A show of hands from those that really understand the power of social media. Anyone? How about those that ever dreamed the likes of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Texting, and YouTube would be such a major component in all our lives? One friend, 10 followers, 100 subscribers, 1000 links. For a society so challenged by interpersonal communication, we’re actually more connected and instantly in tune than ever before.
Back in the day
Consider news of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln (April 15, 1865) was carried by ship and reported in the London Times on April 27, 1865. Gold was discovered in California in January 1848, but the gold rush did not really start until an article appeared in the New York Herald on August 19th. During its 18 months of operation, the Pony Express reduced the time for messages to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to about ten days, with telegraphic communication covering about half the distance across the continent and mounted couriers the rest.
The movement of information sent man to the moon and brought down brutal dictatorships. And now, in less than 140 characters, a minute and a half of digital video, or a “viral” posting of likes or dislikes, careers can be catapulted or collapsed. There are boundless opportunities with the spread of an idea or cause that can turn both ways with positive and negative reaction. What used to be construed as personal thoughts, ideas, and opinions are no longer that when openly disseminated. These immediately become public property, subject to any and all interpretation.
Don’t tarnish the brand
The National Football League has doggedly worked to build and maintain the strength of its “brand” over the past two decades. We cheer for our teams and support our favorite players, but the strength of the NFL is in its unity of purpose. “Do nothing to tarnish the shield.” In the past, organizations shutoff players and staff from interacting with print and television media to control the message. Coaches or General Managers would act as the single spokesperson for the pulse of the club. A few star players would answer questions after the game or during the week, but rare was it to know the thoughts and feelings of the 3rd team tight end.
Not anymore. Social Media has built a conduit between fans, ownership, coaches, front office management, players and the media that is an ever changing and constant flow of communication. For the NFL, the protector of the shield, it’s a continual nightmare of oversight.
NFL Social Media Policy
Here’s the actual Social Media policy from the League Office;
League policy allows for the use of social media or networking sites (including Twitter and Facebook) by players, coaches and football operations personnel up to 90 minutes before kickoff and after the game following media interviews. The use of these sites by these individuals is not permitted during the game, including halftime. No updates are permitted to be posted by the individual himself or anyone representing him during this prohibited time on his personal Twitter, Facebook or any other social media account.
This rule is set to safeguard the NFL’s most precious commodity, the GAME itself. But limits and boundaries will always be pushed and the National Football League, along with its individual clubs, is still exploring its rights to controlling the “free speech” of players and employees. There’s the all inclusive “conduct detrimental” clause that encompasses a myriad of damaging behaviors and I would leave it at that, outside of the above stated policy.
NFL clubs would be better served to pass on the same marketing strategies and tactics that built the most successful professional sports brand in America to their players. Hands on education, developmental guidance, implementation, and review will not only help strengthen the mass appeal of players to the fans, but also maintain the status of clubs and the League in the public eye. I’m assuming some teams are more proactive than others in assisting their players with a comprehensive and well thought out Social Media Plan. Those that do are already one step ahead of the game.
Those that don’t are missing a key opportunity in the communication process between the organization and its players. It’s hard to imagine a time when we weren’t dealing with Social Media issues in professional sports, but the medium is truly in its infancy and many of the parenting techniques have yet to be figured out. So why not control a potentially volatile vehicle of exchange with a positive spin for both the player and club. Use this chance to send the message directly to the fans by building a personal “brand” they WANT to identify with, and beat the Pony Express at its own game – Getting the word out.