Should you promote your student-athletes’ Twitter handles?
One of the great debates in college sports is whether or not athletic departments should promote the social media handles/usernames of their student-athletes. It came up again this week on a wonderful Google+ Hangout hosted by Derrick Docket of the Missouri Valley Conference, as well as during the #smsportschat Twitter chat last night.
Arguments are intense on both sides of the debate, with some thinking it’s absolutely wonderful and others believing it is an invasion of privacy and will lead to all sorts of death and destruction.
The truth? There’s no right answer. It’s completely up to each department and student-athlete (one non-negotiable: get the student-athlete’s approval). You have to determine what’s best for your program. Let’s look, however, at some pro’s and con’s.
1. It promotes positive use. As David Petroff of Edgewood College wrote on this topic on his Small School Social blog, you don’t promote every student-athlete. Have players who are constantly tweeting profanity and other inappropriate things? Of course you don’t want to promote them. If you’re going to do it, promote those who use it well. Educate all of your student-athletes, but spend some extra time with a few that you want to promote. Walk them through what that looks like and what it means. Most will be on board. They love getting retweeted and noticed, and to have their athletic department do that for them? That’s big.
2. It shows you trust them. Promoting and retweeting a student-athlete online shows them that you trust them to make good decisions. Several programs we’ve worked with (Wichita St and Oklahoma St come to mind) promote their players – whether it be online or in their media guides. The players love it, and have (so far) responded well.
3. It builds a culture of responsible use. During the social media session at last year’s NCAA Convention, I sat on the panel (link) with Daniel Hour, Washington’s Director of New Media and Recruiting. Washington has what they call the Featured Athlete program. They brand a certain number of student-athletes, and only promote those athletes online. Hour works one on one with those kids, preparing them for the program. It’s a really impressive strategy that any school can implement (you don’t have to go so far as to brand them with official profile pics and backgrounds). One of the secondary benefits of the program is that it gets other student-athletes, who are not promoted or a part of the Featured Athlete program, asking questions. “Why am I not promoted?” “Why am I not getting a cool profile pic and background?” “Why won’t the retweet me?” That leads to further opportunities for education, which results in more and more student-athletes using social media well. Kids are competitive. If they have teammates getting promoted, they want to take the necessary steps to get themselves promoted.
4. You’re preparing them for success online. By promoting them, you’re increasing their audience. Alumni, employers, fans and more will be drawn to their account. You’re giving them an opportunity to increase their online network and, by promoting/encouraging positive use, you’re setting them up for future success.
5. It broadens the reach of your department. Your student-athletes are extremely active online. When you promote them, they’ll retweet it, their family will see it and retweet it, their friends will retweet it. You increase the reach of the department/team’s brand as well as that of the student-athlete. They have a unique perspective and are sharing creative content. Use that to your advantage as a department.
1. It is an invasion of their privacy. If they have a public Twitter account, this isn’t an issue. Anybody with an internet connection can see their tweets. That said, having the approval of the student-athlete is key.
2. They may post something inappropriate. This is the real issue and one that you cannot really get around – which is where this all ends for most administrators. What if they screw up? Even smart people make bad decisions online at times. This is where education comes in. Not just a one time meeting, but regular time with the student-athletes you are wanting to promote. This also comes down to being smart about who you promote. Do your homework and pick players who are consistently making good decisions online.
3. Now crazy fans will follow them and harass them online after a bad performance. Odds are, your fans already follow them. If you’re at a big program, there may be fake profiles that your fans are following and this actually lets them follow the right account. For high profile sports at larger schools, criticism is something your players may face online. No question, can get ugly. Again, I think this comes down to education. Prepare your student-athletes to deal with online criticism.
As I said earlier, there is no right answer. Personally, I think it can be a great thing for a program – but I don’t believe a program or administrator is wrong for not wanting to do it.
Is it risky? Of course. Anything that deals with people is risky. It comes down to putting in the time and effort on the front end. You’ll get out of it what you put in. Believe they’ll make good decisions, and they will. Treat them like they’ll fail, and they will. Prepare for and expect success.
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.