The Social Media battle between Corporate Communicators, Journalists & Sportstars
To understand and investigate the data extracted from the questionnaires further (Corporate communicators, Sports Stars and Sports Fans), a series of interviews were undertaken from a broad spectrum of the industry. Not only professional and semi-professional sportspeople were interviewed but those within industry ranging from journalists, corporate communicators and PR professionals.
This was an important step to add context to the current data and provide a qualitative angle to progress and investigate further. Do experts concur that the conflicts between sportspeople and their organisations over social media need to be controlled through a management policy?
This blogger was able to obtain interviews with six in-house sporting corporate communicators, including: Trevor Braitwait, Director of Communications at Sheffield Wednesday FC; Simon Williams, Communications Officer at Southampton FC; Max Fitzgerald, Communications Executive at AFC Bournemouth; Mike McGreary, Website Manager at Middlesbrough FC; Ian Cotton, Ex-Director of Communications at Liverpool and Tom Tainton, Media Officer at Bristol Rugby. Each quote has been disguised to keep views confidential.
From the interviews undertaken, there was a resounding difference between the thought of reputation and social media, and the constant battle between the individual and the organisation.
“Protecting and promoting our brand is a key part of my role. There is no specific strategy as this unfolds on an ongoing basis.”
Worryingly, and quite unnaturally, senior management at sports clubs has made the conscious effort not to introduce a strategic strategy to deal with reputation. Across other business sectors, plans are put into place but this shows the immaturity of the sports communication industry. The younger professionals coming into the industry sees their roles slightly differently:
“Reputation management is a critical element of my role – we try to boost our reputation and ‘culture’ created by the boss and the coaching staff through positive reinforcement on our social media channels.”
This shows the willingness and eagerness to use social media more actively within the whole communication and PR strategy. As it shows in the corporate communication questionnaire, younger people are using social media to get their messages across and they are more aware of the importance of it.
“This (Using players’ social media account to boost reputation) can backfire, as two high profile football clubs recently discovered to their cost… The reputation of the club is and always will be greater than that of any individual.”
This shows two things: a clear age gap in thinking about social media, and potential differences between team sports. Some policy is for the players to express themselves and rely more on media curation to measure and keep an eye on any bad publicity.
“I think it’s important that players are given the chance to show their character on these platforms. It can however, be useful when promoting club offers due to their wider reaching fanbase.”
Again, it appears from these interviews that the younger corporate communicators are keener to use individual social media accounts to promote engagement and building and maintaining reputation.
“Every player receives social media training as well, as well as guidelines for social media use. We highlight the risks that social media can carry, particularly within the framework of media and public responsibility. Players directly represent the club and, as a result, are expected to portray themselves and their teammates in a positive manner at all times.”
Younger communicators also know the consequences and potential “pitfalls” of social media and have quickly asserted his influence to give the club a shining light for the players to use.
“By showing a personable side to the Club and creating open access to our players, we hope that supporters have a positive view of *club* and thus will be encouraged to invest time and money into our product.”
Despite the apparent differences across the three interviews, all agree that an in-depth social media policy would help to clarify current “grey areas”. Some know that they “are speaking to the media every time they tweet” and this view, from a media relations point, will help to identify potential areas for a reputation hit. Sport is highly speculative and the media can use these ‘posts’ as content to attract headlines and unnecessary, avoidable issues.
Not only it is imperative to understand the in-house corporate communicators view, it is also imperative to understand how these stories are sourced and used. After consulting journalists ranging from online, print and radio, further understanding can be taken to influence policy.
Older journalists are still adapting to sportspeople using things like social media with many believing the journalism industry is becoming more of a ‘Soap Opera’ rather than its primary objective to deliver high quality news content. One senior journalist sees social media and publicity in a different light.
“An agent’s sole raison d’etre is to get publicity for their clients in order to raise their profile and subsequently their earnings. It’s a murky and cynical business and cricketer’s, once largely removed from it, have smelt the money and are moving centre stage. “
The nation’s appetite for celebrity culture and speculative stories are ever increasing, and this senior journalist sees social media as a publicity tool for sportspeople to attract more attention. In this example, cricketers are becoming centre stage and the likes of Kevin Pietersen are becoming household names.
Their social media accounts are heavily watched in case a potential story appears. This seems to be a case of trying to build and maintain of the individuals as opposed to other collaborating with the individual’s organisations. These players are building context to market themselves and the speculation stories being produced
Interviews with sportspeople
Sportspeople sometimes create their downfall. Speculation and stories are a react to ill-informed tweets, used by those that do not appear to be educated on the consequences and understanding of social media. The data gathered from the questionnaires show clear indication that more guidance is needed to prevent future inappropriate use. As questions arose about their inappropriate social media use, many were unaware that those images and posts were made public, even when talking directly to someone.
This is an education corporate communicators need to have with their employees to prevent avoidable reputation damage. After interviewing eight sportspeople about their use of social media, many interesting points came across. As Figure 1 will show, many sportspeople enjoy using social media as fan engagement and ‘banter’ with fellow professionals.
More needs to be done to boost understanding and the consequences from using social media inappropriately as sportspeople do not understand the extent of social media and its potential impact.
Through clear guidelines and with the help of a communication specialist, their education about how to use social media could be significantly improved. To show this understanding, a focus group took place to understand how online journalists see social media use and what they think of it.
Focus group with online journalists and corporate communicators
Projecting reputation is hugely important in sport. Sport is speculative and can easily be attacked by the media who are looking for ‘easy’ stories. As mentioned before in the sportspeople questionnaire, the players seem indifferent to those journalists using their posts as stories, but their understanding of corporate reputation need to be improved.
Online journalists, Nick Howson and Vanessa Keller, who work exclusively in news gathering and content creation, know the true value of the usefulness of social media and in the interviews for this dissertation, they believe it “breaking down barriers” that were previously there.
Not only is it making their jobs easier, but also they believe they are getting more truthful responses rather than the “spin” they receive when trying to obtain quotes through their agents.
Not is social media clearly changing how journalism is practiced, but it shows the potential pitfalls that corporate communicators need to correct to ensure the barriers between the organisation and its consumers stays together.
“Traffic-wise, social media is great at getting more hits and impressions on our page. It’s an original source not the spin that clubs try to put out. In ways, it is even better than a press conference, as players are always under the watchful eye, they used social media more carefree and aren’t restricted in what they say.”
“There is becoming less need for PR, social media is becoming the number one source for journalists to go to.”
These were just some of main finding resulting from the focus group. Journalists are actively using social media as the main source for potential stories and speculation. It needs urgent addressing by clubs’ communications department, as this is a way where important can be leaked to the public. A clear social media policy outlining the consequences of such actions would provide a base a better place to prevent sportspeople people ‘twats’.
Even more so, the LinkedIn discussion with corporate communicators discovered that introducing social media policy can be rather tricky regardless of its usefulness.
Corporate Communicators Focus Group Highlights
Figure 2: Selected quotes from Corporate Communicators’ Focus Group
From the primary data gathered, the case studies need be sorted out to determine who are the ‘tweeters’, ‘twits’ or ‘twats’ (Next post) – and how social media policy should be framed to handle each in a way that enhances corporate reputation.
Catch up with the previous posts in Steven’s series (there are more to come)….
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