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Should Sports Organizations Stop Athletes’ Social Media Use? NO!

Here we go again… An athlete tweets insensitively which leads to controversy within his organization, bad press and fans calls for everything from suspension to deportation. Oh, and there’s a lockout within his larger affiliation to boot.

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall shot off a media flurry after the killing of Osama bin Laden that ignited another episode of “Athletes Tweeting Badly” during sportscasts, talk shows and blogs throughout the world (or at least the United States). Shows such as Dan Patrick’s and traditional outlets including USA Today asked audiences if in light of social media abuse and controversy, should athletes be banned from social media. I replied with a quick and emphatic “NO!” Athletes, along with anyone who is new to social media, must be learn how to use it responsibly, and know what to expect.

As I’ve written and said many times, social media is a spectacular tool for athletes, coaches and broadcasters to communicate with fans. Genuine voices and feelings are shared much clearer in most cases via 140 characters than in prepared press statements. Athletes don’t have to call press conferences when they want to provide news to the world because today they can tweet it, post it on Facebook or on their own websites.

That doesn’t mean that social media should be an open microphone.

Social media, for some of the most high-profile members of our society, comes with risks, but none that should keep them from using it. It only begs for them to be more aware of what they say and write, which doesn’t make the medium much different than what they might share with traditional newspaper, television and radio reporters. It’s simply faster and often impulsive.

I looked far and wide, but couldn’t find an athletes’ Instruction Manual for social media, so I created one myself. I will post some tips here, not because they’ll flock to read it, but in hopes that organizations and agents will share it as part of their ongoing media training and advisory programs. After all, with education comes power (and hopefully, not a lot of controversy).

Athletes’ Guide to Social Media

• Know how to swim the waters of social media before you jump in.

• Think before you tweet; face facts before you Facebook. If a post suggests a hint of controversy, delete it before you think of hitting “send.”

• Not sure what to post or not? Ask for help. {I beg teams and management organizations to make someone available to your athletes and clients at all times in case they have questions about what’s appropriate to share with millions of people. These same organizations should remind personnel that if they share something internally such as a trade that has not yet been completed, it is to remain in-house…. excitement can create leaks when it comes to social media.)

• Don’t retaliate. You will be fined if you rush a verbally abusive fan in the stands, and you will be badmouthed by the media, penalized by your organization, fans and maybe even your peers if you uncontrollably react to negative social media. Realize that faceless people will be cruel because they’re shrouded by anonymity. Can they be gutless? Yes. You don’t have to stoop to their levels. If you want to reply, catch them off-guard with kindness. It will break their defenses every time.

• You’re emotional about a topic and you want action… you want change! It’s great to be passionate, but consider how your views and the way you share them looks to a company you endorse. Become a controversial voice and you lose business deals present and future. Companies won’t risk their reputations with controversial, immoral or even insincere voices. Your views also reflect on your organization. Set off enough PR fires and you’re likely to be extinguished.

These are just a few of the tips I’ve included in a new Instruction Manual for social media use by sports organizations and athletes. If you’d like to learn more, please contact me. If you have your own tips to share, please do that, too.

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4 Responses

  1. You can’t keep people bottled up, especially from something as large as social media. The best you can do as an organization is conduct education sessions so that athletes understand social media and the benefits/consequences of how they use it.

    John Sternal

    1. You’re right, John. Banning social media would also be bad PR for any league. Education and communication between leagues/teams/representation and their athletes can help make social media more positive for everyone.

  2. I agree. I think it is good for them but I think the exception to the rule is during the playoffs. Whenever there is that much at stake for a team it should be okay to take a break from Twitter or Facebook.

    Education is always the key. Everyone knows there are tighter rules during the playoffs so this should be go for social media as well.

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Jamie. Telling grown men how/when to post would be as difficult as telling them when/when not to talk, however. Interesting thought.

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