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Tweet FA - The Pitfalls Of Social Media

Fri 20th Sep 2013 | IT & Technology

Football is littered with ill-advised tweets and Facebook posts that damage player and club reputations and threaten to bring the sport and the industry into disrepute.

Social media should be a refreshing way for players to talk directly to fans in a world away from the control of corporate communications teams and media training experts. For all the latest football odds, including the EPL, visit the online betting at williamhill today.

Unfortunately, things can go wrong. It took an apology from Ashley Cole to the FA to prevent a ban following his tweet in the aftermath of the FA’s independent panel decision to ban John Terry for his comments towards Anton Ferdinand. In 2011 Wayne Rooney attracted considerable negative publicity when he offered on Twitter to fight a Liverpool fan who abused him on the site. Social media can make people lose their inhibitions and post whatever comes to mind without thinking about the legal and reputation consequences of what they write.

Once they do realise, it is often too late as the damage has been done and what was perhaps an emotional knee-jerk response has been picked up by the mainstream media.

Employer responsibility

As an employer clubs also have a responsibility to ensure social media is not being used as a bullying or harassment tool by anyone within their organisation.

The law has struggled to keep up with the technology but most social media-derived defamation is libel, although chat within an online bulletin board is slander. The posting of a statement on Twitter or Facebook (or re-tweeting or sharing it) is considered publication for the purposes of the law. Any negative or suggestive comments could cost someone their job or land them in court.

Football clubs must also not misuse social media when recruiting staff. There is a temptation to trawl through someone’s personal Facebook page or twitter account to make background checks.

The reasons for such a search may be valid but an employer can face claims for discrimination. For example, a person’s sexuality or religious belief would not appear on an application form and only be revealed during an online search. The football club would have to prove at a tribunal the real reason for the decision not to employ someone.

Steven Van Belleghem is the author of The Conversation Manager and one of Europe’s thought leaders on word-of-mouth, conversations and social media. He says footballers took to Twitter because it was a powerful way to talk to fans, but the negative comments they started receiving made clubs realise the need for a social media strategy.

One of Van Belleghem’s clients is 120-year old Belgian team Club Brugge which has almost 100,000 Facebook fans and about 25,000 twitter followers.

“The club had to decide what content should be shared and what should not,” he says. “What works best is a combined approach that lets players tweet or post on Facebook alongside a more controlled set of messages agreed with the club.”

He believe clubs must not ban players or staff from posting because fans love the behind the scenes insights they get. One result of the high-profile Twitter disasters is that club PR officials have felt a need to take more control over their players’ accounts.

Yet this must be done sensitively, says Van Belleghem. “Twitter only works if the comments are personal. Supporters can tell if a posting has been made by a PR person because there is a lack of emotion. Some even tweet for players during a match which kind of gives the game away.”

Alex Sass, CEO of social media company HyperworldControl.com, is a ghost social media writer for top-flight footballers. He says it’s not about diluting a player’s true feelings but about ensuring any post is practical, considerate of sponsors and - when a player is tired after a match, well considered.

“Social media agents rarely propose opinion, just act as a very ‘rapid’ press office,” he says. “The thing to bear in mind is that in a position of celebrity, it’s hard to gain a full understanding of sentiment and context when you’re confronted with thousands of messages in a day. It’s helpful to have someone who is experienced in managing the flow (and therefore the sentiment) of communications.”

 Trouble triggers

Sean Walsh runs the social media and football blog Digital-Football.com and has developed an insight tool called Social Pundit (socialpundit.co.uk) which alerts clubs to any potentially harmful tweets.

It measures the use of more than 3,000 trigger words that might damage the brand and even picks up tweets that have been deleted by a player. The software also links with other tracking tools such as sentiment analysis, competitor tracking and the monitoring of marketing campaigns.

“However, simply tracking on its own will never properly rid clubs of social media problems so we help clubs to train, advise and educate players about the pitfalls,” says Walsh. “Many players eye a life in the media after football so social media is a great way to build their profile.”

Birmingham City uses the Social Pundit tool and has a club-wide social media policy with clear signs around its stadium buildings and training ground reminding everyone to ‘Think before you tweet’.

“The dos and don’ts of using social media also make up a large part of the annual media training session held with our second year academy scholars,” says Birmingham City’s Head of Media Andy Walker. “Certain scenarios are put to each young player during a mock press conference and feedback is given.”

He adds: “It’s not a case of us not trusting our players or staff but an innocent tweet could be taken out of context and create a bigger PR issue. There are also safety issues if a player is tweeting from his home and the comments are geo-tagged.”

The FA has a code of conduct for England players’ using social media, both when on duty with the national team and when playing for their clubs. Improper comments which are threatening, indecent, insulting or that bring the game into disrepute can trigger an FA charge. This could include an accusation on Twitter that a referee was biased or the re-tweeting of someone else’s improper comments.

Of course, many clubs see the positives of embracing social media once their safety and security policies are in place. Spanish giant Barcelona has about 43m Facebook ‘likes’ and uses the medium to build brand awareness and converse with fans around the world. The club is also investing in mobile and was the first team in Europe to optimise its stadium for match day social media communication.

Social media is here to stay and although rules need to be in place to ensure football clubs and their staff are protected, the opportunities the medium offers to strengthen business and fan relationships must not be overlooked.

Written by Steve Hemsley @stevehemsley

Taken from fcbusiness magazine issue 71

Posted by: Aaron Gourley

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