and Instagram to catapult his self brand, whether knowingly or not. For example, according to NYU Marketing Professor Brian Honigman, Embiid displays an effective presence on twitter through his use of hashtags. In what was formerly a playful joke, Embiid has started a revolution of sorts with his constant hashtagging of #TrustTheProcess, a term coined by the team’s former general manager, Sam Hinkie, who drafted Embiid. 

The #TrustTheProcess movement has become so big that fans can even select from various types of merchandise with the signature phrase embroidered onto it.

(Seriously. It has become a cult-like a following.)

Aside from a marvelous use of hashtags, Embiid’s social presence is just that: social. No matter where he is or what he’s doing, the NBA star makes sure to stay in the limelight. According to Laura Oliver, community manager at the Guardian, growing a strong social network has a lot to do with maintaining a social whereabout and “owning a distinct voice.” Whether people like it or not, Embiid has one of the most unique voices across the league.

Then there was this.

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And this string of tweets.

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And even a smidgen of political analysis.

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Embiid has also stood out because of his ability to be himself. His constant, authentic online appearance allows fans to feel a connection that is atypical relative to other athletes and celebrities. According to University of Wisconsin-Madison Digital Media Professor Don Stanley, a genuine online presence goes a long way towards growing an online brand. Echoing Stanley’s sentiments, Unmarketing author Scott Stratten claims an effective online presence is not just limited to being authentic, but it also had to deal with projecting a fair amount of transparency and engagement, both of which Embiid has excelled in early in his career.

Just goes to show if you want to become the next best thing online, all you gotta do is be like Joel, a social media savant.

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