New NCAA Training Regimen: Social Media 101

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The NCAA and its member schools are missing an ideal opportunity to teach student-athletes the right way to use social media. Banning its use is not the answer.

The governing body of the nation’s largest and most talented collection of student-athletes has, in essence, started a war against social media. 

Rather than take advantage of an ideal teaching moment, the NCAA is spreading fear and loathing of Facebook and Twitter throughout its member schools.

It started with the recent ruling against the University of North Carolina, when the NCAA effectively made social media monitoring a requirement for all schools. Watch what your athletes post, document it, and be prepared to produce that content when requested.

Then there’s New Mexico basketball coach Steve Alford’s team-wide Twitter ban. Rather than worry what athletes might post, players are forbidden from sharing 140-character nuggets of wisdom. (Facebook is OK, but the team will be monitoring those pages.) Other schools are following this move, which also makes monitoring easier.

Finally, there’s this: a news release from a startup company called VarsityMonitor, promising athletic departments “monitoring and visual archiving of social media activities, ensuring proper recording of all social content.” This new service, borne from the ashes of these new NCAA requirements, will “offer solutions to help maintain institutional control of social media.”

Ugh. Because there’s nothing more fan-friendly, genuine, authentic and engaging than “institutional control.”
 
Rather than take advantage of this opportunity to educate young people about how to use social media properly, the NCAA and its member schools are choosing a more radical, conservative – and I would argue – less lucrative path.
 
Tim Joyce, from RealClearSports.com, put it best this week when he described the missed opportunity for colleges and universities related to social media:

This is where the NCAA, through no fault of its own, has stumbled on a truth: Colleges have quietly ignored warning signs and have not taken the time to monitor or educate their students – athletes or otherwise – about the pitfalls of expressing any and all thoughts in a public forum.

This is a teaching moment, and schools are foolish to not take the lead. Who’s job is it? Administrators? Coaches? The NCAA?

Nope. I believe sports marketing departments could champion social media training for their respective university athletes. Just as they train for competition on the field, athletes would get fit with Twitter.

It really doesn’t matter who leads it, but the training must include:

A better understanding of social media’s reach. Teach them words matter, and on places like Twitter and Facebook, what you say can move around the world in an instant, especially when presented to rabid and unsavory “fans”.

A review of privacy settings. This should include individual audits with athletes on what they’re sharing and who they’re sharing it with. Understanding these settings is an ongoing process for anyone truly devoted to knowing and understanding social media.

Basic dos and don’ts. Here’s where you get over the Twitter bans and after-the-fact apologies. Teach kids what’s OK to tweet about and what’s not. Give real-life examples. There are plenty out there.

A following/follower strategy. Big brands (like the one I’m managing) have a process for who to follow and who they’d like to have follow them. Give student-athletes the same understanding. Fill your follower list with advocates – family members, friends, fans – and be prepared to unfollow or block the haters and trouble-makers (including those overzealous boosters). 

A social media mentor. Offer instant feedback and guidance. Make these kids feel safe on Twitter and Facebook. If they have questions, give them someone to lean on.

Suggested content. This might be a bit radical to some, but it’s where I think sports marketing departments could shine. Schools already have social media posts going up daily, why not give athletes access to a version of their own to share? It’s a chance for them to promote their team through links to schedules, sports articles or ticket/merchandise offers.

It’s time for the NCAA and its colleges and universities to fulfill their mission: To “integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.”

Here’s your chance to teach kids the right way to use social media, to help them achieve excellence. What do you say, NCAA?

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