A few weeks ago I wrote about why coaches and front officer personnel should care about social media and how their players use it.
Since NFL training camps started last week and college football practices aren’t far behind, it’s time to address some things that coaches, administrators (including public relations specialists and sports information directors) and athletes should know about social media so that they’re not blindsided by what it might bring if they use it during the season.
I once thought that today’s college and professional athletes grew up in a mostly digital world so they would know how to responsibly use social media, whether they practiced it or not. I was wrong. I spoke to a mostly young group of professionals this summer and was surprised by questions they asked about social media basics. I was glad they spoke. It reinforced a need to continue to coach young athletes and sports professionals, as well as those that have logged a few more trips around the sun.
With that in mind, I’ve created a mini playbook of sorts to guide athletes toward responsible and productive social media use. Whether you use the sites or go dark during the season, the tips apply year-round. I further suggest that coaches that read this share it with administrative and communications specialists, and use the tips to show your players know you’re in the know.
Even if you’re not a professional at this time of the football season, you essentially begin or continue a job in these next weeks. Represent yourself, your team, league and circle of trust with positive social media this season and always.
Social media may seem like a simple and quick way to communicate with friends, but more people than you realize read words that you post on Twitter, Facebook or other social media sites. When you’re an athlete, your perceived importance jumps with fan bases and communities, so you must assume more responsibility for your words and actions than your non-competing peers. The following tips will help you prove that you’re a power on and off the field.
- Know why you’re there. Think about why you participate on a social media site and your answers will help guide you to one that’s right for you. Your reason might be to communicate with friends and peers. Another player might be there solely to interact with fans. Another may simply want to see what opponents are posting. There are lots of reasons to use social media and when you identify why you do, you put yourself in a good spot to use it productively and responsibly.
- Know your social. Each social media site has its own tone and as a result, different kinds of users. There are some personalities that gravitate toward Twitter rather than Facebook. Others are more comfortable with Google+. Some are solely sports driven and perused. The list goes on.
- THINK before you hit “send.” I could repeat this 100 times and it wouldn’t be enough. A sports agent told me that he advises his clients to think about and re-read Twitter posts up to five times, walk away then when they return, proof again before they post. I can live with that, especially when it involves controversial topics. What can seem to be an oh-so-important thought that you want to share one moment can read offensively when you revisit it. It’s like sending an emotionally fused text to your girlfriend or boyfriend. You’re best to walk away for a bit and decide if that’s what you really want to say.
- Check facts. If you’re not sure about a number that’s sure to prove your point…if you’re not sure your former teammate stole another guys’ gummy bears…if you’re not positive that your organization bans Crest toothpaste from the locker room, don’t post it. You’ll be amazed (or not) at how fast some media pick up and run with tweets. Your incorrect post may become controversial because the brand name mention goes against a sponsor agreement to only have Colgate on the premises, or your post about stealing candy leads to fist-a-cuffs because it was Coach that stole your gummies. Oh, and if it’s a wrong stat? There will be a social media troll with five followers that will make a mockery of it and try to get under your skin. Do your best to avoid being emphatic when you’re not sure of something. Publicity firestorms have erupted from much less.
Which leads me to the next one…
- Resist the urge to retaliate. (I’ve written this one before…) If you’re a professional athlete, you will be fined if you rush a verbally abusive fan in the stands, and regardless of level, the media will badmouth you. You will be penalized by your organization, fans and maybe your peers if you react uncontrollably to negative social media posts. Realize that anonymous people may act with no conscience. Can they be gutless, annoying and simply grate you? Yes. The solution: just walk away. If you MUST reply, catch them off-guard with kindness. It will break their defenses most every time. If they come back at you again, ignore them.
- If you can’t say something nice, say … well, what your mom said. You may disagree with someone’s stance. You may disagree with someone’s decision. You might not like the way your coach combs his hair. Innocent trash talk is fine if you know the person to whom you direct it will take it that way. Lashing out in a social media tirade is not okay.
- If you take a stance on a society ill, own it. There are issues in our communities that may get under your skin, and there are ways you can express yourself on social media with composure and class. Make your case about why you think the way you do, without profanity and personal attacks. Even better, share a non-violent solution. People will appreciate your take and standing up for what you believe.
- Pull back the curtain. You have a quirk where you HAVE to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich each morning during preseason. You’re a rookie and your teammates made you carry their bags to the bus. You just walked in and embarrassed one of your linemen who was … baking a cake – from scratch – in a apron with no shirt underneath. Go ahead and share pictures on your social media pages. They make for fun shares and show personality.
- Traditional media is following. As I eluded, don’t be surprised when beat writers and reporters follow your social media accounts and later ask you about something you posted. They learn about players’ thoughts and personalities in those posts. They mine for story ideas. They may also catch something that wasn’t said during your team’s weekly press availability, which could lead them to break a story. It may not be a good story, so be careful. (Review: “think before you hit send.”)
- Be thick skinned. NEWS ALERT: Not everyone that follows you likes you. Ask any sports broadcaster who receives nasty social media posts during and after games. You will be criticized for your play, the way you speak or the way you dress. IGNORE IT! These are the people that will try to knock you off your game on the field and when you’re out and about. It’s not worth letting it get to you.
- When In doubt, ask for help. If you want to be on social media to connect with fans and friends but you’re afraid to post something that will reflect poorly on you, ask for help. Hopefully there’s someone within your organization that knows the medium well enough so he or she can help teach and guide you through productive and positive ways to use social media. (If not, shoot me an email.)
- Your posts are part of your brand, so nurture and protect it. What you post today stays with you forever. We’ve read of instances where past social media posts have come back to haunt professional athletes. It’s unfortunate and a time-suck if you have to try to explain your way out of old negative social media comments. In some cases, they may prevent you from getting your foot in a business door or a prized roster spot. Realize that every salacious photo, negative tweet or brag about how wasted you got during the weekend can always be found.
- In case of personal attacks, dial your PR staff. If someone tries to irrationally sully your brand online, kindly correct them and if necessary, with the help of your PR staff, post a statement refuting what could blow up into an ugly story. Follow the tips above and avoid confrontation. It’s all part of how others perceive you, now and later.
- Budget your time. As if we didn’t have enough things to distract us, social media tools keep emerging and luring us. Focus. Keep your eye on the prize, which if you’re reading this, it’s likely to be a title or championship ring. If you want to engage during the season, allow yourself no more than five or 10 minutes every couple of days. Your friends and followers will understand. (And if they don’t, too bad!)
- People appreciate your time on social media. Most people follow you because they’re a friend, fan, opponent or your mom. Really, that reap-what-you-sow thing comes into play. If you’re kind online, they’ll be kind back. Some may actually thank you for your time whether you respond to them directly or not.
- Be cool. Need I say more? Enjoy the social media experience. It can be fun, entertaining and engaging. It can also be an asset when businesses look for someone to endorse their brands now or in your post-athletic career. If you have to put on a pair of shades and remind yourself to be cool, I won’t stop you. 😎
(Copyright Gail Sideman and PUBLISIDE)