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How do we define “inappropriate” for student athletes on social media?

October 2, 2013 Kevin DeShazo Social Media Education Tags: , , 0 Comments

“Don’t tweet something inappropriate.”
“Clean up the inappropriate pictures from your Instagram account.”
“Employers will reject your resumé if you have inappropriate posts on Facebook.”

Inappropriate is a word that is thrown out often when it comes to student-athletes and social media. The problem, and something we address in our social media education sessions with student-athletes, is in defining inappropriate. Many times, this is impacted by your age.

What’s inappropriate to a 40-year-old hiring manager is most likely not considered inappropriate to a college student.

Most student-athletes (and college students as a whole) don’t realize who their online audience is. They feel comfortable that they are just sharing information for and with friends, not realizing how public most of these platforms are. They’ll post things that they find funny, thinking and knowing that their friends will also see the humor. What they don’t realize is that coaches, parents and potential future employers will also see these posts and will most likely have a different opinion about whether or not it’s funny and appropriate.

Drinking? It’s what many college students (and adults) do. Profanity? You’d be hard-pressed to walk into a corporate office (or athletic department for that matter) and find nobody using foul language. Online, the perception changes.

A recent survey showed 65% of employers had a negative impression of profanity online, and listed it in the top 3 things not to post online. Those same individuals may not be offended by profanity in the office, but online it’s viewed differently. Right or wrong, that’s reality.

A friend of mine runs a small business and recently rejected an applicant due to the fact that she had “liked” a Facebook page called Jello Shots. The business owner isn’t anti-alcohol, but when he sees that type of content online he’s turned off. The kicker is that the position he was looking to fill was for a secretary. Somebody he was going to pay roughly $30,000 per year. The candidate was extremely qualified, having been an executive assistant for a number of years, and came highly recommended. But her “inappropriate” online presence caused him to look elsewhere.

If that’s just for an administrative position, imagine how much scrutiny employers use for positions that pay over $50,000 per year?

Avoiding posts about drinking, sex, drugs and violence would seem to be a no-brainer. This screenshot from the dashboard of FieldTrack, our social media monitoring platform for athletic departments, suggests that there is a definite disconnect when it comes to student-athletes. This is the number of hits for one athletic department over the course of a few weeks.

FieldTrack dashboard


You can tell them to not tweet about drinking, but you need to explain to them why that’s important. How it impacts their reputation. That doesn’t mean you tell them not to drink – we’re not the morality police. Many times, that is what they hear. They are going to live their lives, they just need to be mindful of how they portray that online, being cognizant of the eyeballs watching them on social media.

For student-athletes, they have to adjust their definition of inappropriate as it relates to the online world. They have to see it through a different filter – which, admittedly, can be difficult for college students. As educators and administrators, we have to continually be discussing that with them. We also need to encourage teammates to hold each other accountable about what they post online, reminding them to come back to two questions when managing their online presence:

Who am I?

What do I want to be known for?

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 over 70 schools utilizing our services for their athletic department, contact us today.

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