SM 102: Social Media for (UNC) Jocks

(CC) flickr // benuski

Last week, the University of North Carolina rolled out a new social media. Instead of increasing access to student athletes, the policy has coaches and/or administrators serving as the social media director for their team (read more here & here). Seems a bit extreme pulling folks more astute with X’s and O’s and game planning to monitoring 140 character messages.

Aside from tapping our resident sports guys, we also tapped into the psyche of a pair of UNC alumni to see what they thought of this new plan. For those of you counting at home, there are four contributors to this post, a first for PRBC.

True Engagement
Rebecca Denison – Class of ’09

I spent four years walking around campus just hoping I’d get to catch a glimpse of guys like Tyler Hansbrough and Danny Green. At Carolina, tests and presentations were often rescheduled because the team had made it to the next round of the tourney. I will forever bleed blue and cheer for Roy’s boys.

When guys like Marcus Ginyard started to join Twitter, I was thrilled because it was probably the best way for me to get to know UNC players and show the team support. Censoring and monitoring these guys only takes away the authentic interaction they have with fellow classmates who may not get the chance otherwise. Yeah, that sounds a bit lame, but wouldn’t you want to interact with a basketball legend one-on-one if you could?

Beyond this loss of authenticity, the spirit behind the new rules is also an issue. UNC’s undergraduate journalism program is considered one of the best in the country, and to have the school’s athletic department enact a policy like this is just plain embarrassing.

Unofficial Ambassadors
Aven James – UNC Class of ’06

UNC recently unveiled an updated social media policy that has been called “harsh” – and while the UNC alum in me might agree, the B2B PR pro has to admit the policy just makes good business sense.  And let’s be honest – isn’t college athletics really a business these days?

Though I admittedly haven’t seen the whole policy, it addresses a number of issues we’d advise a client to touch on:

●        Responsibility & Good Judgment: Student athletes, whether they like it or not, are representatives of their University.  As such, they need to exercise good judgment when posting on public forums and refrain from comments that could negatively impact the “organization.”  And the “organization” needs to pay attention to what’s being said.

●        Audience: Students and fans are an important audience for UNC athletics.  They’re the “consumer;” the buyer of UNC’s “product.”  Therefore, UNC has a responsibility to consider what posts/comments might alienate its fan base.  

●        Consequences: A sound social media policy should address the consequences for “bad behavior.”  UNC has experienced first-hand the risks associated with social media and they’ve created a policy that, they hope, will mitigate them.

All that being said, the devil is always in the details.  With the ability to monitor and even remove posts, UNC could take the policy too far – and if they do so, miss out on an opportunity to engage its fan base via social media.

Pro v. Student
Mike Schaffer

Congratulations, NCAA! The University of North Carolina has helped you further blur the line between enrolled student and paid employee. In Chapel Hill a coach or administrator will be monitoring players’ social media accounts for violations. Yes, that’s a public university chipping away at the students’ individual rights – sounds a little fishy to me.

How much control over a person does their university have over them? Should they have access to student-athletes’ social media accounts, as the policy demands?  And why just student athletes? What about student government, student media or student workers? Seems like the college is flexing their muscles to protect their revenue generating assets.

Do you actually think the star point guard will be judged on the same scale as the back-up women’s coxswain?

I’m all for educating players on how to be on their best behavior online, on the field and in daily life. However, the UNC plan, as it’s been presented, is all about “Big Brother Watching.”

Learning is Learning
Jeff Esposito

It may sound crazy, but this policy is a good thing. While my co-contributors raise some valid objections, they are missing the silver lining in this grey cloud. College is a place for kids to get an education and foundation for a future career. Sure some of the players affected by this new policy will play with balls for a living, but the vast majority of the student athletes will not.

Either way, they need to learn the professional implications of being a dumbass on social media. We’ve all heard horror stories of people getting fired and some of us even monitor what is being said about a company online and may see dumb things posted co-workers.

Sure getting to know these athletes may be cool, but they are representatives of a brand. How many brand reps do you know that really give 100% behind the scenes access? Twitter is big business and if that means some big brother so be it.

The athletes who do turn pro will have stricter regulations from their respective leagues. Just as Chad Ochocinco how much a tweet can cost.

Well there you have our in-house experts’ perspectives. What do you think of the issue?

Aven James

Rebecca, Mike, and Jeff are PRBC regulars.  You can get their contact info and details, as always, right here.  Aven James, a first time PRBC contributor, is a Senior Account Executive at Bliss PR (yes, Elizabeth Sosnow’s firm – another PRBC regular) where she focuses on media relations in the B2B and professional services sector.

