The use of social media in sport, especially by athletes, has been hotly debated since social media first appeared on the scene some seven years ago. The presiding question for PR practitioners has been how do we ensure that web 2.0 helps, not hinders, athletes and how do we control the seemingly uncontrollable nature of this technology. The answer is not a simple one, but I think it lies somewhere in the way we respond to such events, or more specifically, how we take a proactive rather than reactive approach.
There have been a number of social media scandals involving athletes, such as Stephanie Rice (pictured below) and Nick D’arcy, who took to their digital accounts with content which was considered to be inappropriate and in some cases, downright offensive. PR teams have worked on overdrive trying to minimize the impact of such blows to their brand and reputation, a difficult task considering the damage has already been done.
The AfL have recently considered adopting technology called ‘checker’ which allows them to track the social media movements of the players. The program would basically alert the clubs if their players used trigger words deemed to be inappropriate, working as a reactive tool for PR practitioners to use. To learn more about ‘Checker’ please follow the video link here.
The explosion of social media within sport has also prompted the majority of sporting organisations to adopt their own social media policies, guidelines which seek to pro-actively stop players from stepping outside the boundaries of appropriate social media conduct. A prime example is Melbourne Football Club’s policy which can be viewed here on their website. This is particularly relevant considering the recent poor performance by the club, causing a lot of negative backlash which players would be tempted to respond to via social media.
The London Olympics also saw a strong proactive stance taken by the IOC who introduced strict social media guidelines for not only athletes, but also volunteers. Resident Sports Geek, Sean, comments on this on ABC Grandstand radio, which can heard here.
For PR practitioners, it seems to be a hugely daunting task to control the social media activity of an athlete who can access the Internet from anywhere at any time, and can be targeted in the same manner. Although there is not clear cut answer to this problem, I think there is a lot to be said for the proactive approach, and ensuring that the issue is prevented rather than resolved.
It is highly important that as PR practitioners we teach athletes about the nature of social media and that what they say can literally reach billions of people all over the world. I think most of it comes down to common sense. Athletes such as Stephanie Rice would know what is and isn’t appropriate, it’s just a matter or teaching them to stop, and let their common sense catch up before they post something on social media.