Social media is a hot topic among athletes.
"What content should I post?"
"How do I grow an engaged following?"
"Is TikTok for me? And how on earth does it work?!"
But there's a question that often gets left out of the conversation.
"How do I protect my reputation (and the reputation of the organisations I represent) on social media?"
Social media provides a free platform for athletes to grow their profile, connect with a community, service sponsors and communicate their brand. It's a fantastic tool and one they should feel confident navigating.
But it's also a (seemingly) lawless land.
We know athletes want to do the right thing online. But...
It's easy to forget that the sneaky, snarky comment posted on a friend's Instagram about a teammate is public.
Or that silly picture making fun of a competitor, that was posted in jest, has now been taken out of context as bullying.
So how can we help athletes shine online AND protect their reputation and the reputation of the organisation's they represent?
There are three things every athlete needs to pack in their social media toolkit to protect their brand.
1. Their values and the values of the organisation they represent (e.g. sponsors, their sports organisation, employer)
Values alignment is such a simple but effective way for athletes to reframe how they use social media. They can use their values and the values of the brands they represent as a checklist.
'Does my content align with my values? Tick.'
'Should I make that edgy joke in response to a negative comment? It's super funny, it'll definitely get loads of likes! But it doesn't align with one of my values so I'm going to hold off on pressing send and block that person from my account.'
They likely already use their values for decision making in the real world, so applying them in an online environment isn't a hard ask.
2. An understanding of the grey areas on social media
Most athletes know the obvious social media 'no no's'. But grey areas are where it gets tricky. When athletes know what those grey areas are and how to navigate them with integrity, they're able to stay true to their values and protect their brand.
Some of the most common grey areas we see athletes come up against are tagged content, 'private' messages and accounts and content that could be misinterpreted.
Understanding these grey areas gives athletes a greater sense of freedom. They don't need to constantly second guess their actions because they already know what might get them into a sticky situation.
3. A clearly defined reason for using social media
When athletes know WHY they're posting on social media, they're more likely to conduct themselves with integrity because they have purpose and strategy guiding them.
They often start using social media as teens to keep up with friends and have fun. As they gain more public attention from their sport, it can be difficult for them to switch their mindset to 'it's not just me and my friends anymore – there are virtual strangers paying attention to me!'
And then there's vanity metrics. At best, they're a distraction. At worst, they challenge athletes to compromise their values and code of conduct in exchange for a boost in engagement.
We want people to like us and like our content. 'Does it really matter if I put my brand at risk if my video goes viral?' (It definitely does!)
That's why they need something more meaningful to define their online footprint.
It could be wanting to inspire and connect with young athletes. Or a message they want to spread about a topic they're passionate about such as mental health. It could be that they want to use social media as a strategic tool for sponsorship and commercial engagements. Whatever it is, if they have a bigger purpose for social media, it will keep them focused on that goal and less worried about their like count.
Social media offers big value to athletes. But they need support and guidance to use it confidently and with integrity.
We've found, over and over again, in our work with athletes, that they genuinely want to protect their brand. But they need clarity of what brand integrity looks like in an online environment.
We take a positive approach to social media education. We believe athletes should feel empowered with the knowledge on how to protect their brand online — versus feeling like they're always on the brink of breaking a rule.
When they know their brand, their values and the values of the organisations they represent, and have a 'why' for posting, they can navigate social media confidently and with integrity.
We'd love to hear your experience and insights on athletes navigating social media. Send us a message or comment below.
About The Brand Builders
We deliver Athlete Brand and Pathway Education globally, via online, in-person and hybrid delivery modes. Our six education topic areas are: Athlete Brand, Sponsorship, Social Media, Public Speaking, Mindset and Storytelling.
When athletes are empowered with the knowledge, tools and resources they need to elevate their athlete pathway, there is no limit to what they can achieve – during and beyond sport.
While you're here, if you work with or support athletes, check out our Athlete Pathway Education Webinar series that teaches the basics of our topic areas.