A recent survey of college athletics communicators found that 11 percent have had to delete social media posts by athletes or coaches over 15 times in the last year. The added burden of monitoring personal brands in addition to the school’s brand is becoming a distraction to athletic departments. This distraction produces three basic reactions: ban student athletes from using social media, ignore and hope they don’t mess up, or train student athletes and coaches to use social media on behalf of the school to promote the brand. Even though the latter is used by few, many schools are starting to see the long term advantages of training student-athletes to use social media to engage fans, as well as develop their own personal brands.
Be an Educator First, Policeman Second
The University of Washington understands the power of high profile student-athletes on social media. According to Daniel Hour, Manager of New Media and Recruiting Services for UW Athletics, the Huskies have a student-athlete social media policy that stresses best practices and rewards athletes who excel on social channels with a preferred status, Twitter hashtag, and department promotion of their posts.
“#FeaturedAthletes is a UW-specific program that rewards social media savvy student-athletes with a custom twitcon, custom background, and heavy promotion from @UWAthletics online and in-game,” he said. “This benefits UW because it allows an administrator like myself, to come in to a student-athlete meeting with something to actually offer the athlete, instead of a 30-minute lecture on what not to do. In turn, they actually listen and respond.”
Hour said the program was an alternative to what UW saw a lot of other schools doing—just giving students a list of rules, or prohibiting them from going on Twitter at all. It was their belief that social media, when used properly, could be an advantage in recruiting, marketing, team chemistry, and the student-athlete’s personal brand.
Hour says he also speaks to the athletes on a team-by-team basis and shows them actual examples of how athletes have lost reputations, endorsement deals, been kicked out of the Olympics, and other assorted downsides of acting irresponsibly on social media.
“We are here to educate, and we understand that 18 to 22 year olds will make mistakes. It’s our job to educate them so that they are able to learn from those mistakes,” he said.
A recent survey by Fieldhouse Media suggested that nearly one in five student athletes already use social media to network for internships or jobs. Training student athletes to use social media as a personal branding tool connects directly to the athletic department mission of educating and preparing students for the next stage of life. Many schools offer life skills courses on job seeking and career placement—social media marketing is a natural fit to accompany these skills.
In order to survive student athletes on social media, why not take a page from the Huskies’ playbook and harness the power of their personal brands to engage your fan base, and help them develop good life skills at the same time? It is an investment, but it’s much more in line with the university’s overall mission than police work. If you need help finding a curriculum to train your student athletes to use social media responsibly, check out our Practice Safe Social workshop here.
Be sure and see the first two in the series on surviving student athletes in social media: