Has Social Media Killed Sports PR?
As we begin 2011, little more can be
said about the power of social media.
Explaining how Twitter and Facebook connect people like never before is
like explaining to someone that the sky is blue. But perhaps the most continually fascinating thing about
this new social media reality is how it connects celebrities and their fans.
The implications of this connectivity touches a special nerve with professional athletes, their teams and the communicators those teams employ. In the past athletes were larger than life personalities, often removed from their fans and guarded by their handlers. The stereotypical image of a “PR Guy” for sports teams during this period was a stiff in a suit who would cover up the wild partying and indiscretions of athletes before the media latched on.
The athletes of today are drastically different. On Twitter, athletes like Shaquille O'Neill and Chad Ochocinco command large audiences of followers of their random thoughts and opinions. No longer silent, the athletes of today speak their minds. Sometimes, they say too much. Fans revel in this new closeness with their idols, now able to see these superstars as real people. Sports leagues, on the other hand, are wary of this uncontrolled discourse, and most are drafting social media policies.
So will Twitter be the end of Sports PR?
Hardly. True public relations is founded on honesty and transparency. Communicators should stop attempting to censor the opinions and ideas of athletes over social media. Rather, they should strive to educate them on the importance of their team and league image, and teach core social media etiquette.
The key messages public relations professionals should communicate to their athletes:
· The jersey you wear defines you, you define the jersey you wear: from the moment they are signed the reputation of team and player are linked.
· Basic media relations: a brief workshop regarding what is newsworthy and controversial will go a long way.
· History: the history of social media is brief, but there are many cautionary examples of athletes getting in trouble on Twitter.
· Personal branding: a common workshop in many professions, the importance of building a beneficial online self.
Communication, both internal and external, works best when it is integrated amongst departments. This includes all employees, especially the athletes. Including them in the communication process will aid their understanding of team image and lessen their chances of embarrassing missteps.
Controlling the online presence of athletes is not realistic. Like it or not, athletes have the power to voice their thoughts in public, and the media has access to every word of it. Rather than focusing on what cannot be controlled, an effective PR practitioner will change the way he approaches his craft. Social media will not kill public relations; rather, public relations will adapt. The role of communicators in sports is changing, but has never been more valuable.