Social media monitoring of student-athletes is quickly becoming a hot potato among the NCAA, college coaches, administrators, lawyers and legislators.
Despite a recent NCAA ruling some believe puts this matter to rest, more questions remain. Who governs this space? Where does the law stand on privacy and litigation around potential negligent social media monitoring?
I won’t deny these are all major concerns, and I’ll be covering them in an upcoming piece on FourthAnd140.com. But I thought it was a good time to hear from one of the pioneers in this space, so you can understand what we mean by social media monitoring at the university level.
Varsity Monitor was one of the first to provide this kind of service at all levels. Here’s a brief conversation the fine folks at Varsity Monitor had recently with FourthAnd140.com about the services they provide – and the issues they face.
F140: What does Varsity Monitor do?
VM: Varsity Monitor provides social media monitoring of athletes’ social media activities, both within their personal accounts as well as what other people are saying about them online. We have proprietary technology to scan and filter for specific content, and everything we do is within the framework of the social media TOS [terms of service] and is permission-based. We take the privacy of the athletes we work with very seriously.
F140: Who uses your service?
VM: Athletic departments, compliance and coaches. Our clients include Oklahoma University, University of Texas football, University of North Carolina, University of Nebraska and Villanova University.
F140: Why is there a need for social media monitoring of NCAA athletes?
VM: Social media introduces new challenges for athletic departments. For example, every athletic department has a code of conduct, what do they do about social media? Does it make sense to have a code of conduct with no plan to make it a reality? A way to confirm the rules are being followed? That’s where Varsity Monitor comes in. We provide them with tools to address this new challenge.
F140: How so?
VM: For college athletic departments, it’s about preparing the SA [student-athlete] for life after college/sports, while protecting their institution’s brand. The misuse of social media by athletes can negatively affect the brand of the school, in the process harming the athletes’ post-athlete employment opportunities. On the flip side, proper use of social media cannot only enhance the school’s brand profile but also make the athlete more marketable after graduation.
F140: What technology powers Varsity Monitor?
VM: We have developed proprietary technology that is able to scan, aggregate and filter social media content created about and by the athletes.
F140: Wouldn’t banning the use of social media by student-athletes just solve these issues?
VM: Banning is not the answer. In addition to our monitoring services, [Varsity Monitor] offers advanced administrator and SA education to help everyone use social media in a constructive way. By banning social media, you are limiting the skill set of your athletes for jobs in marketing/sales after sports and also limiting the potential upside of the use of Twitter and Facebook. We understand why people ban, but those who work with Varsity Monitor are able to use education, monitoring and enforcement, thereby managing the social media behavior without the need for bans.
F140: What does VM do when you find questionable information? How do you handle it?
VM: We treat all information observed as confidential. We never publicize it or use if for commercial gain. We attempt to keep negative posts/image-destroying information from reaching a larger audience. Finally, and most importantly, we educate the individual on the positive use of social media, discussing how it can impact one’s personal and professional life.
F140: What other services are provided by Varsity Monitor?
VM: We scan for positive content and examples of highly effective ways to use social media, so administrators can demonstrate to others the best way to take advantage of social media.
F140: What sets Varsity Monitor apart?
VM: First and foremost, we believe monitoring is a tool to be used to educate. That’s our mantra. Second, we treat all information observed as confidential. We have very strict guidelines on how this information is handled and managed. We listen to our customers, providing a flexible service designed to adapt to meet the unique demands of our clients.
Regardless of your opinion of social media monitoring services like Varsity Monitor, I believe they’re here to stay. Can they improve? Yes. And since they’re moving from an NCAA mandated-driven tool to a service-driven model, the focus should remain on student safety, education and personal branding. As I’ve argued in the past, this is a time of great learning for student-athletes, and their coaches and administrators should take advantage of these teaching moments.
However, college sports is also big business. Athletic departments are wise to manage their online reputations, which includes monitoring social media activities – just like many Fortune 500 brands do today. (This is part of what I do for a living.) You can’t ever control the message, but you can monitor and react to it. And you can teach those in your organization to use social media safely, properly and effectively – to the benefit of everyone.
What do you think of social media monitoring services like Varsity Monitor? Leave your comments here, or hit me up on Twitter. I’ll continue to cover this topic because I’m passionate about it.
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