“Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to hear.” This is often a comment made when coaches are interviewed in an article about sports and social media. And it is often the only bit of advice given to student-athletes in an effort to help them communicate more effectively online.
This advice, with all of its good intentions, is a bit misguided. Grandma’s opinion of your online behavior doesn’t matter much at all. Grandma knows you all too well, loves you no matter what and will most likely forgive you for any missteps. Everyone else online may not be so understanding.
The things you say and do online are more often reviewed by admissions officers at your favorite university, by the coach whose team you want to play for and by the prospective employer who will want to make sure you are an asset and not a liability.
Social media education can be so much more than just “how to craft the perfect tweet” or “here’s how to manage your facebook settings.” While everyone is more than entitled to have fun and be social, it is also wise to come to the table with a game plan. Take a pause before every post. Is it necessary? Does it serve a good purpose? Will that post help you or hurt you? What light do your words and images paint you in? Is that really YOU?
Good communication skills are teachable and can be honed to be strategic. So let’s forget about our sweet little granny and worry more about what our audience will learn from that photo, that comment, that perfectly crafted tweet. It’s not only student-athletes who live 140 characters from disaster.
Social media guidelines exist so that an entire company and all of its employees have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them when they are representing the business online, whether it be on or off the clock. Universities, typically a bit slower to catch up to mainstream business practices, are definitely behind the curve when it comes to establishing guidelines for students and student-athletes.
In browsing some of the athletic department policies and it was surprising to see program after program devote less than a page to such a pressing topic. For example:
Gambling …………………………………………………………………………………. 49
Hazing …………………………………………………………………………………….. 50
Social Networking Websites ……………………………………………………….. 50
Grievance Policy ………………………………………………………………………. 50
And on Page 50, under the rules for hazing came:
SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITES
Utilize your best judgment when using social networking websites. Our concern is not only about the content that is posted in the form of photos but also the proliferation of personal information, such as, cell phone numbers, class schedules and home addresses which many of you have made public. The content posted on these sites is not private. Your information may be currently viewed by: university officials, professors, parents, coaches, future employers, local and national media among others. Further, there have been a number of cases of assault that have been directly attributable to these sites.
As a student-athlete at (university name) you are held to a higher standard then the general student body. We ask that you do not post any information that might embarrass or otherwise cause harm to you, your team or the university.
Another athletic department gave a similar amount of space to the topic:
Social Networking Websites …………………………………………29
Criminal Activity ………………………………………………………….29
And once you landed on Page 29, you found:
SOCIAL NETWORKING WEBSITES
Student-athletes are representatives of not only themselves and their teams but also Intercollegiate Athletics and the University as a whole. As outlined above, student-athletes are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that positively represents Athletics and the University. Student-athletes who post profiles on social networking websites, including MySpace and Facebook are reminded that the Student-Athlete Code of Conduct and behavioral expectations apply to those posted profiles. Student-athletes not only represent themselves and their families, but also their individual teams, Intercollegiate Athletics, and (university name). Student-athletes should consider if they would share information with all of those constituencies before posting it online.
Student-athletes are also encouraged to limit the amount of personal information they post on those sites for their own safety as well as for future job searches and background checks. Once the information is posted on the Internet, it is in the public domain and can come back to haunt the poster later. Many employers are already checking social networking profiles before making any offers of employment. Predators also spend time on such sites looking for easy targets. Student-athletes should please be careful and think twice about what they post, especially photographs and contact or schedule information. Student-athletes can be targeted by predators via social media, and should report any such contacts to their coach or the Associate Director of Athletics/Director, Athletics Academic Services.
It’s also interesting to see where social media appears in the table of contents, next to hazing and criminal activity, in these examples. It doesn’t have to be that way! Social media guidelines can also represent the positive and help your students use social media to their advantage. Guidelines that are ripe with “don’t” as well as best practices, will serve as a resource to your student-athletes. Keep in mind that, whatever guidelines you do implement should also be applicable to staff and coaches. Student-athletes are not the only ones to post inappropriate photos or tweet troubling comments. The purpose of social media guidelines is to inform what rules are in place, but also to allow everyone to achieve the department goals. You should want your team to be a success online. Guidelines are a good first-step to prepare them for that. (Education is a must, too!)
