This year’s Olympic season presented an entirely new method for “winning the gold” with the arrival of the 2016 Rio Olympics’ “Selfie-King”, Brent Folan of Fort Worth, TX. After going through a great deal just to get to Rio this summer, Folan took the social media world by storm. He made it his personal mission to get as many photos with Olympic athletes and other notable individuals as possible. He’s gone from small-town sports fan to social media celebrity with some incredibly well-timed photos and a whole lot of tenacity. His success goes to show how useful social media can be in creating a powerful personal brand. Our Larisa Owcharuk was able to spend time with Brent to discuss his experience in Rio, the amazing reception he's received for his social efforts, and what's next for the "Selfie King."
What went into your decision to attend the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio?
Brent: I'm one of the biggest sports fanatics you'll ever meet in your life. I grew up playing sports, loving to watch them. Basically, if I'm not playing sports, I'm usually watching them. My other big love is America. I love politics and was student body president of every school I have attended. So, what better place to combine those two loves than the Olympics? Three years ago one of my good buddies from college told me about his last minute trip to London for the 2012 Summer Games. After hearing about his experience I said, "Let's go to the Summer Olympics in Rio!" So we shook on it and sure enough we started planning right away.
How did the trip planning go? Was there anything unique about that experience?
Brent: It started about two years ago when I found out that the Olympics needed 70,000 Global Volunteers. I jumped all over that opportunity! It sounded like a cool way to give back to Rio and the Olympics. I went through that process for 2 years to become a volunteer. I made sure to purchase my flight out as soon as the airline released it, which was about a year before the departure date.
Eight months before my trip, I decided to start looking for clothing sponsors. I wanted to look like an American and rep the Stars & Stripes. Could I have bought clothes? Sure, that was the easy way. However, with the exposure the Olympics is known for, I was confident I could lock in a few clothing sponsors. So I emailed a few companies, and explained that this opportunity would be a great way to have their brand represented on a global scale and stay relevant on social media. Two companies jumped on board! Tipsy Elves and Rowdy Gentleman.
Tipsy Elves was my biggest sponsor. I basically gave them permission to use my photographs on their social media feeds, and agreed to run their Snapchat account for about a week while I was in Rio. In return they provided me with clothes from their brand to wear throughout my trip. That's the best four hundred dollars worth of clothing they've ever given away. What a return on investment! The exposure that onesie received, is just crazy.
Brent's efforts quickly paid off. Before even arriving at the Olympics, and while at the Miami airport, he ran into American track star Allyson Felix and snapped the below photo.
Little did he know, this was only the beginning. Between his vibrant personality, all-star selfie game, and incredible American flag onesie, it was only a matter of time before Folan was a well-known Olympic presence. With the hashtag #FindFolanRio2016 in place, Folan spent his time outside of volunteer duties attending as many events as possible. He would document himself with various athletes at the events. With each consistently posted photo, and the live videos he was broadcasting, Brent’s following started to take off in a way not even he could have anticipated.
Did you ever imagine that these selfies would create such a stir, let alone generate this amount of notoriety?
Brent: Not at all, I couldn't believe it was happening. I mean, I was in competition with Michael Phelps to be the face of the Olympics. That’s so crazy. If you would have told me three years ago this would happen to me, I would have said, "That's insane. There's no freaking way." I would have called you crazy. Now that I look back, it just seems like all those pieces of the puzzle fell together perfectly. The reason I posted so much social media in the beginning was so my Mom and Grandma and the rest of my family could see what I was doing, and so they would know I was safe. I guess I was doing something right, because sure enough it just started gaining steam, and just like that it was happening...I was going viral. But I guess I can't say I'm totally shocked that this happened because I took the initiative and put in so much preparation ahead of time. Heck, I even put a spreadsheet together outlining where I was supposed to be and when, for all my tickets. I was THAT prepared.
His photos soon got him noticed by both the Wall Street Journal and eventually ABC news' Good Morning America who coined him as the “Forrest Gump” and “Selfie King” of this year’s Olympics. Folan’s social following was quickly turning into tangible fame.
How much has your social media following grown since this experience?
Brent: It has exploded! I went to Rio with between seven and eight hundred Instagram followers, and now I'm over 4.5k!
What does this experience say to you about the impact that social media can have on your personal brand?
Brent: It really can if you do it right. If you put yourself in the right situation, the sky's the limit. I originally planned to stay only through Day 8, but it was because of the impact social media had that I chose to extend my trip. Twenty-four hours before my flight I’d decided, "Alright, I am going home." It was time to go. I was out of vacation days and I had enjoyed my experience. That next day though, things just took off. I mean, really took off. I was on the TV a ton and my social media accounts were blowing up. I thought to myself, "This is only going to get better, and I would be a total fool to leave right now, because my story is not complete." So I canceled my flight, called my boss, and the rest was history. Skipping that flight was the best decision I've ever made in my life.
Before he knew it, Brent was developing some serious recognition, becoming a notorious Olympic presence, and being given free tickets for numerous events.
