It seems people (not least the media) love ‘creating a storm’ when it comes to a sportsperson mentioning something on twitter that isn’t related to what they had to eat or bought at the shops, yet when they don’t talk openly to the media or press they are hiding and not connecting with the fans.

And in recent years we have seen some very prominent and somewhat misguided cases where sportspeople have used twitter, and subsequently got unwanted bad publicity. It is not just in football where sportspeople have got into trouble, the likes of Kevin Pietersen, Chad Ochocinco, Joel Monaghan, Phillip Hughes, LeBron James and Stephanie Rice have all succumb to twitter ‘mistakes’. Whilst in the world of football, Darren Bent, Glenn Johnson, Jose Enrique and most recently Ryan Babel, have all incurred bad PR and trouble after making certain misguided comments and postings on such social media sites like twitter. Some have got more than a reprimand, even getting suspensions, bans or fines for their social media comments and activities.

The rise of Twitter, Facebook and social media in recent years has been phenomenal, and our associates at MC Squared New Media reinforce the fact that it plays an important role in the realm of new media and communication if used in the right way and is managed correctly. In fact working with MC Squared we at Chiron Sports and Media work with our sporting clients to educate them that there is a safe and proper way to use such social media mechanisms that allow them to connect with fans and followers whilst also abiding by the rules, regulations and guidelines of their sporting employers and organisations …. Thus avoiding a possibly embarrassing or even damaging social media faux pas’.

A ‘Rio’ of Sunshine in the ‘Twitter-sphere’
For anyone who follows Manchester United and England football captain Rio Ferdinand on twitter, I am sure that you would agree Rio shows effectively how to engage with people via twitter, whether they be fans, media or fellow sports professionals. It could be argued that Rio is one of the more PR and media savvy amongst his sporting peers. The question has to be asked however that if Rio passed comment on something that could be ‘spun’ into a detrimental story that sold papers, both the public and the media would possibly either lose a valuable insight into the world of one of our top sporting celebrities if he chose to leave twitter or even worse it would be of detriment to his career and public profile.

Another spin on the whole PR and social media scenario is the use of twitter by the Portuguese football star and former teammate of Rio, Ronaldo, when he decided to break the news of him becoming a father completely out of the blue via twitter. Then again you could argue, that he took control of the situation and released the news himself rather than have a misleading story released via a third party.

There is plenty of good and proactive use of social media by sportspeople including Michael Vaughan, Shane Warne, Amir Kahn, David Haye, Graeme Swann – and it seems many golfers also use twitter effectively ,with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Ian Poulter and Graeme McDowell ,who effectively opened the doors to a rain soaked Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor when their social media activities allowed followers a unique insight behind the scenes in the European Team camp.

Use Your Head, Before Your Thumbs
Where does the responsibility of social media use lie? Ultimately this is with the individual sportsperson as they are, in the majority of cases, in control of their social media accounts.

It was reported in the English media on 21st January 2011 that the manager/coach of another professional football club was warning his players that they face fines for each word they typed on twitter in reference to the club or football.

Some clubs and sporting bodies have taken the step of suspending their athletes’ social media accounts (including twitter), but is this really the right step?

Wouldn’t it be better to try and educate, and to an extent introduce guidelines as to how to use twitter and other social media. Newcastle United amongst other professional football clubs, have taken the step to educate their players and coaches about social media and the possible pitfalls – a cynic may say this was after an episode where a player publicised something on twitter that he shouldn’t.

It’s Good To Talk ….. Well communicate
In summary, it would be unwise to shut off professional footballers and other sportspeople from social media mechanisms like twitter, as this would only withdraw them even further from the general public, their fan base and their following. Such channels may give them some facility to respond to rumours and/or stories that appear in the media, as has been effectively demonstrated by the likes of Rio Ferdinand during Wayne Rooney’s contract negotiations.

When you are in the public eye, extra care should be taken especially when many media entities now have employees whose responsibility it is to monitor and report on the twittering and social media activities of those in the public eye.

The media and public tend to take advantage of the apparent goodwill in our sports stars communicating via twitter and Facebook, by putting a spin on what is said – but is it unreasonable to show a bit of common sense in not spinning such content? Play fair and we will all have the benefit of some valuable insights into some who have to live behind electric gates for the sake of their privacy, sanity and security.