Social Media Deserves More of Your Attention

Social media has graduated into the lives of adults and professionals. Skype is not just for webcamming teenagers, but also for business people on conference calls. Google Wave took the best parts of social media like Facebook, and combined them into a massive collaborative workspace. CEOs and professional athletes use Twitter and skilled employees look for work on LinkedIn. For some organizations, leveraging social media is not just a component of a marketing or business plan, it is the plan.

Most sport organizations and coaches are aware of social media and even use them to communicate with members. Others still need to catch up.

How can social media benefit me or my organization?
It depends on how you want to use social media and what you want it to do. You need to be aware of both the limitations and the conventions of social media. For example, if you decide to use Facebook to provide updates about your organization – you should create a Fan Page rather than a Group. Posts to a Fan Page appear on a user’s news feed – but posts to a Group do not.

For an organization, the safest and most introductory way to use social media to your benefit would be as a tool for the promotion of opportunities, events, and competitions.

Since young athletes most frequently use social media to communicate, coaches should be available to interact with them on their preferred medium. A player may prefer to raise an important bullying issue with a coach on MSN rather than face-to-face. Coaches cannot be effective if they are communicating on a fundamentally different level than their athletes.

How can social media harm me or my organization?

It is unlikely that members who do not adapt to social media will be left ‘out of the loop’ – but your organization risks losing contact with the members (and the young people) who have graduated beyond e-mail. The rapid rise of text messages and social media has meant that the traditional e-mail process is no longer the fastest or even preferred method of communicating.

Coaches also risk being overwhelmed by social media. How best can a coach reach all team members at the same time? E-mail? Facebook? Twitter? Text messages? Instant messages? A phone call? Perhaps the coach could send brief instant messages to the players who were online, send a text message to the players who were not online, call the players who do not have text messaging capability, and send an email to everyone with more details. What a busy coach!

Social media has been blamed for contributing to unprofessional relationships between some coaches and athletes. When two people communicate online, they will often reveal details about themselves that they would not quickly reveal in face-to-face communication. This phenomenon is called hyper-personal communication.

Two consequences can result from hyper-personal communication. First, the coach may take offense to the apparent lack of communication skills by the player. But some social media interactions are not meant to be considerate – they are meant to simply convey the bare essentials of what the person wants to say.

Second, the coach and athlete may begin to interact without being consciously aware of the boundaries that should exist in the coach-athlete relationship. An MSN conversation could start by talking about directions to an arena, but may quickly turn into a conversation about playing time, with the coach then revealing his or her personal views about other players on the team.

How can I manage social media?

Most sports organizations already have policies relating to the conduct of their members. But these policies should be updated to include social media. This could be as simple as adding an extra bullet point on a pre-existing code of conduct to require the membership to properly and responsibly use social media when interacting with players, parents, and other members.

Organizations should not attempt to limit, prevent, or otherwise hinder their membership from using social media. First, such a policy would be nearly unenforceable. Second, social media is the way that some people (especially young people) communicate. Attempting to place restrictions on social media use is a surefire way to alienate or lose members.

It is worthwhile for a coach to have a policy – or at least personal guidelines – for how he or she will use social media when interacting with team members and parents. When discussing or sending introductory team information, coaches should also include a note about how players and parents can communicate with the coaching staff. The note could read:

“Coach is familiar with text messages, Facebook, and Twitter, but he prefers talking on the phone. Coach does not have MSN and most team communication will be done via e-mail.”

Parents would therefore be aware that some coach-athlete interactions may take place outside of traditional communication spheres.

A Question of Currency
If you are an administrator in a sport organization – you risk losing members if you have a reluctance or inability to enter these communication spheres. If you are a coach – you risk being labeled as someone who does not understand how to communicate with your athletes.

This is not to say that you, as an organization or individual, need to be completely saturated with each new social medium or method of communicating. New generations will always have slang terms and mannerisms that are purposely created to confuse and exclude adults. But social media no longer falls into the ‘stuff I don’t need to understand’ category. It is not a passing fad exclusively for young people. You need to turn your attention to social media to make sure that both you and your organization remain current.

Originally published: Centre for Sport and Law Newsletter (2010) Vol. 6(1)

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