Before the U.S. Open tennis tournament began this week, I had never heard of 18-year-old Laura Robson (@LauraRobson5), even though she won an Olympic mixed doubles silver medal in London this summer.
To me, the women's game is dominated by the Williams sisters, Serena (@SerenaWilliams) and Venus (@VenusesWilliams), and a revolving cast of mostly unmemorable Russian players, except for Maria Sharapova (I couldn't figure out her official Twitter feed -- can you? Her site has a social section, but it only lists a Facebook account).
But 89th-ranked Robson, who sent former champ Kim Clijsters packing in the second round and disposed of world #8 Li Na in the third round, is punching above her weight in terms of getting attention -- and not just because of her recent tennis success.
Her sensibilities about social media have made her a dominant online force, far surpassing her WTA ranking of No. 89. On Twitter, Robson has more followers (123,000) than the WTA's top-ranked player, Victoria Azarenka (115,000). Robson also outranks the top American male players John Isner (110,000) and Mardy Fish (104,000).
While raw counts of Twitter followers aren't always useful for comparing online influence (see this recent article to see how some folks goose their Twitter numbers by purchasing fake followers), it's clear that Robson's ability to use social media well has helped her.
As I wrote in my April post, "5 Social Media Lessons from @BubbaWatson, Masters Champ, it helps to "be yourself" online. And if you are an 18-year-old who is having a dream run at a prominent tournament, you should just relax and let your personality show through.
Here are examples of recent tweets by Robson that make her accessible to all the new people following her.
Upon hearing that former champ Andy Roddick will be retiring: "Wow. Roddick announces this US Open is his last tournament. Sad but wish him all the best in whatever he does next." - A simple, honest reaction of a much younger player about an elder statesman of the game.
Upon arriving in NYC: "Just arrived in Manhattan and they are filming Gossip Girl outside my hotel. #gottaloveNYC" - Just like any teenager visiting the Big Apple.
After her silver medal performance in the Olympics, she must have come to the US, because she tweeted this: "Seems like there are 4 minutes of ads for every 2 minutes of Olympics coverage in America. Missing the BBC!" - Just the way so many people reacted in the U.S.
She's also active on Instagram in a way that makes her accessible and compelling. An example: "Today, some very cute kids gave me a silver medal made out of aluminium foil. So lovely!" Here's the photo she posted:
Her Facebook public page, LauraRobsonTennis, has 27,000+ likes and is quite active, but seems to be run by someone else, as it's much less personal than her Twitter and Instagram feeds.
For example, the posts on Facebook look and sound like this:
I'm not knocking her for how she handles her public Facebook page, as it must be hard for top athletes to just keep tabs on Twitter (and, I presume, her personal Facebook profile).
If Robson manages to extend her run at the U.S. Open and move up the rankings, watching her handle herself in the months ahead on Twitter will give us an unusual glimpse into her life as she comes under more scrutiny and more pressure.
Note to readers: Please post your thoughts in the comments below or e-mail me or tweet me at @sree or #sreetips on Twitter. If you've been reading my posts here, you know that one of the things I am trying to do is learn what works and what doesn't on social media. It's such a fast-evolving, confusing world that I believe we can all learn together. Thanks for reading.