How To Avoid Social Media Pitfalls.
It was a spring afternoon and I had just finished helping at a coaching clinic when approached by a fellow coach at session’s end. “I want to speak to you about something privately,” they said. My natural reaction was uncertainty, given their current position within the sport. They continued, “You posted a comment on social media recently”. My thoughts started running through my head, “Oh no, what have I done now on social media?” I was about to get a lesson in how to avoid social media pitfalls in sport.
It was not the first time someone had taken issue with my comments on social media. My journalism degree taught me the importance of free speech and open discussion in a democracy. For a journalist, censorship is anti-democratic and usually anti-truth. But my University of Queensland days were well before twitter, instagram, snapchat, facebook and the like. My training taught me nothing about instant individual media or what we call social media. It did not exist then and the internet was in its infancy. The journalism I engaged in had editors and sub-editors to filter (censor) content.
To give some context, the comment I had made criticised a professional player’s working relationship with their coach and had scrutinised the team dynamic on a forum where the same professional coach was a peer. The person who approached me to discuss it demonstrated great tact and was not scathing or scolding, but rather offered constructive feedback. Had they approached it any other way, I would probably have tuned out. Their approach saw them go from colleague to respected mentor in a matter of moments. So here is the lesson I gleaned from our conversation.
You never know who is watching.
Two things stood out in the conversation. The first was, you never know who is watching. I had never considered the individual giving me advice would have even seen my post, let alone would have an opinion on it. The second was, potential employers could see what you post. So if I can share some advice to you reading this blog. If you want to get ahead in sport or life, understand potential employers do see and monitor your social media. If an employer were interviewing you and were to say, “we have looked at your social media.” What would your immediate thought be? Would there be anything on your social media you would not want them to see? Today employers look at prospective employees social media to help determine who you really are and whether your values align with the organisation’s.
I realised unlike my print and broadcast journalism training, there is no editor to check your work before you publish. On social media publication is immediate. The biggest problem with immediacy, if you write something, even if only published for a few minutes, it has the potential to reach a lot of people. Comments posted in smaller groups or forums tend to travel faster. We only see what we write through our own eyes, not those of friends or colleagues. Filtering yourself means looking through someone else’s eyes. How would they perceive what you wrote? Or what would your advice be to a friend, thinking of posting similar content?
Journalists love to be the first to know and first to tell. This also happens to be a common human trait. A simpler definition would be people love to gossip. Social media provides a means for people to not only share your post quickly, but comment on it. This first to know, first to tell nature is actually what drives social media. If you make misguided comments, not only does your post have the potential to reach those closest to your network, but it could find itself in forums and arenas you did not expect. Sharing means the impact and accessibility of what you say is compounded.
Social media allows people to not only read what you have to say, but can allow them to give and form their own opinion. I was fortunate the individual chose to speak to me privately in person about my post. It is not uncommon to see people who disagree or are offended to conduct a running commentary under such posts as if to launch social media warfare on someone who does not share the same views. While people may feel this approach helps get thoughts off their chest, the method is counter productive and represents the uglier side to the social media soap box.
What are you? (Professional, commentator or spectator)
While providing advice the mentor said to me, “If you want to go further in the sport you have to make a choice, what are you? Are you a spectator or commentator? Or are you a professional coach?” They were trying to make a distinction. A commentator or spectator makes opinionated comments, whereas a professional coach would respect their colleague and process. They flipped the scenario on its head and asked, “what would you feel if the person had made similar comments about your team or athletes?” Asking me to consider the other person’s perspective. The lesson learned here was, what if someone posted the same comment about you.
Building your dossier
One poor post may represent a mistake, but multiple ill guided posts form a dossier. Look at your social media page. It does give a picture of who you are. My social media is filled with posts about ozswoosh, basketball and my I.T./Graphic Design businesses. We all see friends who mostly post about family, or constantly showing photos of their work. Others show their travels. Everything we post, or more pointedly everything we share about ourselves is a piece of who we are, what we do and the activities we engage in. So if you post photos of partying and drinking all the time, what might someone deduce from such posts? What most don’t realise, this collection of posts build a dossier we are creating of ourselves, which highlights our true persona.
Don’t engage in social media running commentary
I must admit, while this came out of the conversation, it is the hardest to do. It was suggested certain people within sport do not engage on social media, nor do they have a profile. Prior to this conversation, I saw social media as a platform to voice my opinions and comment liberally on everything I felt strongly about. But today I see it as a platform to connect with like minded people in a professional way. Today I find myself more restrained and self regulated. It does not mean I do not hold opinions, I just don’t publish them online as freely and try to curb impulsive feelings to do so. I save those opinions for private conversations, in person, off social media.
Nobody Is Perfect
Using social media can be fraught with pitfalls and potholes. Seriously considering your content before posting can help avoid many. The moment we submit ourselves to a social media platform’s terms and conditions we give up some privacy. Being human, we are not infallible and are likely to make mistakes along the way, after all nobody is perfect. But being more self aware and giving consideration to the impact our comments have on others and the way people may perceive them is at the core of good social media management. However in journalism we were taught the message is not in the signifier, but the signified. The thing signified is created in the perceiver and is internal to them, therefore we cannot possibly know how someone will interpret what we say. This is why it is important we understand how to avoid social media pitfalls and carefully consider what we post.