‘It can do irreparable harm’: the pitfalls of posting and trolls
New Zealand Rugby and Netball New Zealand are investing significant time in educating players on the dangers of social media, to both their image and careers.
NZ Rugby inducts all professional players the same way, which includes education around social media use – but after the induction stage a player must use their own initiative and keep it clean.
NZ Rugby’s head of professional rugby Chris Lendrum says as part of every professional contract there is an agreement that players mustn’t use social media in a way that could bring the game or the organisation into disrepute.
‘‘The collective states that social media posts are considered public statements and therefore subject to scrutiny; the basic premise being that they should not bring the game into disrepute by actions or comments.’’
Lendrum said the induction process covered how to use social media – the positive, negative, and ways to protect your image.
‘‘[Induction] ensures players are aware of the laws and we demonstrate how media use players’ social media accounts to form a story without ever speaking to a player. We remind them it’s important to remember that when they post, it’s public.
If you wouldn’t say it to your mum, don’t post it to the world. Kerry Manders, Netball NZ
‘‘So we do go over basic technical details such as how to manage privacy settings on their accounts and understand what is public and what is private. All of this is done in a fun and engaging way that engages young players.’’
Rugby players are to be mindful of what they post, especially if questioning a refereeing decision or their own team management. Criticising a referee would bring players under fire from World Rugby who can dish out heavy fines or suspension.
However, when it comes to personal lives, beliefs and opinions a player is entitled to publicise however they wish.
Massey University school of sport, exercise and nutrition lecturer Dr Ashleigh-Jane Thompson, said it was important for sporting institutions to place heavy emphasis on players’ use around social media.
‘‘For athletes, if used correctly, social media can be a powerful tool, allowing them to communicate with various stakeholders [fans, sponsors, media], providing opportunities to cultivate their image and increase their potential endorsement value.’’ However, when it’s used incorrectly it can do irreparable harm.
‘‘One of the main issues for athletes is the potential damage they may do to their developing athlete brand if they post inappropriate content as it can create distracting negative media attention, create issues with their team, league or affiliated organisation, potentially diminish their value to sponsorship. This content can range from pictures and videos to inflammatory speech.
‘‘Unfortunately, whether athletes want to acknowledge it or not, they are public figures and therefore receive increased attention, and social media enhances this. There’s a fragility around an athlete’s playing career [e.g. through injury], but with the emerging use of social media there’s also the possibility of athletes destroying their career through posts to social media. So, athletes need to be educated in the do’s and don’ts and recognise material that could backfire or harm their careers. Unfortunately it’s also about being aware of what others may post about your private life on social media.’’
Super Rugby and Mitre 10 Cup teams each have personal development managers who educate players on finance, debt management and social media awareness. These ‘‘PDMs’’ are part of management just like the coach, manager and nutritionist.
Players are advised on how to handle social media trolling after a bad performance on the field or a mishap off it.
However, management of their accounts is entirely up to the individual and the organisation doesn’t have the means to ‘‘check in’’ on 190-plus professional players.
Lendrum said players were advised on developing their own ‘‘personal brand’’ through a personal development programme, which had a heavy focus on how they conducted themselves on social media.
‘‘There is some content about how social media can positively reinforce and also detract from their personal brand. Sometimes personal development managers will deliver sessions on this themselves, other times they will bring in communication experts.’’
So while the public are seeing Beauden Barrett’s outdoors escapades in Taranaki or Julian Savea’s great wardrobe and Ben Smith’s My Food Bag family nights – these accounts are also carefully calculated to fit their audience and feed the fans what they want.
Likewise, the All Blacks’ social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and also All Blacks.com are all carefully orchestrated by an in-house social media team which includes three videographers, a producer, a writer and manager. Several of those have been employed in the last two seasons which shows the heavy emphasis on social media within the organisation.
The shift to social media has become so big that All Blacks squads, retirements and signings are often released on social formats and streamed well ahead of mainstream media. Press conferences may soon be a thing of the past for sports journalists.
Netball New Zealand also has an induction process for its contracted players which takes players through the organisation’s social media guidelines.
Senior communications manager Kerry Manders said while they placed no heavy restrictions on players’ social media use they did advise them on what was appropriate and how to develop a personal brand.
‘‘For those who choose to embrace social media and the opportunities we encourage them to be clear about who you are representing . . . for example, express that the views posted are your own, not those of your employer, club or sponsor.
‘‘We encourage our athletes to create a reputable online presence whilst retaining their individualism and personality.’’
Manders said the main message was to be responsible. ‘‘If you wouldn’t say it to your mum, don’t post it to the world.’’
Social media is not necessarily the best place go when teams are going through a tough spell.