One service that Beaming Bohemian provides is the development of social media guidelines for your department. If you are an athletic department, a university or business who needs to establish this type of resource for your students or employees, please contact us. Social media guidelines are not a one-size-fits all rule book. They should reflect the culture of your department and allow everyone to take ownership in the final – and living – document. We can work together to develop the best handbook for you. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
As my Twitter followers grow on both Beaming Bohemian and Shanna Bright, I am often fascinated by the follow-habits that seem to be prevalent among Twitter superstars. Just today, I was followed by a social media “guru” who previously followed me, and then once I followed back, promptly unfollowed me. He’s not the first Tweep to do this. Numerous folks engage in this behavior in an effort to boost their following. There is no genuine interest to find new connections. It’s a numbers game.
It makes me laugh for a few reasons. I love that someone can claim they have over a million followers, but when you look through their list, you see lots of hallow and spam accounts. And two, I laugh because I actually remember the people who practice this type of number boosting exercise. It’s not that I have an awesome memory, it’s my Twitter management style.
I do not have over a million followers, nor am I following thousands. But everyday, I take a moment to look through the people who are following me, determine if they are providing valuable, relevant content and if they are someone I want to follow back. I report and block hallow and spam accounts without hesitation. Sometimes, I don’t feel I need to follow certain accounts and will just place them on one of my Twitter lists, a terrific organizational tool. I make the effort to manage my account so that I know who I am associated with on Twitter. It is a more accurate circle of influence.
You can do the same. You can closely manage your account and have valid, useful and helpful contacts or you can simply work toward some unverifiable cool factor and let anyone and everyone follow you. For high school and college students and student-athletes, law or med students, and job hunters, it is in your best interest to monitor who you tweet with just as much as what you tweet. If you are following tweeps who post a lot of inappropriate content, you are associating yourself with that content and personality.
With the same motivation to manage your reputation, protect your brand against being linked to the wrong people. Take the time to weed through your account and build up a following of quality and image-appropriate accounts that reflect the core values of your brand. Tweet with and retweet content from good sources, not someone you are going to regret “knowing” when your coach, college or potential employer take a peek at your account.
Perhaps you’ve seen the news peppered with stories about university athletic departments all geared up to monitor their student-athletes’ social media accounts. With several universities receiving media attention and NCAA infractions, it’s no wonder athletic departments are “scrambling” for solutions.
Without a proper education, there is no doubt that student-athletes are going to commit social faux pas online. Even coaches and athletic department staff have committed noticeable errors. However, the message that you send the moment you set up a monitoring system is, “We don’t trust you.” Your message to your players becomes, “We have the greatest faith in you on the field, but the moment you’re out of our sight, we don’t trust your actions or your judgement. We don’t trust that you know how to communicate or what to say. We don’t believe in you.”
Educating your players, on the court and in the office, prepares them to be successful communicators and builds trust between an organization and its team members. When you (re)educate your team – and I mean every staff member, coach and player – about your brand identity, the brand message and provide social media guidelines (methods for successful communication), you empower your people to serve as brand ambassadors. Enabling them with a better understanding of the various communication tools develops personal pride and a willingness to better serve your organization. Directors and Head Coaches serve as positive, capable examples and can better relate with staff and players about the events happening in the social stratosphere. A thorough education and open discussion can serve as a spring board for ideas which may be generated from the most unexpected sources.
Some universities have chosen to provide some level of social media education, but yet continue to employ monitoring services, “just in case.” That only sends mixed signals to the players, “We want you to learn how to use these tools and we want to help you improve your communication skills. But…we still don’t trust that you’ll be successful and remain worried you’ll say or do something stupid.” How else are these young adults to interpret this? How are they (and you) to learn from their mistakes?
ASU’s Michael Crow said at the NCAA Convention in January that the student-athlete experience is, in a sense, a leadership academy. In addition to creating opportunities for their players to become the best athletes they can be, the ASU athletic department staff and coaches offer “life coaching” to motivate their young men and women athletes to consider what they want their life to mean, what life goals they want to achieve and what they want to contribute to the world.
In a CBS video of several coaches weighing in on social media, it was Jim Christian at Texas Christian University who said, “As opposed to just restricting them, you know, sometimes they have to make bad decisions in order to learn. And I think that’s what college is all about.” And UNLV Basketball Head Coach, Dave Rice chimed in with, “I really believe in the importance of empowering student-athletes, making it a part of the education process and really using social media in a positive way.”
