‘It can do ir­repara­ble harm’: the pit­falls of post­ing and trolls

Sunday Star-Times - - Sport - OLIVIA CALD­WELL

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.

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