Fresh eyes

Footballers’ tweets and the lessons for us all

Footballers tweets and the lessons for us all
Simon Turner Freshfield Managing Director

Written by Simon Turner,
Chief Executive & Group Client Director at Freshfield

We have a number of big football fans in the Freshfield office, all of whom have been fascinated by the latest Twitter in football controversies over the past few weeks.

For those not aware, in a first of its kind, Liverpool FC footballer Ryan Babel has been charged with improper conduct by the Football Association after posting a picture (above) of an altered image of a referee wearing a rival’s football shirt, Manchester United, after a contentious meeting between the two sides.

Now an improper conduct charge can carry anything from fines (surely a drop in the ocean for those earning £100k plus per week) to lengthy time on the sidelines. Although this is a one off case, more and more athletes are stirring up controversy with tweets that offend and we’re beginning to see a backlash on players in the twittering world.

This begs the question, is the restriction on players tweeting going too far or is it in the interest of the sport?

On the whole, I believe Twitter is having a positive effect on sports, football in particular, with the networking site essential in getting news to people faster and keeping fans in the loop with their clubs. Footballers are cutting out journalists to talk directly and candidly to their followers and helping fill the gap between player and supporter.

However, since the Ryan Babel revelations, many clubs have issued guidance to players on acceptable and unacceptable use of social networks, or in the case of Queens Park Rangers, banned use of Twitter altogether.

Gordon Taylor, one of the key players’ representatives in football, recently summed up the row saying: “Banter and opinions are all part of the game. It’s a shame in a way because if we are not careful, we’re going to get too Big Brother-ish about it.”

In many ways I agree. Twitter is bringing a new dimension to sport and it would be a massive shame if players’ tweets are ‘media managed’, surely one of the things the founders of Twitter were keen to avoid.

That said, the furore does have implications for us all. When employees tweet about work matters there are a number of potential pitfalls, not least the danger in underestimating the power of social media and how updates may be interpreted.

Just like a footballer may let slip that he’s injured and not in the starting line-up, employees could inadvertently give away confidential information through what, on the face of it, could be innocuous looking tweets.

Who knows what impact such mistakes can have on an organisation, from legal disputes, or even a devastating effect on the company’s share price and reputation?

Having an effective social media policy, particularly where employees are using social media as part of their job role, can help prevent social media activity from turning into a genuine crisis.

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