Ease your student supervision speed bumps.

Supporting Student Athletes' Use of Social Media

As a college athlete I received training on how to speak to the media.  The week before a game we were assigned to radio stations and newspapers to speak to for game promotion.  As a soccer player this was mostly from promotion sake to fill our crowd, where other athletes experienced real-time media before or after games like football or basketball.

While I didn’t realize it then, this training was crucial and has carried over into my work in higher education as well as social media strategy.

Supporting Student Athletes on Social MediaI believe all students should be trained on how to talk to the media, in addition to how to use social media tools such as Twitter.  

Many athletic departments have media training built into the pre-season as I did.  Over the last three years universities have also been including formalized training around social media.

College athletes are extensions of their university and especially in some popular athletic programs, become quasi-celebrities.  Hence their social media presence becomes a source for fans and the media to have a pulse on that player and/or team.

From some, not receiving education and feedback on their social media presence results in dire consequences even before college.  This was seen recently when the offensive line coach from Penn State cut a prospective player after finding out the type of social media activity the player was posting.

The coach declared, “Dropped another prospect this AM due to his social media presence … Actually glad I got to see the ‘real’ person before we offered him,” Hand tweeted.”  Read more about this story (here).

This case was discovered by a firm, but much of social media content can be discovered by a simple google search.  Have you googled yourself lately?

For some young athletes being strategic on how they use social media may come at a harsh shift from their hometown high school days.  Why does it matter?  Because as a college athlete what you tweet could end up on Buzzfeed or Saturday Night Live or worse, you could but cut from you team or expelled from the university completely.

I’ve found countless case studies of college athletes stumbling and ‘fouling’ on social media.  I especially see this within the sport of football.  There are some cases where these athletes are tweeting directly from the sidelines during the game!

For example, Cardale Jones from Ohio State posted “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL classes are POINTLESS.”  Even a third string quarterback can make the news, with his tweeting going through national news sources like ESPN.  The latest on Jones, he no longer is twitting at the request of his university.

Another case was from University of Florida, Will Hill who was once called the NCAA’s most ‘notorious tweeter.’  This name came from the constant surge of inappropriate content such as, “Morning america day already starting off crazy chick just offered me some ass if i massage her left breast smh lmsgao.”  He can now be called an Ex-Florida Gator.

For even more case studies, check out Jason Meriwether’s post on Socialnomics.com called College Athletics: a fuel for the social media fire.  This article was filled with additional examples and educational best practices.  Jason reflects,

I am certain that most coaches, athletes, and compliance administrators who have experienced backlash, embarrassment, and negative attention due to poor social media choices would agree, put the fire out before it begins.”

In this spirit I offer two ‘letters’ in this post.  First to high school and college athletes themselves.  The second to athletic administrators and coaches.

Student Athletes on Social MediaTo High School & College Athletes:

When I was a college athlete one of my biggest challenges was balancing school, extracurriculars and work.  I mostly could separate them and find my groove.  Today with social media, you carry your presence beyond the field, even beyond their own campus.  You are put on the spotlight 24/7 which could be a burden or you could unlock some pretty cool possibilities.

Through social media, a young fan in Seattle can follow your progress as a rising college quarterback in Florida.  Your actions could be a positive influence on that follower, or destructive and negative.  Unfortunately now in the news we are seeing mostly the later.  You can change this.

I believe athletes have a huge potential to use social media not only to better their teams and campus communities, but to serve as role models to young (and old) fans.

How can you use these tools for good?  I realize that is asking a lot of you.  School, sports, family, hopefully a social life.

But that is what you are called to be as a college student athlete.  A little more Heroic.  Daring.  Overcoming challenges.  Reminding your classmates and campus why they love their school so much.  Awaking school spirit forged with every home game.  In 2014 this spirit must carry over online.

Let us cheer for you through your positive actions on social media.  You have the work ethic and drive, now take that to every Tweet and Instagram post.

Be proud of what you put out, as if your next win depends on it.

To Athletics Administrators & Coaches:

Based upon my personal experience as a college athlete, research on social media in education, as well as experience developing college students I would suggest the follow five practices as it relates supporting student athletes’ use of social media.

1.  TRAIN THEM.  Use the same time and energies you put into media training and apply social media tools.  This should include the how to’s and content strategy for the main platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.  For example, explore the best practices of Twitter and the procedures if a media sources was to contact them through the platform.  Allow them to share feedback on other platforms they are on as well, such as using Snapchat for storytelling strategies. Learn more about Snapchat stories (here).

2.  Develop leadership skills.  This takes the conversations around being an athlete on social media into building skills around digital decision-making.  This message should be crafted beyond the “don’t do this, don’t do that.”  Give them time to reflect on recent case studies and working in groups on what it means to be a student athlete leader online.  For more on this, check out this great article (here).

3.  Have clear policies. If your university or athletic department does not have social media guidelines or policies, this may be a time to do it.  Feel free to get started with this on a post I wrote (here).  These can be big picture to team specific.  For example: No phones and/or tweeting on the field, even if you are not suited up.

4.  Keep it open.  Some athletic programs are requiring student athletes to completely close their social media accounts.  I believe with training, development and empowerment we can allow athletes to shine online.  Don’t close them down, instead teach students (and coaches) how to build community and role model to other athletic programs and students alike.  Finally, if you are going to monitor student accounts then tell them.  But be ready to back up with positive reasons that support their usage and not have a cooling effect completely.

5.  Prioritize Community.  Look at social media more than convincing people to come to your next game or completely controlling the message.  Approach social media platforms, including the philosophy of training your student athletes, based upon building community and adding value to that community.  The more your community is invested in its’ players and coaches, the more likely they will buy a ticket, t-shirt and remain dedicated fans.  Teach your students how to use social media to be highly interactive and celebrating not only the players but also the fans will help do this.

And let’s not forget that coaching staff and other administrative leadership within athletics also need this same training.  They too are public figures and should be held to the same standards, if not higher.

Are you a student athlete with some success stories in using social media?  

As a coach or administrator, what is or is not working in training your athletes on social media?  

Please share them below in the comments below!

Relates articles on student athletes and social media







About Josie

I’m Dr. Josie Ahlquist—a digital engagement and leadership consultant, researcher, educator, and author. I’m passionate about helping people and organizations find purposeful ways to connect, engage, and tell their unique story. I provide consulting, executive coaching, and training for campuses, companies, and organizations that want to learn how to humanize technology tools and build effective and authentic online communities.

My blog and podcast have been recognized by EdTech Magazine, Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education. My book, Digital Leadership in Higher Education, was published in 2020 and was listed as a #1 new release for college and university student life. I have been growing my consultancy since 2013 and am based in Los Angeles. When I’m not helping clients lead online, you might find me training for a triathlon, spoiling my nieces and nephews, or exploring with my husband and our rescue dogs in our new RV called Lady Hawk.

I’d love to connect! Find me on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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