Being Internet famous has some serious perks. Yes, you’ll bask in the love of your admirers and score freebies—and cash—from companies who crave your influence. But most importantly, you’ll help grow the sport we love. Presenting the athletes taking charge of triathlon’s image and their insider tips on becoming the next big multisport sensation.
First, pick your platform. There are scores of online quizzes that’ll help you do this, but we’ll save you the time with this brief rundown so you can spend it training.
You are: Stylish, artsy and love a meticulously staged shot.
Your match: Instagram
You are: Creative, funny and love a great viral video like Chewbacca Mom.
Your match: YouTube
You are: Smart, witty and love a well-placed word.
Your match: Twitter
You are: Positive, community-oriented and love to share.
Your match: Facebook
First up: everyone’s favorite life-filtering app. Launched in 2010 by a pair of Stanford grads, Insta now hosts more than 500 million snap-happy users. Advertisers love it because Insta followers are tougher to come by than on other social platforms; without an easy way to re-gram a post into a viral sensation, your best bet for amassing a following is simply to post stuff people happen upon and love. That makes your followers authentic—and more attuned to what you’re posting. Once you get more than 10,000 followers, like your guide Linsey Corbin, you can start making some dough on sponsored posts to the tune of a C-note or two. More than 100,000, like megastar triathlete Jan Frodeno (133,000), and you’re venturing into a solid G per post, a fact that has spurred an entire industry dedicated to pimping Insta accounts. Expect to pay your agent 30 percent of your ad revenue.
Your guide: Linsey Corbin (@linseycorbin)
Her squad: 26,000+ followers
The scene: Most athletes post shots of themselves training, new gear and horrible/awesome weather. Linsey Corbin’s Instagram has all of the above, but she does it better than most.
Why Insta: “It’s a creative medium to share my story,” says Corbin who also uses the service as a traveler’s toolbox. “I like seeking out advice on where to eat, what to see and what to do. I have also used it as motivation to get my butt out the door when I’m in a training funk.” Corbin closes with “It’s easy to get more Instagram followers by posting content that I myself enjoy and tagging it properly, and it doesn’t feel like a chore.”
Tips for Insta-newbies: Corbin advises ’gram game newcomers to have fun, and not be afraid. “Post the good, the bad, the ugly,” she says. “Be authentic. Post often. Follow your favorites. Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself to others. March to the beat of your own drum.” Corbin also recommends following lots of other users, “like” photos, use hashtags and don’t post spam or ads. “Social is supposed to be social, so have conversations,” she says.
Grow your flock: Corbin says her most well-liked posts usually involve her riding fast, inspirational training or racing shots and photos of her golden retriever, Chimmy. Any seasoned Instagrammer will tell you cute puppy pics are bound to get all the likes. “I think people like my posts as they give an inside look into my life outside of swim, bike and run,” says Corbin. “Although there is a lot of that involved as well!”
Favorite personal posts: Though Corbin has so many favorites, she says she loves looking back at her posts over the last five years to see where the sport has taken her. “Some of my favorite things to document on Instagram are seeing places for the first time,” she says.
Favorite follows: Corbin loves following users that inspire her, are themselves and make her laugh: @cabinfolk @corbinbrands @smittenkitchen @campingwithdogs. And of course her sponsors: @trekbikes @clifbar @saucony.
YouTube is almost like its own Internet. Founded in 2005, the video hosting service has the second highest amount of web traffic of any site in the world, behind Google. According to YouTube, the site has more than a billion users who upload 300 hours of video per minute. Success on the platform is complicated. The Tube is all about views, so storytelling chops and production value help. (Running Google ads can bring in a couple bucks per 1,000 eyeballs.) But true YT success is all about parlaying your on-screen persona into sponsorships, speaking engagements, book deals and other opportunities. With excellent production quality and consistency, no one in the triathlon world is working YouTube quite like short-course pro Eric Lagerstrom
Your guide: Eric Lagerstrom (elager335)
His squad: 600+ subscribers
Most viewed video: “Viking Life … The Adventure Van,” 13,647 views
Why YouTube: Lagerstrom is drawn to the video format for the personal connection it gives people to what’s presented on screen. “It uses so many elements to communicate emotion—visuals, sound, music, story,” he says. “It’s an incredible feeling when someone says, ‘That made me feel _____!’ and it was exactly what I was going for.”
Tips for YouTube noobs: Lagerstrom suggests that aspiring online Spielbergs need good content over technical trickery because it can be hard to get viewers’ attention. “Focus on story, not equipment, and consider why someone you don’t know would watch what you’re making,” he says. “Bring some value.” When it comes to cameras, Lagerstrom recommends keeping it simple. “First piece of equipment I’d get is a GoPro,” he says. “You can film triathlon action with it and also film yourself talking, as the microphone isn’t too bad. That wide-angle lens is also very forgiving when trying to keep your subject in frame.”
Grow your flock: Lagerstrom warns against hidden agendas and emphasizes being yourself. “If you’re just throwing out videos pumping your sponsors and not being you, everyone can tell, and they won’t care,” he says. “Be consistent, be authentic, interact.” One of Lagerstrom’s most popular videos is also one of his most painful. “The more raw the emotion, and the less I hold back, the better,” he says. “Like my video about missing the Olympic team—the sadness, emptiness, finding direction.”
Favorite video he’s made: Lagerstrom has a soft spot for his “Alcatraz Victory Lap” video. “It was after I won Escape From Alcatraz Triathlon in 2015, and I went home to Portland to visit my family and my sponsor, Athletes Lounge.
