Without Understanding Twitter, Teams & Athletes Are Finding Trouble

Without Understanding Twitter, Teams & Athletes Are Finding Trouble

(editors note: I’m re-posting from my personal Posterous blog. Originally published August 18, 2010 here)

Even those less familiar with emerging best practices and ideal social media etiquette have surely heard the similar but controversial takes on privacy from  Google’s Eric Schmidt and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. The bottom line is: “Now, we all live in public“. But in my experience testing social applications, most consumers are still terrified of the implications of any comment or “like” appearing on their Facebook pages and still can’t imagine why anyone would “want to know what I had for breakfast.”

On the other hand, as Twitter’s traffic and use continues their rapid ascent, others are diving in head first. It comes naturally to extroverts and self promoters and it’s a dream come true for narcissists. But either way, it’s changed all the rules. As Techcrunch’s Mike Arrington said, “Reputation Is Dead: It’s Time To Overlook Our Indiscretions.”

Which brings us to Lebron James. Sure, the extremely ill-advised “Decision” (both figuratively and literally) was enough to turn the overwhelming majority of fans against him, but James continues to paint himself a villain through his Twitter feed. No Tweet more damning than this one.

Don’t think for one min I haven’t been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone! – @KingJames

Lebron has openly stated his ambition to become a billionaire, trying to emulate Michael Jordan’s career and take it a notch or two higher. But Michael Jordan had a meticulously managed personal brand and Lebron’s tweets are incredibly damaging to his own brand. Between calling out the fans that pay his salary and proving incomparably narcissistic in referring to himself in the 3rd person, Lebron’s Tweeting is self-immolating.

So it’s no surprise that there were suggestions that Nike had “muzzled” Lebron at a recent Team USA event. Or that Charles Barkley called Lebron “a punk” (and as a quick aside, can someone get Barkley onto Twitter? That would be a match made in heaven). Just how big a hit has Lebron’s brand taken?

This is no isolated incident. While everyone remembers Gilbert Arenas getting suspended for a gun related crime, very few remember that the suspension, and it’s severity, were largely triggered by Arenas’ bizarre and remorseless Tweetsin the days following. Had Arenas not taken to Twitter, you can be sure that his suspension would have much shorter and something more fitting his crime (which a judge deemed not worthy of jail time). Arenas reputation, and his bank account, wouldn’t have taken nearly as large a hit without his Tweeting.

Or Michael Beasley’s Twitpic that had a bag of marijuana in the background that landed him in rehab. I could go on…

Despite these public embarrassments, Twitter use continues unchecked by most athletes as both professional sports teams and college athletic departments figure out the fine line between embracing the benefits and restricting its use.

Last week, Boise State’s Chris Peterson became the first NCAA football coach to ban players from Tweeting in season. And while he’s the first, he certainly won’t be the last. From Fanhouse’s Clay Travis:

So why haven’t more coaches moved to restrict players from Twitter?

Because most head coaches don’t yet understand social media or the massive audience that is consuming that social media. It’s a different generation than their own. Megadonors aren’t asking them about Twitter at booster meetings. Yet one minute after a player posts something unique on his Facebook status, it’s posted on the team message boards and analyzed by anonymous fans.

Again, the potential impact is both large and present in full, but it’s not well understood. As I mentioned in a previous post, when we figure how best to leverage social media for sports, the impact will be tremendous. But we aren’t there yet, and sports teams and athletes need to get smart on social media in short order because there will inevitably be more damaging and career-limiting Tweets to come.