Personal branding: Olympic athletes on Instagram


Many of us like to present ourselves on Instagram. So do Olympic athletes. For these elite athletes, Instagram is an important platform to build a public self-representation.

Launched in October 2010, Instagram has become very popular in social networking and brand advertising. By the end of 2014, it already had 300 million active users every month.

Different from Facebook and Twitter, Instagram uses photographs as the primary communication method. By sharing pictures of daily training and personal life, elite athletes can build strong connections with their fans.

In a study recently published in Sport Management Reviews, researchers examined how Olympic athletes use Instagram to present themselves.

They analyzed 4 male and 4 female international Olympic athletes’ photos on Instagram. These athletes took part in 4 sports in the 2012 Olympic Games and had high achievements.

Researchers selected the latest 100 photos of each athlete, and the photo content included personal life, business life, sport, other sport or athlete, funny pictures, and pop culture or landmark.

It shows that personal life photos are the most popular (60.5% of all photos), followed by business life (23%) and funny pictures (6.4%).

Female athletes are more willing to share photos in non-sport settings than male athletes (72% vs. 63%). On the contrary, male athletes are more likely to share photos of doing athletic actions than female athletes (13.4% vs. 6%).

In addition, both female and male athletes like to share photos when they are dressed (14.6% in female and 18.4% in male athletes) and photos that are sexually suggestive (6.1% in female and 4.6% in male athletes).

The analysis of sport fans’ engagement shows that sexual photos and business life photos are the most popular.

The result provides useful information for sport business marketing. In the future, researchers will interview athletes and sport fans to evaluate these personal branding strategies.

Citation: Geurin-Eagleman AN, Burch LM. (2016). Communicating via photographs: A gendered analysis of Olympic athletes’ visual self-presentation on Instagram. Sport Management Review, 19: 133-145. doi:10.1016/j.smr.2015.03.002
Figure legend: This image is for illustrative purposes only.