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Volume 24 No. 156
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Social Studies: Players' Tribune Head Of Content Jessica Robertson On Voice, Growth

Players' Tribune Head of Content Jessica Robertson (@PlayersTribune) joined the site two months after it launched and oversees what it creates across social, written, audio and video. Robertson's background is in music -- she studied music business with a minor in journalism, thinking she wanted to work at a record label. After deciding she was not interested in the business side but in the artists and their stories, she worked at Rolling Stone, Fader and MTV. It is those same types of stories that made her want to join the Players' Tribune. Robertson said of athlete inquiries,"We don’t say no. We will ask questions. We will ask if, depending on what they are coming to us with, if that’s the best format or we will say maybe this is something we shouldn’t address in this way." The Players' Tribune instead would suggest alternate ways to share the athlete's thoughts such as a roundtable with other athletes. Robertson added, "By virtue of being first-person, we are mindful about telling the full story and an athlete has to be willing to tell the full story. By and large athletes understand that and they are coming to us because they want to do that. They have a lot of trust in us and are probably more honest and forthcoming in trusting difficult subjects for them personally or socially then they would be at other places."

Must-follow: I love Hassan Whiteside's Snapchat. This past summer he was obsessed with the dancing hot dog filter, which could entertain me for days.
Favorite app: Instagram, hands down.
Average time per day on social media: Too much time, probably. It's hard to quantify because I have all my feeds open almost constantly.

Similarities between musicians and athletes:
Music was really a prism for me and sports is a prism for me to tell very human stories. When music is done well and done right or when you connect with it, it’s very visceral. It taps into your emotional quotient and makes you feel something. It taps into your IQ, makes you think, maybe it challenges a perception. Sports and the stories we tell aren’t dissimilar in thinking. The best stories that we tell in any format, they make you think, they make you feel. They are very human. You don’t have to be a sports fan. It’s almost like they are sitting next to you, telling you a very intimate story.

Social media as a complement to the Players' Tribune:
Social media is the purest form of first person. It is intimate, it’s immediate, it’s direct. It’s often very concise, and the Players’ Tribune is really intimate and direct. There’s an immediate connection with the athletes you are watching or reading. We complement social media in that we can tell a very deep, wide-ranging narrative or do a deep dive into Xs and Os or tell very thoughtful stories where maybe 140, 280 characters wouldn’t allow you to do that. Social media is a little more immediate and we are a little more thoughtful and curated.

Social media/editorial philosophy:
A large part of that first year was building our athlete community, establishing our voice, building the brand, showing we can do these long, thoughtful personal narratives that have some meat to them and getting away from the preconceived notion that we were a PR outlet. Now we are growing beyond that. In years two and three we’ve done different formats, we’re heavily invested in growing off-platform, which is where social media comes into play. That’s making content for social that is just as compelling as the content we create for our site. We want to reach our audience where they already are, but we also want to grow beyond those walls. 

Inspiration for the Players’ Tribune’s voice and social media presence:
As a brand, our voice is the athletes’ voice. The individual athlete inspires what the voice is for social depending upon what the piece of content. We think about brand value and how that manifests in diverse format and content offering, which creates diversity in our voice. We’re a reflection of the athletes.

Being more than a website Derek Jeter created:
We’ve done a pretty incredible job of growing it into an athlete’s platform, not just Derek Jeter. We’ve worked with over 1,500 athletes. For us, one thing that is really important and we’re really proud of, is of the 1,500 athlete contributors some of our best performing stories are not by Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant, they are by lesser known athletes in sports that may be outside the big four.

Athlete influence on how their story is told:
It depends on how the story comes to us. In the beginning, we were pitching a lot. Now 50% of the stories we are telling comes from the outside. Often times they come with an idea of what they want to do. We have plenty of athletes who are very creative and are creating on their own anyway. Maybe they come to us wanting to create a video series or want to document their season. Maybe some of them want to write something and we’ve already written a draft and work with our editorial team to shape it and curate it.

Success of video:
We’re not known for video at this point, and we are changing that by growing it and heavily investing in it. One of the series we launched this year is called The Players’ POV, one of our most successful episodic franchises. It’s probably the purest form of our written narrative with the athlete speaking directly to the camera about a very personal experience. We had Larry Sanders talking about why he was stepping away from the NBA because of the struggle with depression and anxiety. Recently we had Lamar Odom speaking on his addiction struggles and beyond that his life experiences that maybe informed the struggle. We’re starting to dive into original development, long-form documentaries, series that explore different topics in sports -- we're working on distribution partners on that.

If you know anyone who should be featured for their use of social media, send their name to us at