Tim Tebow didn't need help in amassing 1.4 million Facebook subscribers and close to one million Twitter followers. The numbers mushroomed as an outcrop of his staggering status as a cultural phenomenon. No surprise there.
Eddie Royal, one of Tebow's receivers on the Denver Broncos, did enlist the assistance of a social media coach, a former agent named Jeff Weiner, and in some ways his interaction on Facebook and Twitter has surpassed that of his wildly popular quarterback.
More than 237,000 fans "liked" Tebow's most recent post, the day after his touchdown pass in overtime beat the Steelers last Sunday. It read like most of his infrequent missives, praising the Lord and thanking his teammates and Broncos fans.
At first glance, Royal's numbers are modest in comparison. He is closing in on 100,000 "likes" and has surpassed 50,000 Twitter followers. But by constantly posting video clips shot from his iPhone, some from the Broncos locker room, his social media status is growing faster than that of Tebow. This week through Twitter, Royal gave away two tickets to Denver's playoff game at New England on Saturday along with airfare and a hotel room. He'll also meet with the winner, who Royal said was selected randomly.
His Twitter followers increased more than 23 percent during the short promotion, which was sponsored by a nutritional supplement company solicited by his social media coach (who, by the way, is a different Jeff Weiner than the CEO of LinkedIn). More than 20 percent of Royal's Facebook followers are "talking about" him, an indication that his page has become a dynamic destination.
Royal is becoming social media royalty through content, not because of his name or even necessarily his game. And he knows it.
"I can remember being a fan like it was yesterday," Royal said in an interview with ThePostGame. "I worshipped Walter Payton and wondered what kind of person he was. Social media is a way to interact on a personal level. I want to let everybody know that I'm just like them. I just happen to play football for a living."
Weiner, who worked for agent Todd France before becoming a social media coach in 2009, impresses on his 15 or so NFL clients (including James Harrison, pictured at left, LaMarr Woodley and Steve Smith) to interact consistently with followers and to engage with them on video.
On Christmas he suggested that his clients post video or Skype clips wishing followers happy holidays. "Every athlete is going to Tweet 'Merry Christmas,' " Weiner said. "You do that and you just blend in. A video stands out. Woodley has 300,000 total followers and he did it. The video didn't get him any more likes, there wasn't a spike. But the point wasn't to get new followers, it was to cement the relationship with existing followers."
Royal, a four-year veteran, said the primary value of an extensive social media following will be realized after he retires. For now, he's having fun with it, and wants his fans to as well. He posted several video clips on Facebook of Broncos' offensive linemen pretending to be Royal, talking about the free trip to the Patriots game.
"I was on my iPhone, holding the camera above my head," Royal said. It could be a great thing for fans this week, a chance to show them another side of us. I had a good time and we all laughed about it."
Weiner tells his clients to "strike while the iron is hot," and nothing is hotter on social media than the Broncos right now. Sponsorships, like the one Royal got for the tickets giveaway, are trickling in.
"Not huge megadeals with Nike or Gatorade, but something like Detour footing the bill for this promotion," Weiner said. "They observe my guys on Facebook and Twitter. My guys create pictures and video and they get comfortable. It allows potential sponsors to get to know them."
An athlete of Tebow's stature may or may not benefit from somebody like Weiner advising him. Even the social media coach himself acknowledges that.
"He's the most popular athlete in America," Weiner said. "He has this natural flock, and fans click the like button or following him on Twitter not because he has content they want, it's that they want to show support for him. If he let peple into his life in an unscripted scenario, shot video of him hanging out in his living room, watching a Florida game, his followers would increase. But he might not want that.
"If Tim Tebow used social media better, he'd make a ton more money. But it doesn't seem like something he cares about right now, which I completely understand given how chaotic things are for him right now."
Royal and teammates are benefiting from Tebow-mania. His team is still alive in the playoffs, for one thing. Another is that anybody on the receiving end of a Tebow toss is touched by an angel.
But truth be told, like every other Broncos receiver, Royal is also worse off because of Tebow.
Tebow's dearth of completed passes means fewer receptions to go around. Royal caught 19 of Tebow's 126 completions in 2011 after snaring 59 of Kyle Orton's 293 completions in 2010 and 91 of Jay Cutler's 384 completions in 2008.
Yet as Royal's numbers on the field dwindled, his social media metrics skyrocketed. He's good with it all at the moment.
"Tim Tebow is awesome in every way and I'm in awe of how he's handled everything," Royal said. "It's been crazy. He deserves everything coming his way. I'm enjoying it along with him and our teammates and want it to continue.
"That's what I tell everybody out there who follows me. The fans drive all this and social media is the best way to connect with them. Whether that's with me, or Tim Tebow or both of us, the fans are speaking louder than ever before."
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