Universities, which are at their core, educational institutions, are far better off preparing their athletes for success versus assuming their failures and continually operating in crisis management mode. Educating your athletes about reputation management, personal branding and all the nifty details of social media, challenges them with responsibility and professionalism and a chance to rise to the occasion. At the end of the day, that IS what college is all about and a sure method for creating an environment of trust and empowerment while paving a path for tomorrow’s leaders.
Through Beaming Bohemian’s branding and social media education, including the development of social media guidelines, you can change your tune and deliver the message of trust to your student-athletes. Investing in this education is a uniquely positive approach which delivers the message, “We believe that you are amazing individuals who have a unique ability to inspire others through your leadership. We believe you are just as talented off the field as you are on the court. As a student-athlete, you have a more visible platform for story telling and brand development. We trust that you respect yourself, your teammates, your coaches, fellow students and members of the community. We believe in you and we are excited for you to share your story with the world.”
Maryland Bill Addresses College Athletes’ Social Media Privacy via The New York Times
Athletic departments get free rein with social media via Minnesota Daily
UNC, NCAA Address Monitoring Athletes On Social Media via WFMY News (CBS)
NCAA: No plans to police Twitter via Missoulian
UPDATE: This video has been made private or removed by CBS Sports. Attempts to locate another version have turned up empty. If you have a link to this video, please leave a comment.
CBS Sports posted this video the other day. Several head coaches weigh in on social media and the attitude they maintain about their players using the communication tools.
Syracuse Head Coach, Jim Boeheim stood out with his response, “I don’t even know what it is.” Followed by, “It’d be hard to adjust that, wouldn’t it?” He went on to comment that while he does carry a cell phone, he does not have a computer. It’s as though he was saying the topic is of no interest to him and he has no desire to learn or care.
Contrast that with a few of the other answers.
John Thompson III of Georgetown admitted that he knows that social media is part of life, but that he does not understand why it is important to post that you are at a pizza joint enjoying a slice of pizza. Understood. With some education and guidance, student-athletes can develop a purposeful content plan that is far more engaging than pizza slices.
Kevin Willard of Seton Hall wants his athletes to develop communication skills, so once the the team enters the building/practice facility, they must speak to each other and folks in the building. Cells phones are turned off and no texting or tweeting allowed. I’m sure everyone can appreciate those goals and rules.
“Teachable moments” is how Jim Christian at Texas Christian University sees social media. He says, “As opposed to just restricting them, you know, sometimes they have to make bad decisions in order to learn. And I think that’s what college is all about.” Here, here, Jim. You have a good attitude. We are working with young adults who are finding their way in this world, and who, unlike most of us in our college days, have any number of methods to shout out to the world. They are human, and yes, they are bound to make some mistakes. I’m glad to see that TCU allows the student-athletes to learn from their mistakes.
I was most impressed with Dave Rice, head coach of the men’s basketball team at UNLV. He teaches his players to use social media for the positive. He wants his players to uplift their teammates, to talk about the great experience they are having at UNLV. He is cognisant of the risks and the possibility that certain issues may need to be addressed, but ultimately, and this is why I appreciate him the most, he says, “I really believe in the importance of empowering student-athletes, making it a part of the education process and really using social media in a positive way.”
Can I get a WOO HOO?!?! As a head coach or athletic director, you may fall in to Jim Boeheim’s camp and not have the first clue what social media is and how it works. But I hope that you will adopt the attitude of John Thompson III and understand that social media is a BIG part of our world and a way of life for the student-athletes you are responsible for fostering. Be like Kevin Willard and set reasonable policies and guidelines which allow the students to utilize these tools, but in appropriate ways and at appropriate times, with a desire to build good old fashion personalities and communication skills.
Be like Jim Christian and take a positive approach to these communication channels and work with your student-athletes to navigate difficult speed bumps so they can survive the experience and learn from their mistakes.
Finally, and most importantly, lead with integrity, like Dave Rice and provide a foundation of trust in your athletes. Encourage them to develop good communication skills, craft good content and use social media for social good. It can be done. Educating and uplifting your students with supportive social media guidelines is absolutely essential in creating the best student-athlete experience. You’ll develop young adults with good character who care about their online profiles and take care to manage their reputation. Well-rounded and socially confident student-athletes better represent the university and are more motivated to be good representatives.
Who do you most identify with in this video? What attitude has your university adopted?