To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

There are some who question whether Twitter should be considered a legitimate outlet for news. Certainly it is a great communication tool when news is breaking, but the trouble is knowing whether the source is reliable and interpreting the 140 characters without punctuation. Is it a reliable news source, what makes it more credible than any other form of social media?

Of course it is up to the individual who they follow on Twitter, if anyone. Certainly some television stations have much higher opinions of their employees reading autocue than the viewers, as they actively promote their twitter handles.

Since Twitter came into being there have been a number of top athletes who have landed themselves in hot water with ill-advised and ill-timed tweets that have resulted in fines or suspensions.

Rugby Union had not written anything into their player contracts in 2011 when and injured Digby Ioane playing for the Queensland Reds tweeted “the worst ref ever” but removed the tweet moments later.

Swimmer Stephanie Rice was in trouble in 2010 for a tweet that was deemed homophobic after the Wallabies beat the Springboks. She was reported to be dating Wallaby Quade Cooper at the time.

Overseas and Ozzie Guillen, the manager for the Chicago White Sox, got ejected from a baseball game. Immediately he foolishly started tweeting about it. He called his ejection ‘pathetic’ and said that the umpire was a ‘tough guy.’He was suspended for two games.

Ex-San Diego Charger and New York Jet Antonio Cromartie was fined $2,500 for criticising the food given to him and his teammates on Twitter. Some felt that this was really taking things to extremes.

While English footballer Joey Barton is renowned for inappropriate tweets, in fact he has made more of a name for doing that than playing.

While Toronto-based sportscaster Damian Goddard was fired for tweeting his opinion on same-sex marriage.

SBS sports presenter Scott McIntyre was sacked by the broadcaster for posting a series of comments about Anzac Day on his Twitter account that were described as “inappropriate and disrespectful”.

The last two had nothing to do with the role that either carried out at work, and were their personal opinions, but it cost both their job. Proving that in television it is OK to have an opinion as long as it is one shared by the masses, or your employer.

When it comes to sporting clubs and players and promoting their brand, the use of social media and Twitter has to be a part of an over-arching plan. For that plan to be successful use of social media, especially Twitter needs both discipline and careful management. It needs to be treated like any other marketing activity, monitored closely to find out what days and what tweets have the most engagement.

Many sports stars now have someone tweet on their behalf. So too do many sporting organisations and teams. Politicians too employ someone to tweet on their behalf, these people, the modern day ghost writers of what used to be a newspaper column, when people read newspapers, and newspapers carried news. These people have the ability to stick to marketing script. Once individuals are left to tweet or post their own thoughts the risk of the over-riding marketing plan being de-railed becomes higher. New US President Donald Trump has opted to type his own tweets, and some would question the wisdom of that and whether it is appropriate for a head of state to share his thoughts in 140 characters.

No matter the social media policies imposed on players and coaches in modern day sport there continue to be almost every month someone from the world of sport who has made an error of judgement in terms of what they have tweeted. If we are to believe others someone else tweeted and they had no idea.

These individuals are lambasted, fined, suspended forced to make a public apology and sometimes lose their jobs.

Ultimately they must be held accountable, but is the world of Twitter fair?

While many players are fined for airing their thoughts in 140 characters, other employees are happy to resort to social media and share information with the public. Yet by putting a disclaimer such as “These are my own opinions and not those of my employer,” it is supposedly fine. Yet if a player, a coach or a journalist did the same they can still be fined, suspended or sacked.

Sadly Twitter has become a tool by which many CEOs believe they can gain credibility or the ‘cool factor.’Not our words but a phrase coined by Social media experts. Market research has shown that a large number of CEOs have resorted to Twitter under the impression that they are on par with the likes of the late Steve Jobs or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, but sadly to many their views are not nearly as insightful or innovative.

