Banning social media a band-aid solution

The Penrith Panthers have joined a bunch of other major sporting teams (including Manchester United) in banning their players from having a presence on popular social networks Twitter and Facebook. I can’t see, from a branding point of view, how this is a good thing for the club – surely having the players use these mediums productively, for the benefit of fans, would be a more beneficial long term strategy.

There is, of course, the danger of players being people. Being a bit too human. Airing dirty laundry. Or, doing what LeBron James just famously did in the U.S – using the medium to generate buzz around their playing future and leveraging up their salary and status. I can see why clubs would want to stop that sort of behaviour.

But the Panthers say they are doing this to “protect the players” essentially from themselves. Here’s what the Panthers have said about the policy (from FoxSports):

“We don’t want our players using these social networking websites. They are an invasion of privacy. They can be dangerous.”

Well, not really, they’re not an invasion of privacy but a forum where you can voluntarily make parts of your life unprivate. Nobody is questioning the capacity for these platforms to be misused. But dangerous? Not really.

Brisbane seem to have a more measured (and reasonable) approach:

“The Broncos have added a clause to their code of conduct that states any player posting a detrimental comment on Facebook or Twitter could be fined or suspended.”

My former employers had a policy along similar lines – with instructions not to engage in narky online flamewars (a paraphrase) we were to participate in online discussion in good humour, while recognising privacy and confidentiality concerns.

The FoxSports story, I think, hits the nail on the head when it comes to the motives of these moves:

“NRL clubs are deeply concerned about what players post in their status bar and whether their party photos are a “bad look”.”

It’s ultimately not about player safety – but about managing the NRL’s brand. And at this point I think the heavy handed “no go” social media policy is treating symptoms of the problem rather than its root cause. If players weren’t doing anything (in public, or private) that could be posted online in an embarrassing way – then there wouldn’t be a problem. Keeping the players off Facebook doesn’t stop photos being put up, nor does it stop those photos being sent to a journalist.

The real key to not damaging your brand via social networks is to not be doing stuff that would damage your brand. That’s where clubs should be directing their energy and attention.

There’s a further danger, which this story picks up, of players not present on Facebook being impersonated by people with less than optimal intentions. Apparently it’s happening with superstar Jarryd Hayne right now – and previously it has been an issue on Twitter for people like Kanye West (who apparently joined up just to avoid being impersonated). You can read his expletive laden all-caps tirade at Twitter impersonators from last May here at TechCrunch (I can’t find it on his actual blog)…

“THE PEOPLE AT TWITTER KNOW I DON’T HAVE A #%$@@# TWITTER SO FOR THEM TO ALLOW SOMEONE TO POSE AS ME AND ACCUMULATE OVER A MILLION NAMES IS IRRESPONSIBLE AND DECEITFUL TO THERE FAITHFUL USERS. REPEAT… THE HEADS OF TWITTER KNEW I DIDN’T HAVE A TWITTER AND THEY HAVE TO KNOW WHICH ACCOUNTS HAVE HIGH ACTIVITY ON THEM… IT MAKES ME QUESTION WHAT OTHER SO CALLED CELEBRITY TWITTERS ARE ACTUALLY REAL OR FAKE. HEY TWITTER, TAKE THE SO CALLED KANYE WEST TWITTER DOWN NOW …. WHY? … BECAUSE MY CAPS LOCK KEY IS LOUD!!!!!!!!!”

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