In your opinion, what was the most valuable thing this experience provided you?
Brent: The networking! My network just picked up exponentially. It was right around the time the Wall Street Journal released their article. The same night I watched Michael Phelps win the 200-meter individual medley. That night I ended up just meeting a ton of people. I went to this hotel called The Copacabana Palace which is one of the nicest hotels on Copacabana beach in Rio. The President and CEO of that hotel asked to take a picture with me, and proceeded to give me a glass of the best champagne I've ever tasted. I don't know what kind of champagne it was, but I know that it was the most expensive glass of champagne I've ever had in my life, and for free! Then I met the CEO of a sunglasses company called Woodies, who ended up inviting me to do a photoshoot with them the next day. It was amazing! Did I sacrifice sleep? You bet I did. I only slept two to three hours a night, and didn't have a single cup of coffee the entire trip. I was just running purely on the high of life. There was so much energy at the games that heck, I didn't need sleep!
Continuing to expand his network, Brent was presented with the priceless opportunity to get a selfie with who he’d referred to as his “White Buffalo.” Acclaimed USA swimmer, Michael Phelps.
Brent: I met the KRAVE Beef Jerky team who said they had connections with Phelps. At this point I still hadn’t technically had a selfie with him. I was in the front row right above him at the medal ceremony, and I talked to him right before he walked up to the podium, but I was 10 feet over him. So the connection I made with KRAVE was especially valuable. I ran into them again at Water Polo, and that’s when they invited me to be on Good Morning America, where I got to meet Phelps and finally captured the sought out selfie I’d specifically extended my trip to get. He even told me he remembered me from the 200m IM (Individual Medley) award ceremony! I mean, I’d say I’m a pretty memorable guy, but I think that onesie helped. So yeah, I’m friends with Michael Phelps now!
What was the most enjoyable part of your journey to becoming the "Forrest Gump" of the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics?
Brent: Going into the Olympics I knew I was going to meet some amazing people on a global scale, and that was absolutely one of the best parts. I have never met that many people in such a short amount of time aside from my freshman year of college when you’re just meeting everyone and their brother. The Olympics was like that on steroids, and on a global scale. Even better is that everyone loves sports so it’s so easy to talk to them. Especially when you’re wearing an American flag onesie, and really stand out. Heck, they approach you! I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face that entire trip. My cheeks hurt because I’m still grinning ear-to-ear, it’s surreal.
In two words, Brent calls his journey "Truly Unbelievable."
Brent: That’s it. I still can’t believe it. The greatest part of this whole journey was that I got to experience it with so many people. Everyone has been part of the story. Whether it was in Rio, or back in the States via social media, everyone has helped to make this possible.
Brent added that, part of what made his experience so incredible was how great of a host the city Rio was.
Brent: Rio was thrown under the bus before the games started, and I almost cancelled my trip after hearing people say how dangerous it was. It would have been the biggest regret of my life if I listened to them and didn't get on that plane. The public transportation was perfect, I never had any problems with it. By wearing an American flag onesie, I made myself the biggest target in Rio and yet, I didn't feel unsafe once. Actually, I felt more welcome by everyone, and even made some incredible friends in that city. They had a huge part in creating my social brand. Rio and it’s community hosted a very successful Olympic Games. I'm so glad that they were selected to be the host city. This is a very bold statement, but I don't know if we'll ever be able to top this Olympics because of the South American hospitality and all the Olympians that we have who are retiring. When you roll all of that up and consider I was the face of this iconic event, that’s just so crazy to me. There were so many other people that it could have been and it was me. What an experience!
The unassuming Supply Chain Analyst turned Selfie King plans to continue to grow his super fan status. He's excited and motivated for what may be next.
What, if anything, do you intend to do or would like to do next with your new found fame?
Brent: It’s funny because I actually met some people that work for ABC and NBC. All the major networks. One of them was actually asking me to apply as a candidate for The Bachelorette. We'll see...that could be next. I'm really pushing for either Ellen DeGeneres or talk shows like Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, John Oliver, etc. I would love to get on one of those shows, so I’m really pumping them to have me on. I think that's the next step, but who knows. I'm just excited for what's to come because I think this story is going to gain even more of a following. I've already got about 20 people who are ready to go with me to Tokyo (For the 2020 Summer Olympic Games).
Aside from the Wall Street Journal and ABC, Folan has already been featured in People Magazine, Star Telegram and Fort Worth Business. He's also appeared on the nationally syndicated radio show KiddNation, as well as KHOU’s morning show Great Day Houston.
Make sure you go check out and follow 2016’s Rio Olympics Selfie King, Brent Folan, and join in on his continued journey toward selfie stardom. For those of you out there trying to promote your personal brand, here’s some advice from the “Selfie King” himself:
What advice would you give others who are trying to establish their personal brand?
I would say number one, know your vision. Figure out what you're passionate about and go for it. For me it was America and sports, so I planned for it and everything else fell into place. Your best tool is knowing what you're passionate about.
Follow Brent on the Social media platforms below or email him for inquiries.