Although most athletes today have used social media for years, many (their parents included) still don’t understand it’s immediate effect and potential repercussions well into the future. According to Karen North, a communications professor and director of digital social media at the University of Southern California, “What I say when I talk to athletes (student and professional) is, if you think it’s temporary, it’s permanent; and if you think it’s private, it’s public. It doesn’t matter if you delete it.”
For this month’s blog we wanted to enlist the help of an expert. PL Hade is a Social Media and Digital Safety expert who is also the moderator of @HSSocialMedia. We connected with him on twitter last month and he agreed to answer some questions to help write this blog in an effort to help our athletes to understand the gravity of what they’re doing on social media and to avoid snaps/posts/pics/retweets/gifs/favorites/likes that could jeopardize their goals and dreams.
Question 1: What are some general thoughts on the rise of social media and its impact on high school age students? Athletes?
Answer: Social Media has opened a world of possibilities for High School athletes to connect with specialists, with others playing their position and with college coaches. It also gives them access to academic experts, college admissions experts and a host of fans. Used well Social Media can become a program driver. Used poorly it can derail an athletic career.
Question 2: What are 2-3 of the common mistakes that players make?
Answer: The first mistake that players make is thinking that only their friends are going to see what they put out on social. Social media is a multiplier and one RT in Twitter or share in Instagram can add thousands of strangers who are looking at what you say. We’ll invite you to try that out. Tweet something out and tag @HSSocialMedia, we’ll RT. That adds about 70K potential people who will see what you sent out.
The second mistake is believing that what they send privately will stay private. Friendships fall apart, people get jealous and what the athlete privately sent to someone 4 years ago can suddenly reappear, even if they deleted the original. (People take screen shots.) Especially with sexting which has potentially huge legal consequences in most states athletes are vulnerable to ramifications years later.
For Football Players a huge mistake is to DM just Hudl links to a coach, recruiter or influencer with no introduction and no reason for the recipient to click on the link. It’s considered a sign of laziness; not something any college coach wants on their team or the impression you want to leave with people who can potentially help you.
Question 3: You recommend having the same name on all of your accounts? How does that go into building your brand?
Answer: The idea of a brand is that you can identify it and then you associate specific traits with the brand. That’s the reason that companies don’t change their logo. All you need is to see the swoosh and you know the brand is Nike. When you have the same name and profile picture on all your accounts that psychologically reinforces your presence and makes it easier for people to recognize you.
Question 4: Why should high school students care about “their brand”? What does that mean to them long term?
Answer: Long term whether you get accepted into a college, get offered a roster spot, are allowed to rent an apartment or get hired by an employer partially depends on who they think you are from your social background check. If you build a brand that implies that you: 1) Plan 2) Are organized 3) Are disciplined 4) Care about your image in the world. Those are all traits that will help you at each level of your athletic and academic career.
Question 5: What are some dangers with snapchat? recommendations?
Answer: The real danger with Snapchat is that people believe the Snaps actually disappear; they don’t. First they are stored in Snapchat’s server until all the recipients have opened the snap – that can be eternity. Each Snap is archived for a minimum of 24 hours and people can pay to look at them again. (Say you sent something that was questionable and someone who wanted your roster spot happened to know that, they can ask a recipient to send it to them and then take a screen shot. That screen shot may find its way into your Coaches DM.) Lastly, although Snapchat does not allow third party storage apps, those apps are out there and they are viable until Snapchat gets them taken down, which can take a while. And everyone can take screen shots before a Snap disappears.
Question 6: How can you harness social media for good? With your team? Within your school?
Answer: Social Media is one of the few ways that different groups in a school can actively support each other which enriches the entire school community. For a team social can be everything from a motivator to a way to quickly communicate changes in schedules.
Question 7: Just how permanent are your posts? What impact could that have?
Answer: The minute anything is out online, including in chat rooms, you have no control over what happens with that particular post, tweet, pic or vid. We have archives of tweets and posts that were deleted within 10 minutes of being put up. This year a sports announcer was fired a day after being hired because of a post that he put up more than 12 months prior to his getting the job. Recently a professional soccer player also had one day on the job before fans found tweets a friend had put on his account 3 years earlier; his very lucrative contract was cancelled. If you put it out there it has its own life and you have no idea when it will show up again.
While social media have possible pitfalls, athletes can also use them as vehicles to control their message, build brands and directly engage with fans. North said she believes the rewards of building a powerful social media presence outweigh the risks, if athletes treat each tweet as if it were being shared with a group of reporters at a press conference.