Social Media sports scandals: can they be prevented?

By April 24, 2012

Yet another social media sports scandal was recently sparked by Connor Brown’s  Twitter outburst. As the subject received vast media coverage and is trending on social media, Sheffield United’s reputation comes under threat.

Social media gives sportsmen the chance to use their own words and to talk about their off-the-field interests. An Athlete’s social media popularity enhances both their own individual brand image and that of the club. Wayne Rooney has 3,926,302 followers on Twitter, his tweets ranging from his play and the latest football news to his food preferences. Although his profile doesn’t show the club logo anymore, his followers are primarily Manchester United supporters.

Social media can bring huge PR benefits to sports clubs and it is no wonder that a club’s PR managers are encouraging sportsmen to start tweeting.  But this is not always positive: any social-media gaffe an athlete makes will have consequences on his reputation and on the reputation of his club.

Connor Brown is not the first sportsman to get in trouble because of his Twitter activity. Among other high-profile cases are Olympic swimmer Stephanie Rice’s offensive tweet or Ryan Babel’s charge for Twitter misconduct.  These cases and many others have made management teams aware of the risks of social media.  In this context, Sheffield United’s reaction must be applauded for its swiftness and decisiveness but the question remains: can these incidents be prevented and, if so, how?

Obviously the first measure is making sports professionals fully aware of the possible consequences of their social media activity. In preparation for the London Games,  the Australian Olympic Committee prepared a social media workshop in which 1200 Australian athletes  watched Stephanie Rice’s tearful apology.  In the United States the National Hockey League took more drastic measures and banned players from using social media on game days. But neither Rice’s tweet nor Brown’s were directly related to their gameplay. In truth, short of banning sportsmen entirely from using social media, NHL’s measure can’t possibly cover all instances in which a sportsman would or could post an inappropriate comment.

In addition to educating sportsmen and women, clubs could also monitor their athletes’ social media accounts to pro-actively intercept liable comments. Connor Brown’s tweets were issued in the context of a larger online discussion around Ched Evans’ conviction. Should the club  have monitored Brown’s tweets, they could have had him delete his first tweet and stop him from issuing other liable comments. Putting up ‘strategic listening’ searches around potentially controversial topics can save clubs and sports associations much trouble in the future.

CrowdControlHQ focuses on social media risk management and monitoring. Our software makes the time-consuming task of social media monitoring a lot more efficient. We work with organisations across a variety of sectors that all have a common aim – to keep their online reputation protected while getting all the benefits of social media. We are always happy to talk about the risks of social media and how we can help you stay protected, so don’t hesitate to contact us.

Adam Desmond, @CrowdControlHQ