Social media is a powerful tool used by many marketing, public relations and communications departments to convey organizational information, highlight company achievements, and engage constituents. When used properly, social media can be a tremendous asset. Conversely, social media can be the source of major headaches to athletic departments when student-athletes are involved. In 2012 Cardale Jones, then third-string quarterback for the Ohio State University Buckeyes, sent a tweet indicating his displeasure with having to attend classes. The tweet caught up with him in 2015 when the Buckeyes were contending for the first College Football Playoff National Championship. Although in April of the same year, Jones walked back the comment, this situation is a great example of how social media can forever follow posters. The students presenting in the OSU Sport Media video reported on different stories of how social media has impacted various departments in college athletics, namely the areas of compliance student-athlete communication allowances.
Ben Dyson of the OSU compliance department discussed the challenges he faces when dealing with social media and maintaining compliance with NCAA policies; namely, monitoring communication between prospective student-athletes and boosters and program donors. Dyson indicated the need to reach out to donors and even Facebook and Twitter to request the removal of social media communication directed to prospects. Although the NCAA rule is nearly impossible to enforce, it is up to Dyson and his staff to make honest efforts to protect their department, programs and prospective student-athletes from any inappropriate interaction.
Additionally, athletic departments also have to determine their stance on student-athlete social media usage. Although some schools have banned social media use by student-athletes, several state legislation policies have set a precedent for disallowing social media bans. Regardless of bans, athletic departments should devote resources to establishing social media usage expectations for student-athletes and educating them on those expectations.
When used properly, social media can lead to unique and effective communication opportunities with constituents. Fans can be galvanized to attend an event, support a cause or donate to a campaign. Unlike email, the reach of social media is immediate and more cost effective than traditional mailings. Social media has been firmly established as an effective communication tool in athletic departments across the country. The importance of establishing policies for social media practices is a great way for athletic departments to stay ahead of the curve.