Keys To Becoming A (Responsible) Social Media Influencer

The year is 2020, quarantine is in full swing, and social media use is at an all-time high. Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Tik Tok, Facebook, and dozens of similar sites funnel an absolutely insane amount of content past our field of vision every single day. The world of sports is no exception to this social media explosion, even in the absence of competition.

Athletes, coaches, writers, trainers, anchors, and nearly anyone else you can think of in the athletics industry is active on at least one platform, and for good reason- they’re really, really fun.

Social media can be a rewarding and creative outlet to express ourselves and connect with the world around us, as well as a powerful tool to build a personal brand.

But be warned- the internet is a double-edged sword, and reckless social media practices are frequently the perpetrator in crimes against personal or professional achievement.

Here are some simple suggestions for maintaining a social media presence WITHOUT landing in hot water:

1. Protect Yourself

The bottom line is, if you put something online, you’d better be ready for ANYONE to see it.

Would your coach be comfortable with the information you’ve shared? What if that picture shows up on Sportscenter tomorrow as they desperately search for sports content? Would you tell that joke you just tweeted on a recruiting visit, or in a job interview?

If you think a post is temporary, it isn’t. If you think an account is private, it’s public. If you think information is secure, it’s already been hacked. Even a quick post and delete could potentially stay online forever. Screenshotting is real, and people get burned by it all the time. The rising popularity of clickbait culture feeds on scandal, and people with wider social influence (such as athletes) are frequently the target.

Notable professional athletes like Buffalo Bill’s Quarterback Josh Allen, Washington Nationals Outfielder Trea Turner, Milwaukee Bucks Guard Donte DiVincenzo, and many more have all gotten into trouble for actions on social media. Most were in high school when they posted the offensive tweets, which should serve as a warning for any athlete to remember that what you say now can impact you down the road. Wouldn’t you rather someone go through your old tweets in five years and send them to a local reporter to demonstrate how woke and thoughtful and responsible you were instead?

A good rule of thumb as you consider potential consequences while posting: if you’re on the fence at all, it’s probably better to just skip it. Your followers will be okay without you while you search for your next clever GIF or photograph your next meal.

2. Avoid Negative or Controversial Posts

In the current social media climate, it can be tempting to use your profile as a soapbox or to air our dirty laundry. After all, big-name athletes do it all the time, right?

True, but they’re operating under a different set of rules. They’ve already established their careers, and aren’t in a position where one errant hot take could potentially cost them an opportunity.

There’s nothing wrong with a rant, but it’s best not to include this type of content on your own personal feed, even if it’s just a repost from someone else. As referenced above, anything you post on social media can potentially be unearthed later on down the road, and you never know who’s going to take what personally.

Don’t miss out on a great job because your interviewer finds a Facebook post from that time you got into a political argument with your crazy aunt or reads a savage tweet criticizing the finale of “The Bachelor”.  Just keep it light and breezy.

If you do feel the need to publish your more “creative” thoughts or want to comment on a subject that is more inflammatory, do it. Just pick a different forum, like a private chat or, better yet, a face-to-face conversation.

For the record, we are all for athletes using their platform to further a cause or to advocate for justice. It isn’t necessarily fair that speaking your mind might hurt you, especially if you’re advocating for a great cause, but we want you to recognize the balance between using your platform and potentially losing your platform. In the words of Spiderman’s uncle, “With great power comes great responsibility.”

3. Interact with your network

Student-athletes have a wide influence. They are well-known, respected, and looked up to. Connecting with supporters via comments, likes, or shares is a great way to make fans feel included, and being a personable social media follow can help extend your reach.

If a fan says “great game”, say “thank you!” If you get tagged in a nice post, retweet or share it! If you’re asked a relevant question, give a quick answer! Little things add up, and you can create a very positive and influential vibe for yourself by making a little extra effort. For example, lesser-known NHL player Paul Bissonnette was able to convert his twitter presence into a viable sports media career when his playing days were over.

It’s also a good idea to shift your focus upwards, Follow athletes you admire. Engage in discussions with companies you like and don’t hesitate to share and comment on their content as well. You never know whose attention you might grab! Just make sure you aren’t associating with anything you wouldn’t publish yourself.

Speaking of which…

4. Don’t Let Yourself Be Trolled

In the wise words of the 2000’s hip hop group 3LW, “Playas gonna play, Haters gonna hate”. Though it’s now 20 years old, that lyric still rings true. Maybe even more so.

As many pleasant, lovely, ray-of-sunshine types who are on the internet simply to exchange kind words and well wishes, there are just as many maniacal nincompoops looking to light fires just to watch them burn.

Trolling is an extremely common practice today, especially against people who have some sort of social status. Don’t give these people the time of day. If you see inflammatory or confrontational content directed at you or your team, don’t feed the trolls. Starve them, they hate that.

Best practice: Just ignore them. If it starts to get out of hand, there’s always the block button. NBA Legend Dikembe Mutumbo would be proud.

5. Have Fun With It!

We like to think that at the end of the day, social media was created to be enjoyed and to bring us together.

Athletes can have tremendously entertaining profiles because their lives can differ wildly from the people who follow them, and people can get a huge kick out of viewing the world through your unique lens. You have access to locations and resources that the general population can only dream about, so make sure you use those tools!

Show your goofy side, give tips or advice, campus updates, post videos of practice and games (as long as you’re not, you know, supposed to be playing), share travel pictures, do that new internet challenge, wax poetic about your favorite TV show (obviously The Bachelor: Listen To Your Heart), whatever the hell you want!

Just follow the guidelines above and post responsibly. Future you will be very grateful, and you never know what a strong social media presence might do for you down the road.