Kanye, LeBron follow same playbook

Kanye West joined Twitter last week.

One day before, on July 27, the rapper-producer visited the offices of Facebook in Palo Alto, Calif. Standing on a table in front of employees, donning a fresh suit, West debuted new material from his forthcoming album -- due out in September. West also stopped by Twitter's offices for a similar show-and-tell.

The eccentric artist only premiered some a cappella raps void of backing musical tracks, but a few in the room recorded his performance and uploaded it to YouTube.

From there, a bevy of music sites and blogs -- always wanting for West content, especially new material in such a setting -- posted the videos. West then took to his new Twitter account to tweet out several of these links, thanking the publications along the way, and creating a nice little self-created circle of publicity.

And now that Twitter has matured from cute little platform to big player, mainstream outlets, from The Associated Press to CNN, reported on West's joining Twitter as well.

This is all to say: It was a major news item in America last week.

West, in about one week's time, now has more than 450,000 followers -- a staggeringly high figure for a new user -- and he continues to spin the promotion wheel in anticipation of the album.

West's social-media strategy was a smart, successful one. By joining, he'd already created a general-interest news item.

But by joining during a time when his album's promotional cycle is starting to rev up, during a time he's looking for attention -- and Web users and publishers are more than willing to give it -- West maximized the opportunity.

Other big-name celebrities who have yet to take the Twitter plunge -- including, yes, athletes -- would be wise to follow West's lead.

In fact, we've already seen it in the sports world.

In early July, as "The Decision" was looming, I detailed LeBron James' emerging Web and social-media strategy. James took a moment in his career when an incredible amount of attention was being paid to him, and used it to debut a Twitter account, as well as relaunch his website that had laid dormant for a few years.

Before the one-hour special was announced, speculation mounted that James could even reveal his choice online -- which helped further ramp up interest in his Web brand. His Twitter follower count skyrocketed early, and now sits at more than 550,000.

When talking about what followers actually meant for athletes on Twitter, most used to say things like "it's where we can directly connect with them," "it humanizes them," etc.

This is still largely true.

But like other portals on the Web that have existed longer and matured more, branding and advertising on Twitter is increasing.

Sure, James' camp is leaving free shoes under a sign on the University of San Diego's campus for a lucky follower to find. Fun idea.

But the next day, in back-to-back tweets, James is also telling us this: "Just wrapped my commercial shoot for my new product, 'Power Beats' by Dre. Me, Dr. Dre and Affion Crockett. Coming to a store near u. 'Power Beats' are performance headphones with of course the great sound made by Dre."

It's highly unlikely all 550,000-plus followers saw this. But take just a fifth of them, and that's 100,000 people James is telling about this product. Twitter is an easy, effective way for an athlete to tap into their fans, and ultimately, consumer base.

As the Web continues to become more social, that's a powerful thing.

A handful of big-name athletes currently not on Twitter? We could start with some quarterbacks: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and, you betcha, Brett Favre.

Favre's current week -- dominating the media cycle yet again with conflicting reports on his retirement status -- would have been a perfect time to spring a Twitter account on us.

Better yet: Tie it in with a new or current sponsorship.

Manning, no stranger to the spokesman world, would seem like a prime candidate for such a marketing move.

Also not on Twitter? Kobe Bryant, Sidney Crosby and Tiger Woods. (Though Bryant does have an account that auto-feeds in links from his website and Facebook page.)

For a guy who was criticized for being detached and robotic earlier this year, Woods can not only directly connect with fans, but use his account to promote a new campaign or sponsorship -- some of which he lost during his sex scandal.

Of course, these are just hypotheticals. Some athletes just might not want anything to do with social media. I get that.

But Twitter is also slowly proving to be a fairly simple untapped business opportunity for those who avoid it.

Further, it's no secret athletes aren't always the ones doing the physical keystrokes and hitting enter; their people often do it.

So it's not as if it has to be a time-consuming annoyance or new concept to learn for a star; just start up an account, get it verified and they're on their way.

The formula has been created to make a big splash, with LeBron proving it can benefit an athlete and product.

Study and apply it, and the masses are sure to follow.

Ryan Corazza is a freelance writer and Web designer based in Chicago.