This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on July 15, 2013
For at least two hours every week, a 36-year-old transplanted Maritimer named Brendan Murphy becomes one of the most popular athletes in the world. An editor and content manager at the Montreal-based Sid Lee marketing agency, Murphy channels the online voice of Georges St-Pierre, current welterweight champion of the UFC mixed martial arts league.
“It was a pleasure to have the great Freddie Roach working with us last week in Montreal. Amazing training sessions!!” Murphy-as-St-Pierre recently wrote on the bullet-headed star’s Twitter page. He chose the words and wrote the 119 characters of St-Pierre’s tweet regarding the theft of the athlete’s Range Rover. (It was retweeted nearly 1,800 times.) “An ice bath after training is good, but a river is even better! Bienvenue au Québec!!!” he tweeted in February, along with a clip of St-Pierre and three similarly bare-chested friends in the water. “The middle-aged women loved that one,” said Murphy, who also writes the promotional tweets and Facebook posts for the 12 brands endorsed by St-Pierre, including 888 Poker, an online gambling site.
Throughout the week, Murphy speaks with St-Pierre’s manager, Philippe Lepage, to see what the UFC star is up to. The content, Lepage says, is straight from St-Pierre: how he is training, what he is eating, what is inspiring him at any given moment. From these conversations, Murphy cobbles together a mix of images, thoughts and often mundane details about St-Pierre’s life. The results are posted on St-Pierre’s various social media accounts in a voice that purposely approximates St-Pierre’s. “I’ve got a pretty good feel for something he’d say or wouldn’t say, or something he may or may not be into,” Murphy says. A lot of thought goes into perfecting social media’s casual tone. “We have entire conversations about keeping an LOL in there.”
Typically, the posts are timed on what Murphy calls a “10-3-8” schedule, the times of day people typically check their social media pages; Sid Lee monitors “interaction rates” on St-Pierre’s various accounts to see what is garnering the most attention. “There’s no firing off tweets on Friday night at 11 p.m.,” Murphy says.
That the candid pictures and humanizing bits of text on St-Pierre’s various social media pages aren’t posted by the man himself may amount to sacrilege for many of his 3.4 million Facebook fans and 724,000 Twitter followers. Yet St-Pierre simply can’t afford to operate this very important part of his brand—a brand that makes upwards of $15 million in yearly sales when the fighter is healthy, according to Lepage.
Removing the burden (or temptation) of writing one’s own social media narrative is a growing practice among stars and athletes. The medium’s immediacy can be both a benefit and a liability; Ashton Kutcher, who cultivated his daft Punk’d persona largely through prolific tweeting, handed over his account to outside management in 2011 after tweeting his support for disgraced Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. (Kutcher said he was unaware of Paterno’s role in a cover-up of a sex scandal involving one of his coaches.) More recently the Chicago Cubs suspended Ian Stewart after the third baseman attacked his own team. And Alec Baldwin launched a homophobic rant on Twitter last week, directed at a newspaper reporter who mistakenly suggested his wife was tweeting during James Gandolfini’s funeral.
“The dangers are the same for everyone, but athletes have more to lose than some people,” says Chad Walter, owner of sports social media aggregator Tweeting Athletes. “The danger is that the athlete is not very smart, has poor grammar, isn’t able to filter his anger. For some, it is better to stay off Twitter.”
St-Pierre has recognized as much. The 32-year-old, who pokes fun at his own halting English, stressed the importance of getting “people who are more competent than me” to handle his affairs. His use of a “ghost tweeter” is a badly kept secret on his social media pages. “I’ve never tweeted in my life,” he gleefully told a crowd during a meet-and-greet in Quebec last April. “I don’t even know how to do it.”
Maclean's July 15, 2013