Author: Kevin DeShazo
Much has been made of the Manti Te’o situation. With him being the face of Notre Dame football this season, that is to be expected. I wanted to wait until we heard his side, which we now have, before choosing to write about it, and what it means for student-athletes on social media, and how universities/athletic departments approach it.
This post won’t be about whether or not his story is believable. It won’t be a story judging his character.
For those unfamiliar, (former) Notre Dame LB Manti Te’o was the apparent victim of an internet hoax referred to as Catfishing – when a person pretends they are someone they are not, usually on social media, in order to deceive someone. Most of you will remember his trying season, when in the span of a few hours he lost his Grandmother and girlfriend. It was an incredible narrative. Now it turns out that his girlfriend, who he “met” online, was in fact not real. Never existed. Fittingly, news of the story as I was sitting on a panel at theNCAA Convention, discussing student-athletes and social media.
[UPDATE: As of January 2013, the NCAA has done away with the Student-Athlete Affairs Grant and discontinued the Speakers Registry] Great news! Kevin DeShazo, founder of Fieldhouse Media, has been added to the NCAA Speakers Registry for social media education. This means that you can now apply for and use your Student-Athlete Affairs Grant funds for social media education.
Of those listed in the registry for social media education, Kevin is one of only two who actually use Twitter.
For quite some time, athletic departments have been intentional about working with their student-athletes on how to deal with the media. Many programs will bring in outside specialists to speak with students on this topic. They’ll address issues such as handling yourself in a press conference, talking to a journalist for a story in the paper, interviewing with a sports reporter for a spot during the 6:00 news, etc. They will go through a number of scenarios that a player may face throughout the course of the season, preparing them to represent both themselves and the university in a positive, confident, intelligent fashion. Without question, this is a terrific and necessary service. There is a misperception, however, that media training is the same as social media training – or even worse, the firms who provide media training are adding 5-10 minutes to the end of their presentation to discuss social media, and labeling it “social media training.”
The two topics couldn’t be more different – and the skillset needed to properly educate student-athletes on each are just as unique.
Another day, another column about how student-athletes should be banned from Twitter. This time, fromBleacher Report. This is a topic we discussed at CoSIDA. Banning social media is a strategy that is not only ineffective, but is based out of fear and lack of education. Address the lack of education, eliminate the fear. This quote from the column struck me:
Ultimately, Twitter is a great tool for many. It will continue to be a major news source for college football going forward.
For student athletes though, it’s more drama then universities, fans and coaches need.
Twitter is great, but not for you, student-athlete. You shouldn’t use it. You’re incapable of using it well. You’re just going to create problems.
Each week I’m lucky enough to have conversations with Athletics Directors and SIDs from across the country – from D1 powers to NAIA and D3 programs. One of the first questions I ask when discussing their student-athletes and social media is, “How well are your student-athletes using social media?” The answer is always some form of the following:
- They do a great job. We haven’t had to discipline anybody.
- I think they do a good job. We haven’t had any major issues yet.
- I’m in awe of the things they post online. They definitely need help.
- We’ve had a couple of issues. Once we adjust our policy, I expect things will change.
Notice a trend? We are defining success for our student-athletes on social media as “not getting in trouble”. Is that the correct perspective?
There is a considerable amount of negative attention given to student-athletes and their use of social media (specifically, Twitter). Daily, I tweet out links to stories about coaches banning it, how dangerous it is for student-athletes to use it, how there is no value in kids using it, sports writers talking about how kids are too irresponsible to use Twitter and should have it taken away, details of the mistakes that student-athletes make online. 1 link out of every 15 might be positive (and I’m probably being generous with that ratio). In just the last 72 hours we’ve seen an AHL player suspended, a college football team ban Twitter, and a journalist describe student-athletes and social media as a “dangerous combination.”
Everybody has an opinion. Everybody is an expert. Everybody, apparently, uses Twitter perfectly. Other than student-athletes, of course.
With so much negativity surrounding it, with student-athletes being told that there is danger around every corner, that they are going to screw up their own image as well as that of their university, how can we expect anything besides negative results?
I’ve previously touched on the issue of the role social media can play in helping (or hurting) an individual get a job. 91% of employers admit to using social media to screen applicants. 68% have hired a candidate because of what they saw on their social media profile. The reasons? The persons, through social media, appeared “well-rounded, gave a positive impression of their personality, showed solid communication skills.”
We ‘ve all seen the NCAA commercials informing us that 99% of student-athletes go pro in something other than sports.
There has been an ongoing debate regarding protected (or private) tweets versus public tweets, and where the accounts of student-athletes should land. Note: This conversation is completely different on Facebook, where you have more control over your privacy settings, and where your personal info can be visible to those you connect with.
Public accounts are just that, public. Every tweet can be read and shared (or Retweeted). If your account is set to “Public”, anybody can follow you on Twitter. Anybody with internet access can read your tweets, even if they don’t have a Twitter account.
There’s a growing trend, and it’s a good one, where universities are investing in software that monitors what their student-athletes are saying on social media. This issue came about after UNC was sanctioned by the NCAA for a “failure to monitor social media.” How does it work? You plug in certain words that you don’t want your student-athletes mentioning on Twitter. It could be anything. Violence-related, sexual, drugs, alcohol, agents, money, etc. When a student tweets something with one of your “red-alert” words, somebody in the department gets a notification and you deal with it appropriately.
It is something we offer through FieldTrack, our real-time monitoring service where we also track what is being said to and about your student-athletes by 3rd parties. This is to help ensure compliance with your department’s social media regulations (remember – the NCAA does not have any social media guidelines), as well as to protect the image of your student-athletes and uncover opportunities for continued education and discussion. Missing a game is not near as severe as losing out on a future job because of an unfortunate tweet.
Tom Satkowiak, Associate Media Relations Director/Sports Information Director for men’s basketball at the University of Tennessee, recently created an incredibly thorough list of Twitter tips for Division I student-athletes. Rather than reinvent the wheel, I thought it would be a better and more efficient idea to share his list here. Read it, share it, and leave any questions in the comments. And be sure to follow Tom on Twitter: