LAS VEGAS -- A company that advises celebrity clients and corporations on how to get the most out of Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets is now based in downtown Las Vegas after moving its headquarters last month from Phoenix.
But Digital Royalty founder Amy Jo Martin, a 33-year-old Wyoming native whose clients have included former National Basketball Association star Shaquille O'Neal, the Ultimate Fighting Championship and actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, is also steering her company into a new direction.
Her Digital Royalty University, which has offered online courses to 4,000 corporate clients, athletes and entertainers since last year, will become available on a fee basis to the public beginning Oct. 2. That's the same day Martin is releasing her book, "Renegades Write the Rules," a guide that informs readers how to build loyal digital followings and make money in the process.
"Whoever coined the term social media didn't do any of us a favor because it's not really media," Martin said. "It's communication. The world revolves around communication. Social communication tools, really it's the ultimate equalizer. Everyone has a voice and value rises to the top. It's an equal opportunity space."
As proof that Martin knows what she is doing, she has 1.2 million followers on Twitter (@AmyJoMartin), prompting Forbes magazine to name her as one of the best-branded women on that platform. She now runs a company that has 15 full-time employees, including herself, and plans to expand soon.
The university, which offers more than 100 courses, instructs attorneys on social media legal issues, personnel managers on how to use social platforms to recruit employees, and small business owners on how to convert tweets and blog postings into dollar bills.
"We can identify and assign a value to every person who is following us," Martin said. "With social media you can garner high volume instant feedback and implement that day. It has changed the game in cost savings for research alone."
For the average person who doesn't run a business but still wants to learn how to polish his or her social media image, the university is offering courses such as how to use Twitter, Facebook and other platforms to find a job.
As an added bonus, Digital Royalty will donate a course to a teacher for every course purchased by the public. Those teachers will be selected with help from Teach For America, a national organization that recruits recent college graduates to work in urban and rural public schools. The teachers, in turn, will share their knowledge with students.
Teach For America, which has a Las Vegas chapter, has placed 434 teachers in Southern Nevada since 2004 and has had partnerships with the Clark County School District, UNLV and online clothing retailer Zappos. The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh, happens to be a close friend of Martin and a major investor in her company.
"The curriculum for social media has yet to be established at any level of academics," she said.
The university aims to fill that gap and hopes to play a role in helping parents understand the pros and cons of social media as it applies to their children.
"Everything children do and say is technically being logged via social communication tools, and it's their chance to build their personal brand," Martin said.
Amy Jo Martin, founder and CEO of Digital Royalty
Armed with a marketing degree from Arizona State University, Martin went to work for an advertising agency and was part of a creative team that lured the National Football League's Super Bowl XLII to Glendale, Ariz., in February 2008. But her exposure to the marketing possibilities of digital communication really took off when she joined the NBA's Phoenix Suns.
While with the team she found ways to use social media to sell more tickets and fill the arena's suites. It's also where she met the towering figure known as Shaq. When she formed Digital Royalty nearly four years ago he was her first client.
Social communication, she said, "further exposed his personality, his humor, his inspiration, his intelligence." But many fans didn't initially believe O'Neal was doing all of his own tweeting. So she created "Random Acts of Shaqness."
"I said, ‘why don't you stand on the street corner and let's tweet your exact whereabouts until the first person who shows up, you'll give them tickets to the game,'" Martin said. "He was up for it. So we continued to do this in different cities and we exposed that it was him. I would take a video live and we'd repurpose it and tweet it back out and show everybody it was happening. So they were a part of this."
Martin helped build O'Neal's legion of Twitter fans to more than 2.5 million followers. As related in the book, he once tweeted the location of a signed copy of Sports Illustrated magazine that he hid at a market in Cleveland. One of his followers found the magazine in five minutes and the local media was onto the story within 30 minutes.
"Renegades Write The Rules" is an upcoming book on social media strategies written by Amy Jo Martin
When Martin had Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians as a client, she helped the team create a section of the ballpark where fans could have wifi access and use their laptops to blog about the game. The purpose was to help the team "engage their loyalists" at a time when the Indians had been experiencing subpar seasons.
She also helped the National Hockey League's Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche raise money for charity by getting their fans to engage in a Twitter hashtag competition.
"It was really neat because people who weren't even fans wanted to join in," she said.
With UFC President Dana White, Martin devised a "hide and tweet" concept in which the mixed martial arts organization tweets clues to fans on the whereabouts of prizes.
To the question of whether social media is bringing athletes and fans closer together, Martin said: "Absolutely. We are now bridging that access. There are no barriers. The gatekeepers are gone."
"With social a reply back on Twitter is kind of the new version of an autograph or a handshake or a photo," she said. "With Michael Jordan nobody had that type of access during his era. He was known for his elite athleticism and brilliance on the court but there was this mystique about who Michael Jordan really was because we didn't have these tools and couldn't follow him day after day. Now, with fans, they can judge their favorite athletes not only by their performance but by their personality, and that's really powerful."
But Martin, conceded that society may have reached a certain degree of social media fatigue, said:
"You have to step outside this tech social bubble and realize, does the common everyday person who isn't involved in every single new social media launch, do they have the time to be using these?"