Working with Athletes in the Age of Instagram 

The good, the bad and the truly authentic.

Note:   The featured photo of this blog was a completely staged shot for the purposes of social media.   The author of this article, Mike McKay was not shooting anything at all.   With that, I present a disclaimer:


Over the last year of working with athletes on multiple projects I have noticed a recent trend; the Instagram Break.   This is a phenomena in which the crew will stop all the work in progress to allow for the subject to put priority on taking a number of staged and/or posed photos for the sake of posting later on Instagram.  

As someone who is out of touch with the Instagram generation (I am quite open to the fact that I am horrible at Instagram despite the cool things I get to do), I have trouble stopping a great moment or a necessary task with the idea that we have to stop to capture it for the rest of the world to see.   I also have a problem with being in the mindset to move out of the present and plan for what my audience should see.   In the modern age, I am critiqued for this as it is a problem.  The reality is:   I am just not thinking ahead to what my next post or story is going to be on Instagram.   By the time I do, it is likely too late or comes off as not authentic and the moment passes.   Check out my feed at @mooktracks to see just how boring I am.   


I find myself thinking of how to stage what should be something that is ‘instant’ vs a fabricated post that seems to be simply fishing for endorphin boosting engagement.   I am totally guilty of this.   Getting likes feels good!!  However, being aware of this it ultimately pulls back the curtain to what I see most people doing in the world of Instagram.  

Now up to this point it is likely that this is being read as a criticism of Instagram culture and a generation’s obsession with showcasing their lives (whether authentic or not).   In fact, most could look at my lack of Instagram prowess as a weakness and not keeping up with the ways of modern promotion.   The reality is this is the new reality.  Instagram and this mindset is here to stay.   However, I do believe we are still in a period of limbo which, given enough time, we will look back on our approach to our audience during this period in time with eventual self awareness on how much or how little authenticity we actually have.  

Again, we are sitting at a point in this article where I am still being pretty critical but I genuinely do feel I am open to criticize those who portray themselves as something they are not.   I am going to brain dump some examples of how this has been done first hand with Instagram and digest my thoughts as I go along.  Think of this as an exercise by which we can explore the potential for storytelling in the modern-day world of Instagram.  Something I see very few actually doing or taking advantage of.  

Case study 1:   I have been on expeditions where I found myself stopping for multiple Instagram Breaks.   One particular example I recall was at a pretty busy moment.   While some of the crew spent time preparing and carrying the gear of one of the subjects, time was taken to carefully pose for photos for Instagram posts.   The photos where staged in the way that the subject was deep in the crux of a gruelling expedition.   Meanwhile, once the photo op was complete the rest of the crew went back to preparing the gear for the person and ultimately had to wait longer while the subject got more photos for their feed.   

The resulting post about the expedition itself did not represent the effort / work ratio that I have seen while in the midst of the project.   To me this was completely dishonest and false.   I have trouble double clicking the like button when I see a complete lack of authenticity.  

Therefore, with that initial vent I will come to a variety of conclusions as an exercise of understanding:

Conclusion 1:
Be honest.   All the time.   Be authentic.   Even in the bad times.   Instagram posts can be such lies and so misrepresentative of what is actually happening.   The clearly staged photos are becoming fuel to tell the rest of the world ‘look how awesome I am and the cool things you are not doing’.   I would rather a post of someone being truly authentic about something than an over edited photo with an inspirational quote that has been looked over multiple times.  

Case study 2:

I was on an open water swimming project where we had service the whole time even in the middle of the ocean.   The athlete asked me if I would post to his Instagram while he prepared for his mission.   I accepted.   

I started posting stories of his prep and actually telling the story along the way of what was happening.   The athlete at no point changed what he was doing and embraced the raw nature of what was being captured.    This was clearly working with his audience because as the day progressed more and more people began to tune in and I could see the views increasing.

Ultimately he did not succeed in his mission.   This he embraced and told his audience with pride the outcome.   I thought that this was admirable and strong.   Many athletes would not have done the same thing.  


Conclusion 2:

Let stories be stories.   I don’t see much of this happening.   Stories is such an amazing platform to let something unfold before your audience and keep them engaged (for a long time!).   It gives them something to look forward to and is a modern way of sharing unique photo and video content.   This is something that I feel is being under utilized.  

I can think of an example where kayaker Benny Marr posted an ongoing story of his plan to run the massive waterfall in Ursule, QC.   Ultimately the outcome was horrible.   Marr was injured and damaged a lot of his gear.    He owned up to this on his feed and walked us through the outcome.   I was engaged from the early posts and actually tuned in with the purpose to see the outcome.  

Side note:  
I found it really easy for me to be ‘good at Instagram’ when not doing it for myself.  Maybe it is good to get someone else to handle your account.   Someone who understands your vision from the outside.   Someone who also understands your audience.  


Case study 3:

On another expedition I took part in multiple staged shots.   While this was the intent of the trip (to produce content for social purposes) I did witness almost all the photos done on the trip to be staged and put on Instagram with the story of a training mission that was underway.

Credibility became a concern in this case.   It actually made me question the athletes future posts and if they are actually authentic.   Now this particular athlete is legit and I have worked with him many times but this mission was not.  

From that point on I have seen very little authentic content from him and I can now see these patterns in other athletes I follow.   This makes me question the overall credibility of some and if they are in fact doing what they say they are.  

Conclusion 3:

Be credible.   Offer transparency amongst the gloss.   While this might sound a lot like authentic content I mentioned in Conclusion 1, I feel it goes a step beyond.   

Instagram is a gateway to offer a glance into our world and if it becomes a repetitive snapshot of staged photos we never actually get to see what the amazing things are that get accomplished.

It is my belief that the sponsors and companies that support the amazing athletes (if they are the good ones) see this vision the same as I do.   To be real, you need to be real.   Simple as that.   If companies don’t see that I feel they will be behind on the modern way that advertising is going.  Because that is actually what this is……social content in the form of Instagram is the modern advertising.   Therefore, having the ability to engage with your heroes with just one click makes them much more human.   Being human is what and audience strives to love.   Being human is being honest, vulnerable and having the power to overcome great things.  

The world is not always sunshine and rainbows.   Taking time to address that with an audience allows us to identify better.   We can stop looking down on our audience from up high and eye to eye.   To convey our message.   To tell our story.   It is that reason that they follow in the first place.    This is the new reality tv.