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: