NBA All-Star Damian Lillard on #4BarFriday and Building an Online Brand

By: Jon Finkel

Portland Trailblazers superstar point guard Damian Lillard has mastered the art of the crossover. His warp speed, left right dribble mesmerizes defenders and his whip smart social media posts ignite his followers. In fact, Lillard’s on-court dominance is so well-matched by his online influence that he recently received the NBA’s Social Media MVP Award over mega-stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul.

“The main thing I keep in mind is that I have to be myself,” Lillard says of his social media use. “Fans really appreciate it because they get to see me as a person and not just as an athlete. A lot of guys have used social media as a way to just have a lot of followers and to let their fans know what they’re up to. I think what separates me is that my fans have actually gotten to know me.”

One of the ways Lillard has torn down the normal walls between superstars and their fandom is by sharing his love of music in the form of a massively successful social media idea called #4BarFriday.

If you aren’t one of Lillard’s 1.9 million Facebook fans or one of his over one million combined followers on Twitter and Instagram, then you don’t know that #4BarFriday is a weekly Instagram freestyle rap challenge, where anyone can submit their best 4 bar verse in 15 seconds or less every Friday.

“I came up with four bar Friday in my room one day when I was writing down ideas in my notebook,” he says. “Someone told me that you could post a fifteen-second video to Instagram and I knew that fifteen seconds was the perfect time for four bars. I’ve been writing rhymes for a long time and shared the idea with some people I work with. I knew it was a bright idea and that we could grow it.”

#4BarFriday now has its own online community, with over 37,000 fans on Instagram alone. Each week Lillard and his crew watch the submissions and pick the best four to be featured on the home page of the challenge at www.4BarFriday.com.

But having brilliant ideas is only part of what makes Lillard so appealing on social media. He also values his role as someone that young kids look up to and posts inspirational messages, along with answering fans questions directly.

“I think anytime you write something that’s real, fans respond,” he says. “So many people on Twitter are looking for something to relate to. A lot of times I write about things that people can relate to and they appreciate my stance on things. One of the most important things to me is giving kids something to look up to.”

That “realness” is not only attractive to fans, but to major brands as well, including Adidas, who recently signed Lillard to a near record-breaking shoe deal, placing him as one of the faces of their company.

“The way you use social media can impact a lot of things,” Lillard says. “I’m really effective at getting my message out and Adidas really appreciated that. It was an opportunity to advance the brand and we’re excited.”

As for advice on how to build your own brand with social media, Lillard keeps it simple:

“I wouldn’t recommend a specific thing to talk about,” he says, “Share stories and things that are original to you. When you’re writing about things that are real, people are attracted to that.”

Follow Damian Lillard on Twitter at @Dame_Lillard, Facebook or Instagram

Jon Finkel wrote Heart Over Height with 3x NBA Dunk Champion Nate Robinson, Forces of Character with 3x Super Bowl Champion and Fighter Pilot Chad Hennings, and many more…

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