Shaq and Awe: The Big Shakespeare On Social Media And The Influence Project

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Fast Company's Mark Borden sat down with Shaquille O'Neal to discuss how social media—with an emphasis on Twitter—has changed the way that athletes can interact with their fans.

Shaquille O'Neal is a basketball legend (four-time NBA champion and a 15 time All Star), a multi-media everyman (he raps, he acts, he writes books), and an inspired linguist (during an MTV Cribs episode he revealed a home name nearly as cool as Graceland: Shaqri-La). His creative use of language has earned him the nicknames The Big Aristotle and The Big Shakespeare. Combined with his fame and playful nature, it's no surprise he's found social media to be a natural communication outlet, particularly when addressing his more than 3 million Twitter followers. Just before the season premier of his ABC show Shaq Vs., the man with the TWISM tattoo (The World Is Mine) exchanged thoughts on why he encourages his fans to touch him, what it's like to duet with Justin Bieber and why he's participating in The Influence Project.


What's made you realize Twitter was a good forum for you?
I really am just a big kid at heart. I am social, and try to be as accessible as possible, and within reality (and safety.... there are some crazy people out there!). Seriously, I try not to be above people, but among them. I was one of the first people on Twitter in 2008. It is a great way for me to be a wise guy, but also observe others. Plus, I do not sleep a lot, so I Tweet a lot at night!


I recently asked Twitter founder Jack Dorsey who he thought is using the platform in the most effective way, he mentioned you. He told me two things in particular. One was where you gave away game tickets to the first two people to meet you at a given place and touch you? That's a pretty intimate thing, what made you take it to that extreme? Why was touching better than "hello"?
Ah... Mr. Dorsey. That is funny, and true.... I was on the Phoenix Suns then. Again, I try to do things differently than others. Not intentionally trying to be different, but truly to invite people to break down expectations. I am approachable. I guess that was what I was trying to do.

Dorsey also mentioned how someone had tweeted that they thought they were in the same restaurant as you, you saw it and invited them to lunch. What made you do that?
Accessibility. That would be pretty rude of me to be in the same restaurant and not offer them to join me (this doesn't mean I am always in the position to do this). It struck me that moment basically, so I invited them. They were cool, they were fans. Again, not really above any of it. Appreciated that they even care. Make it fun for someone. Make their day one to remember. I do not think about those things when I do them, but here we are talking about it now. That makes me feel good.

Your bio says you're "very quotatious" and there are times when I can feel an almost rap rhythm to your tweets. I know you have skills with a microphone, do you try to channel that flow in your Twittering?
I am a Quotatious genius! I add Shaquotes into everything. (Smile)

I'm seeing some of the most innovative uses coming from people that combine the big three of social media—Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Do you think strategically about the various outlets and how to use them to complement each other?
Yes. All social media feeds each other. I really do not sit around trying to invent new ways to do it to be a genius. Sometimes I just have an idea, and I figure out how to make it work. I am somewhat of a tech geek. Please do not tell anyone though (LOL). Last year, I was in a really playful mood after a game one night. I started doing covers of songs like "Jessie's Girl."


The next day all my representatives thought I was losing my mind. The point of it all is to not take any of it too seriously. Have fun with it. That doesn't mean I do not use the same sources to find out news, look up scores, or communicate with people. It just means that life is serious enough. I like to make people laugh. I accomplished that. I hope not at my own expense ... it really is only humor. Next up "Love Songs By Shaq"!

You seem to be having a good time and people really feel that. But how important is your online presence to the business of being Shaq? Did it help you in negotiating your deal with ABC for Shaq Vs.? Has it helped your business in other ways?
Honestly, other people have told me it is valuable to my brand. No, never used anything online to negotiate anything. Why would I do that? I think people know what I do at this point in my career, and facts and stats kinda tell the story. Truthfully, I don't buy it necessarily as a tool for negotiation. It doesn't mean I am right, but doesn't make much sense to me. I do not do any of it to build business or my brand. I am relaunching later this fall, but it really is to have everything under one umbrella, and I like to entertain people. I was doing television and movies and branding before Twitter, Facebook, or any of the social media. It doesn't mean that people do not notice what I say there, but I do not have that intention with it. I let people know what I am up to, and in fact share my antics and various experiences that day, such as a Shaq Vs. taping, but I think you have to be careful with self promotion and how you send those messages. People are real. They know when you are being fake or trying to get one over on them. I try to keep it all as real as possible, which is why everything really comes from me.

Why are you participating in The Influence Project?
I like being an "INFLUENCER." I do not follow!!! (ha)


Describe the last time someone in your network inspired you do something—even something as small as clicking on a link to a great video or a revealing site?
Honestly, I am inspired by interesting points of view everyday that allow me or even give me perspective on life. There are a lot of smart people out there. For someone like me, it allows me a chance to really hear the voice of others uninfluenced actually. Other times, I have heard about devastating things that have happened that have inspired me to help someone. I do not want to talk in specifics because I did it out of sincere inspiration, and not for attention.

What's one thing you've done online that lit up your network and caused a major reaction?
Really....I am pretty crazy. It happens everyday actually. Like I said, anything from something controversial in the heat of the moment after a game, or something thought provoking that my public persona does not connect me with. Othertimes, really, like showing up somewhere very randomly and having an impromptu treasure hunt, to like when I sang "Jessie's Girl" on You Tube. I never plan it. It just comes to me. Like last week, I sang at the Justin Bieber concert... sometimes, it just happens. Like I told you ... I am a big kid!

What is your favorite blog (other than your own)?
Ben Stein. He is very smart, and a funny (_______) !!


What is your worst faux pas in the digital world (ie the stupidest thing you've done online)?
Huh, me, stupid! Never!!!!

Twitter Tombstone: In 140 characters or less, how would you like to be remembered?


Read more about The Influence Project.

[Photo via flickr/Keith Allison]

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