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  • Like Rebecca, I attended UNC and was in awe of many of our student athletes and for this very reason, I’m okay with these new guidelines. You must admit that these student athletes aren’t “just another student enrolled at UNC.” They’re role on their respective teams puts them on a pedestal that is very much in the national spotlight and they, in turn become ambassadors of the school. I’m not sure if anyone has followed many of the basketball players but, while their tweets seem innocent enough to them and many students, they have the potential of reflecting very poorly on the team, the athletic department, and the university as a whole, which nobody wants to happen.

    While giving the coaches/administrators “access to their accounts” does seem a little sketchy, the general idea of having someone monitor what’s being said isn’t that outrageous. Something said on Twitter can easily have as far of a reach as a comment made in a post game news conference these days, as blogs like Deadspin and The Big Lead will post it on their front page for their entire communities to see and, inevitably, poke fun at. Just as a player would receive teaching on how to handle news conferences, they should also receive guidance on whether what they’re tweeting is appropriate.

    Ultimately, I think more universities will be heading in this direction just as more and more businesses are beginning to create social media policies and guidelines. This doesn’t have to be a restrictive action, rather one that gives people the freedom to operate within the guidelines and help them understand what the appropriate way to represent your university or business is.

    Jackie Adkins
    UNC Class of ’09

  • Anonymous

    Great points Jackie. I wouldn’t be surprised to see schools do that in the future either. One way to get around this and make it a win could be to have the sports information departments make fan pages for top players or offer a player a month to reply to folks on a site like FB or Twitter.

  • Jackie, I am so glad you weighed in on this! I knew you’d have a good opinion on this.

    I can see your point about these superstar athletes being representatives of the school, and to that point, it does make sense to monitor their conversations or their tweets to ensure they’re putting a good image out there. By the same token, I think giving them stronger guidelines instead of a watchdog might be more effective. In this way, it would be very similar to how many businesses ask employees to be mindful of their own conversations online when identifying themselves as an employee.

    I agree that these players need more guidance as we all learn the ramifications of being more prominent online, but I think that allowing the coaches (or forcing the coaches) to take the watchdog role is going a step too far. It borders on censorship in my mind. there is a way to ask players to tone it down without giving away access to their accounts.

    You’re absolutely right that more schools will be headed in this direction, but I still think they shouldn’t take it quite so far. I like your idea of “freedom to operate within the guidelines.” Learning to represent yourself and a larger organization online has to be a learning process, and restrictive actions don’t teach that lesson.


  • I’m with you that “policing” the social accounts is a bit over the top, but it’s hard to judge that based on the little info we have (or at least the info I’ve seen) how restricting this policy is. I remember how initially everyone freaked out about ESPN’s social media policy last year, yet it turned out to be pretty reasonable. Either way though, you have to think that coaches aren’t the ones that are going to be too astute in correct ways to use social media, so you’re right, I’m not sure why they were deemed the best for this role other than their close relationships w/ the players.

    I like to think of these more as guidelines, but I can see how a university could very quickly go in the wrong direction by writing them up more as “rules and regulations.” That’s a good way to get student-athletes ticked off at you really quickly.

    My hope is that they’re actually taking the time to explain to the athletes why policies like this are important and helping them understand why they’ve decided it is necessary. Because if they don’t do this, the players will see it for what they believe it is, just more rules and regulations that they must follow as a student athlete.

  • Very interesting idea, Jeff. Definitely other ways to increase access to student athletes beyond Twitter or personal Facebook accounts. I think the trick in these alternatives is ensuring it comes off as authentic and not something that the athletic department just made the student-athlete do after practice one day.

  • Anonymous

    Well its all to be seen and authenticity is in the eye of the beholder.

  • How easily we forget… I’m glad you mention the original outcry against ESPN’s social media policy. In the end, this could be the same situation (and would I care as much if it weren’t my alma mater?). Either way, I agree the coaches just aren’t the best suited for this role, there should be SM consultants or something to help guide players in the online world.

    I really hope they do shape it as a learning opportunity and more of a professional growth thing than a “this is just how it’s gonna be” thing. The players may be more willing to listen and not feel resentment if they understand how they can apply these same concepts later in life.

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  • I really like what Rebecca said about authenticity being taken away with this policy. And she’s right, the coaches are likely being forced into these positions. Who’s to guarantee that they’ll even know the right way to “monitor” social media? It is censoring them, and not in a way that’s really protecting them from much of anything. UNC does have a phenomenal journalism program, and it’s really a shame that they have to be associated with something like this. While it is a business, they’re not conducting the business in a way that minimizes harm like journalistic ethics should.

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