Banning Student Athletes from Twitter is Not the Right Strategy

July 11, 2012 Kevin DeShazo Social Media Education Tags: , , , 0 Comments

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.

I’m not sure that’s the message we should be sending.

We know that 31% of college students are using Twitter, with 20% of them using it daily – up 400% in just 18 months (UPDATE: As of March 2013, 72% of student-athletes are using Twitter, with 97% of them tweeting at least once per day). They use it to get news, to communicate with friends, to keep family and fans informed about what they are doing. And yes, sometimes they misuse it – to the point of being highly offensive and/or committing NCAA violations. Discipline, at times, will be necessary.

Are they any worse than most adults using it? No. The issue, of course, is that most adults are not under the microscope that student-athletes live under.

Knowing how rapidly the use of Twitter among college students is rising, we have three options: ignore it, ban it, or educate them on how to use it.

89% of college students are using their smartphone to access social networking sites. 89%. It’s hard to ignore a number like that. Ignoring it is just inviting chaos and crisis. Left to figure out social media on their own, they are going to make very public mistakes. At this point, an athletic department cannot claim ignorance when it comes to social media.

Banning it seems to be a popular strategy and, as the article suggests, the best strategy. Some coaches ban it outright, some ban it during the season, others allow only certain players on a team to tweet, while yet others require players to have a certain GPA before they are allowed to tweet.

What does banning players from tweeting really accomplish? I’ve yet to see a positive to banning to social media.

  • You want more wins. Social Media use has absolutely zero correlation to wins/losses. Boise St football went 12-1 last year. They ban Twitter. Kansas, who also banned it, won 2 games. Oklahoma State went 12-1, won the Big 12 Title and a BCS game. They allow players to tweet freely.
  • You want your players to be focused. They aren’t tweeting during practice or games. If they are, that’s on the coach.
  • You want to eliminate distractions. While we’re at it let’s get rid of dating, video games, texting and TV. Where do we draw the line on what a “distraction” is?
  • It protects them. From what? From learning how to use a tool that their peers are using every day? A tool that is increasingly being used by employers during the hiring process and being used by entrepreneurs to build businesses? Banning them from posting doesn’t prevent them from checking Twitter/Facebook/Instagram to see what is being said about them.

I’m going to be brutally honest here. Banning your players from tweeting is taking the lazy way out, and it’s doing your student-athletes a disservice.

You’re essentially telling them, “Look. I fully trust you to take us, in under 2 minutes, 80 yards down the field to win a game in front of 90,000 rabid fans. I just don’t trust you to use a communication tool correctly. You understand, right?” You’ve now created a gap in trust between player and coaching staff.

What kind of message does that send?

The reality is that you can’t keep them from using it.  They won’t sit idly by as their friends tweet away. They’ll create new accounts without telling you (believe me, I see this daily). Their friends, family and, eventually, fans will know about this account.  Then what?

The best strategy is to educate. Help them understand just how big social media is, that the world can see every tweet. Discuss the risks involved but focus on how they can use it well and on why using it well matters. Empower them, don’t overpower them. With social media, your student-athletes can be the best form of PR your athletic program can have. They can be your most powerful brand ambassadors, all the while setting themselves up for success. Will they mess up? Of course. They are humans. Failure creates an opportunity for discussion. An opportunity to learn and get better. An opportunity to grow.

Take the time to educate them. After all, isn’t that what college is about?

 

Fieldhouse Media is a firm dedicated to helping student-athletes and coaches use social media in a positive, appropriate way through education and monitoring. To find out more about us or to join the more than 40 athletic departments and conferences utilizing our services, contact us today.

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