The twitter world is definitely a strange one, and one that makes you feel sorry for the communication managers at sporting organisations. They are trying to put out a uniform message via the print, radio, television and digital media outlets. The social media landscape is forever changing and one platform is in for six months and then replaced by another. You want to use the profile of popular players to pull in new fans to the games, and to buy associated merchandise, but how far can you control their social media output? On a match day you hire people to tweet and update social media during the match. Yet you cannot control all the staff within the organisation. It is nigh on impossible. One ambiguous, although innocently intended tweet can steal the attention away from the on pitch performance. The media manager has to try and brief the players and the coach prior to the post match press conference as to how to respond if questioned on this. Not surprisingly they will be fuming that something has detracted from their playing performance. On the way home they then tweet about journalists trying to stir up trouble. It is a viscous circle.

So does Twitter really serve a constructive purpose in the sporting world?

Sure, there are some humorous ones that crop up every now and again, but most of the tweets that gain massive exposure are ones where an official or a coach has been given both barrels by a player, or someone has said something they have later regretted.

There is no doubt that Twitter is here to stay, but how do clubs manage it properly and control the output of all? Should they not even worry about such controls and take the view that any publicity is good publicity and pay any fine incurred by a player or coach for an inappropriate Tweet? As it will result in people talking about the club.

Regrettably many believe Twitter is the one platform that will raise their profile, which in turn will bring them more sponsorship dollars. Players’ personal managers will tell them they must keep feeding the masses as more followers means more dollars. Yet the masses will only react when there is something that grabs their attention.

Sadly in the big scheme of things most sportsmen and women have a long way to go to match the public figures with the highest number of Twitter followers in 2016. Cristiano Ronaldo was the highest sportsperson globally coming in 10th with 36million. The next highest athlete was Brazilian footballer Kaka with 24 million followers, and Le Bron James was 29th with 22 million followers.(Source:Forbes) While in Australia the highest sportsman on Twitter in 2016 in terms of followers was Shane Warne and he came in 13th with 2.88million. Brett Lee was second at 23rd with 1.87million and a great many of those from India, and Michael Clarke was third with 1.69million followers. Mark Webber is the highest ranked non-cricketer coming in at 34th one place behind David Warner with 1.26million followers. What is amazing here is the top four athletes are all retired. So is their influence greater now than when they were playing?

The fact that sportspeople do not rank that high may not be such a big deal, as the sphere of influence is shifting.

How much is a Twitter account really worth in terms of sponsorship dollars and is it worth the effort of keeping those followers constantly amused?

The fact is that the landscape has changed. Brands in Australia who pay influencers – high profile tweeters – to promote their products on social media have just four weeks to start disclosing it. Brands that fail to disclose when money or products have changed hands may be in breach of a new provision in the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) Code of Ethics, which comes into play on March 1 2017. The new guidance from the AANA also covers traditional media and includes product placement and advertorials.

The key here is according to the AANA “Does the marketer have a reasonable degree of control over the material; and does the material draw the attention of the public in a manner calculated to promote a product or service?”

Not only that but the times they are a changing in other ways too. In the past the natural instinct was for brands to align themselves to an influencer with the largest following. The theory being the bigger the influence, the greater the reach. However this was no guarantee for success. The reason given was because in today’s world the real influence actually comes from a sense of authenticity. This is refreshing to hear. What it means is that a person who stays true to their own beliefs and values, and in turn, promotes a product that reflects those values is far more influential. The experts in this field have recently proved that ‘micro influencers (those with 500 to 10,000 followers) generate greater engagement that those with a larger audience.’

What this means is that consumers are more likely to trust someone with a smaller social media reach than a high profile celebrity, because that person is a respected authority on a particular subject. It is now more important and more effective marketing to work with a person whose public persona fits the product or campaign rather than simply linking up with the most popular.

Since the dawn of social media there are two words that have become regrettably passe, they are ‘respect’ and ‘responsibility.’ The best advise for any athlete, coach, journalist or employee of a sporting club is to remember that they are responsible for what they post or tweet. No one else, even if they employ someone to tweet on their behalf. It is the team, the player, the individual who is ultimately responsible for the message that is conveyed under their name or logo. With that responsibility comes respect. It is OK to have an opinion, and freedom of speech and of having a differing opinion should never be quashed, but it is important that those views are aired in a respectful way. Especially if you want to make money as an influencer!

To Tweet or Not to Tweet?
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