athletes on twitterLast night I was asked to appear on the Canadian radio show Calgary Today to discuss the storm that broke around a tweet made by football player Nik Lewis.  His tweet read:

I just bought OJ’s gloves on eBay. Now all I need is a white girl named Nicole. #maybealittletoofar

Rather predictably it didn’t go down too well, with his club demanding he delete the tweet and fining him for his trouble.  Of course such misdemeanours are far from uncommon, with barely a week going by where an athlete doesn’t say the wrong thing on Twitter.

It all suggests that clubs, and indeed the management of the players, are not doing a very good job in managing what players say online.  Here are five tips to help them do better.

  1. Have a purpose – Athletes are on Twitter, that much is a given.  It’s not enough for you to have a social media policy and think that will do the trick.  Players don’t consult that before tweeting, it’s more a stream of consciousness thing.  So the first step is you need to have a clear purpose for what you want to achieve on Twitter as a club, and then how players can help with that.
  2. Provide training - This is important because it shouldn’t focus on what not to do.  Instead it should focus on the things you want them doing online.  This all goes back to the purpose you identified earlier.  Figure out how the athletes can help you achieve that purpose and then provide extensive training on how they go about that.
  3. Monitor, monitor, monitor – This stage serves a dual purpose.  You have your purpose defined, so you need to track performance to see whether that’s being achieved or not.  That’s the first key element of monitoring what your stars are doing online.  The second is that you see how they’re doing and can catch any cock-ups before they get out of hand.  The Nik Lewis tweet went un-noticed for around 24 hours before the situation blew up.  If someone had been monitoring that it could have been deleted long before it became an issue.
  4. Say well done – If you want to encourage the right kind of behaviours then nothing is as beneficial as a simple compliment.  Japanese research showed recently that a compliment activates the same area of the brain as a pay rise, so make sure you compliment your stars when they do a great job online.  You want to encourage the right behaviour to become a habit, so make sure you say thank you and well done.  It’s also important not to over-react when mistakes are made.  Athletes are human like the rest of us, so mistakes will happen.  Learn from them and move on.
  5. Rinse and repeat – You’ll have a decent idea by now how things are going, but the sporting world is a transient one.  Players come and go so you’ll need to constantly learn from the past and ensure that you’re constantly improving.  You have your purpose and you’re measuring performance, so you can easily see if things are working or not, and can then adjust things accordingly.

Social media is a wonderful way for athletes to engage with fans, and there’s a real risk that clubs simply ban players from participating.  I think that’d be a real shame as it has so much potential for good.  Of course mistakes will happen, as people are only human, but if you follow these five steps you’ll be taking a more proactive approach to the whole situation.