Social media can be a great tool for athletes to reach out to their fans. But it can also negatively affect those who don't know how to use it properly. To combat potential dangers, most professional teams teach their players how to avoid those situations.
In 2012, Orlando City began training its players about how to interact with the media and use social media properly. Once a year, with a potential follow-up later in the season, the club's Communications Department offers a presentation to all of the first-team players about how to avoid the pitfalls of social media while being under the scrutiny of the media and public.
The presentation is generally run by the club's Vice President of Communications Lenny Santiago, with help from his team. In 2014, following the team's acceptance into Major League Soccer, the league's Senior International Communications Consultant, Gabe Gabor, visited the club to offer his expertise. Gabor also brought in Amanda Vandervort, the league's Senior Director of Social Media, to help with the club's first year in MLS.
With such a young team, players are currently learning habits that they will carry into the future. It's similar to how they view their Development Academy. By teaching these young players the proper way to use social media now, the club believes they will stay away from dangerous situations in the future.
While every medium of social media is covered, the primary focus is Twitter, a site that can cause a great deal of trouble due to its immediacy of releasing content. The potential troubles caused by Twitter were displayed last week when former Liverpool striker Ryan Babel got into hot water for sexist tweets made to a female fan who criticized him via the social networking site.
@Shannxo i think u should concentrate on growing some tits instead of speaking about football... Ur a girl.. Stay in ur lane..— Ryan Babel (@Ryanbabel) August 28, 2015
That's a situation Orlando City is trying to avoid.
During the presentation, players are taught important aspects of using social media, such as best practices and careful tweeting. The presentation cautions them to refrain from reading every notification, as negative ones can cause angry reactions, which can lead to further trouble. "If you have to stop and think about it, don't tweet it," says Orlando City Communications Coordinator Jhamie Chin.
But cautionary tales are not the only lessons during the presentation. Social media gives players the opportunity to interact directly with their fans. Players are taught appropriate ways to engage with the club and its fans over social networking sites.
Social media can also offer perks to certain athletes who use the sites to interact with local establishments. Columbus Crew striker Kei Kamara has long been a fan of Chipotle Mexican Grill, often tweeting at or about the restaurant chain. In 2013, this resulted in the chain presenting him with a Chipotle Gold Card, granting him free dining at any location.
While the club does its best to educate the players on best practices of social media, there is always the possibility that a player might stray. To avoid any potentially embarrassing moments, the Communications team keeps a close eye on each player's social media accounts to confirm they are implementing what they have learned.
For all the positives that social media offers, there are several dangers as well--particularly for professional athletes who are watched over with a keen eye by thousands. Like many other professional sports organizations, Orlando City is dedicated to making sure its most valued employees, especially the young ones, are prepared for the popularity and close observation their future entails. By offering the team a media and social media education each season, they prepare them for what's to come.