Favorite online video channels: Lagerstrom’s love of video doesn’t end with his posts; his favorite users are behind-the-scenes YouTube channels for video production: “filmriot,” “devingraham” (behind the scenes for “devinsupertramp”) and of course “redbull.”
Twitter’s been in the social media game since 2006. Users can post links, pictures and text, but must keep things pithy to meet a 140-character limit. Boasting more than 300 million monthly active users, Twitter is a succinct way to communicate with followers and, just like with Instagram, if you have a ton of them you can score big time; Kim Kardashian (yeah we can’t believe we mentioned her name in Triathlete either) has made as much as $10,000 for a single tweet. On the non-celebrity side, having a shtick—like rating dogs (@dog_rates) or pointing out very British problems (@SoVeryBritish)—is one solid way to work up a following. Pro Tommy Zaferes is triathlon’s king of the punny one-liner.
Your guide: Tommy Zaferes (@tzaferes)
His squad: 4,000+ followers
Why Twitter: “First, for the quick and easy access to information and updates it provides. With a 140-character limit, you have to get straight to the point,” says Zaferes. “Also, I really like words, and the challenge of painting a picture or portraying an idea with a finite amount of characters is like a fun puzzle.”
Tips for Tweeters-in-training: Zaferes suggests casting a wide net and doing your homework. “Follow a diverse group of accounts: celebrities, media accounts of your favorite hobbies, comedians, friends, politicians, etc.,” he says. “Read the interactions to help learn both what to post, and what not to post.”
Find your following: Due to the flood of posts on Twitter, Zaferes keeps his advice blunt: “You have to create something that few others are doing, and excel at it, so people will follow, share and interact,” he explains. “Don’t post nonsense that everyone and their mother is posting, like what you eat, what your workouts are, excuses as to why workouts or races went poorly or bragging about sessions.” While Zaferes’ Twitter M.O. is writing quick jokes and puns, he says his most liked/retweeted posts are usually pictures he’s taken with funny captions or those that involve wacky tales from his daily life, like this one of Mario Mola at the Island House Triathlon.
Favorite personal posts:
“In triathlon, first you swim, then you bike, then you run out of money.”
“To please the hill rep gods, you must sacrifice two calves.”
“2000lbs of Chinese dumplings is equivalent to wonton.”
Favorite Tweeter: “I follow many ‘Twitter comedians,’ but Steven Skinner (@SkinnerSteven) is definitely my favorite,” says Zaferes. “He specializes in puns as well, and every tweet impresses me.”
Facebook pretty much invented social media when it began in 2004, rolling out tools like groups that foster a sense of community no other platform can match. Merging most other social media services into one place, Facebook lets users distribute video, photos, text and in April 2016, it added perhaps its most exciting feature: live video. Combine all of those methods of showcasing yourself with more than 1.8 billion monthly active users, and you have the perfect platform for connecting with a huge, engaged audience. So it’s no surprise that the level of interaction between pro triathletes and their fans is unparalleled on Facebook, and no one interacts better than Jesse Thomas.
Your guide: Jesse Thomas (@JesseThomasTriathlete)
His squad: 13,000+ followers
Why Facebook: Thomas loves the back and forth that Facebook fosters. “The nature of comments being arranged the way that they are lets you answer and engage in side questions that fans ask,” says Thomas. He also loves the way that Facebook posts don’t simply disappear and move down the timeline like other social media sites. “Facebook gives better priority to top content versus more recent content,” Thomas adds.
Study the best: Thomas recommends diving in and following the triathletes that people love, like Jan Frodeno and Craig Alexander. “I’d follow your favorite athletes, or those you’ve heard have good social media presences, and see what they do,” he says.
Be honest, make friends, get followers: Thomas suggests knowing your audience and participating in the discussion with them, not just at them. While many of Thomas’ most popular posts are after big wins, sometimes people like to see the other side of the sport. “Sometimes big disappointments [are popular], I think because I’m honest and open about them,” he adds. “Like when I got a drafting penalty and had a super disappointing finish at the 2015 70.3 world championship.”
Favorite personal posts: It’s family first. “[My favorite post] was something around my kid,” he says. “Jude and I doing the Kona Underpants Run comes to mind, or getting ready for Kona with him on the trainer. I mean, those are my favorite moments in life.”
Favorite Facebook pages to follow: “Picky Bars, of course,” says Thomas of his obvious affinity for his and his wife’s nutrition bar company. “Outside of that, I think Linsey Corbin, who gets some great help with photo and video from her husband Chris. They do a phenomenal job. Plus, they’re just good, authentic people.”
Pro Photo Tips For Top Social Pics
Photos are key to the social media game, so take some expert advice from international triathlon photographer Paul Phillips’ 14-year career in the biz:
“Shoot from an angle that is not normally seen by Instagram users,” says Phillips. “Try a high angle or a low angle for something more interesting.”
“Pick the background and let the action happen,” he says. “No matter if it is a race, training or just a scenic photo, make sure you have a ‘clean’ background that does not distract from the subject.” Philips’ favorites include a bare shoreline, a row of trees or a hillside—avoid parked cars or storefronts.
Phillips also recommends doing a little editing on your social snaps before “going live.” “You can easily make a few simple adjustments in iPhoto that can be done in less than a minute to change the cropping, straighten the image and adjust the exposure,” he says.
One of Phillips’ big rules for any photog: “Never let people see the bad stuff. If it’s a bad photo, don’t post it.”