BOSTON — In Houston Sunday, New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman was busy catching nine passes for 101 yards as the Pats beat the Texans 34-31.
But Edelman was recently off the field moonlighting as a guest lecturer at Emerson College. And the whole thing came together over Twitter.
Social media is all about interaction, and in David Gerzof Richard’s marketing class at Emerson, students learn how companies can interact with consumers through social media to grow their businesses. But those interactions happen at a distance in the cool glow of a computer monitor or smartphone screen.
“What I do every semester is I challenge the students using only social media to connect with a local athlete or celebrity and to get them to do something,” Gerzhof Richard said.
In years past, Gerzof Richard’s classes arranged meetings with former Patriots wideout Chad Ochocinco and tight end Rob Gronkowski. And this fall, after checking out Edelman’s Twitter account, one team of students decided to try to get the Pats receiver to come to a class.
Edelman tweets regularly, often retweeting and replying to messages from his nearly 130,000 followers. Social media offers fans direct access to their favorite athletes, but Gerzof Richard, who has worked with athletes in his career as a marketer, says for players it’s a way to circumvent traditional sports media.
“[Athletes] will give a 30-minute interview and the 15-second soundbite that they’re really not proud of is what makes it on. And so they get upset by that when they turn around and see that broadcast,” he said. “They have full control over their Twitter feed and their Facebook updates.”
The students researched Edelman’s Twitter habits — when he tends to tweet and his favorite topics. Then the Emerson students started tweeting at the receiver using the hashtag #Edelman2Emerson. He replied to junior Maria Vivas.
“I looked at it and saw that I had a lot of retweets and I’m like this is weird, why? And then it was Julian Edelman tweeted ,’Let’s make it happen,’” Vivas explained. “And I was in shock, totally couldn’t believe it. I reached out to a ton of my classmates trying to figure out where to go from there.”
Arrangements were made — all through Twitter — but when class started on the appointed evening in late October, the students still weren’t sure if their guest would show up. But then the man behind @Edelman11 walked through the door.
Edelman and members of Superdigital, the marketing agency that helps him manage his social media accounts, arrived bearing gifts — bags of hamburgers. Edelman likes a good burger and often tweets pictures when he’s having one with the hashtag #BurgerTime. Edelman said the reaction has been fun, but it’s a lesson too.
“That all started one weekend in L.A. when me and my buddy went and we were exploring for a good burger. Now, do I eat burgers every day? No. But everyone thinks I eat a burger every day. I’ll be walking down the street, and I got a guy saying, ‘Burger time!’ or ‘How’s your burger?!’ and I’m like, ‘I don’t eat burgers every day,’” Edelman said. “So it’s kind of one of those things. So, you’ve got to be careful what you put on there because people absorb it.”
Edelman also has a Facebook page with more than 75,000 likes and he shares pictures on an Instagram account. Edelman’s not a giant of social media yet — his old teammate Wes Welker has about four times as many Twitter followers. But in the wake of Welker’s departure to Denver and other Patriots roster changes, Edelman is having a breakout year on the field.
Gerzof Richard says because he got a head start for fun a few years ago, Edelman is set up to leverage his social media status to land endorsements and business deals.
“The adage is true. The harder you work, the luckier you get,” the professor said. “He was working very hard for years before this and he was working on his social media platform before he found himself in the limelight and so, I think he was very well-positioned to take advantage of that situation.”
But don’t expect Edelman to let tweets become a distraction. The 27-year-old says a message from the Patriots organization has helped him on the field and online.
“We have a sign on the door in that says, ‘Don’t believe the hype. Ignore the noise. Manage your expectations. And speak for yourself.’ I kind of live by that, when I’m not there, on social media, basically.”
Edelman offered the students one other Twitter tip, but they probably won’t do it. When all the social media planning and strategy is done, he says the easiest way to pick up a lot of followers fast is to score a touchdown.