Today the new head football coach of Ohio State, Urban Meyer, banned his players from using Twitter. Meyer is not the first coach to issue such a ban, as many other coaches both in football and out of football have done the same thing. The issue of both student-athletes and professional athletes utilizing Twitter accounts and the rights they should have is an enormous issue. Working in an intercollegiate athletic department, I see this issue unfold on a daily basis. Even though I could go on and on about Twitter in athletics, the fact of the matter is that this type of medium is really influencing all areas of life in all different kinds of professions and across many different age demographics. It is just easy to see it manifested in the athletic world because of the high pedestal that sports hold in society. Like it or not, Twitter is not the fad that some people forecasted it to be, rather it is a social media tool that is still rapidly gaining momentum and is not going to go away anytime soon. Because of this staying power, I don’t know if I completely support Coach Meyer’s decision to all-together ban Twitter (although I initially did when the announcement was made today). I would much rather see teams, offices, companies, etc. develop strict policies and protocols on how athletes/employees/administrators use it.
One thing that is plainly obvious is that Twitter is not the Twitter that it was three years ago. No longer is this a social medium used by a small minority of society that is reserved for updating where you are and what you are doing at the given moment. No, no, no, the landscape has changed drastically. Today’s Twitter is much more widespread and is focused intensely on interaction among fellow users, gut reactions and opinions to unfolding events, and wittiness. It is very common for Twitter users, especially younger users, to have full out conversations over the medium. I am talking about detailed interactions about plans for the night, relationship issues, or any other type of drama that might be going on. This is of course played out for the whole Twitter community to see. In the Twitter world, it really is about being clever and unique. You want to have content that is going to draw people to your account, content that other people are going to pick up on. Anyone who uses Twitter, myself included, will tell you that it is kind of like a badge of honor to be retweeted. Well, you aren’t going to get retweeted by saying something mundane or boring. This urges people to push the envelope, to say something a little edgy, to try to one up someone. Of course when the objective is to be as witty as possible, content goes onto your Twitter feed that employers/coaches/teachers will probably cringe at.
You probably are all looking at me thinking I am the biggest hypocrite ever. Well, you are pretty much right. I am a Twitter addict (@BrentR7) with over 9,000 tweets to my name. I love interacting over Twitter and I am usually not shy to send out to all my followers what I am thinking at the given moment. However, as of late my eyes have been opened a little more to the negative implications that Twitter can bring to both the individual and the organization that the individual represents. I have sent out some tweets that I wish I hadn’t. Combined with my personal experience and with all of the mind-blowing, bush league tweets I see others send out over a variety of different social groups and professions, I feel that work places, organizations, teams, etc. should not ban the usage of Twitter but rather monitor the usage of Twitter through company policies.
The one thing that I forget a lot, and I know others do too, is that more people are paying attention to what you post than what you think. Not only that, but people are also connecting you with the organization/team/work place that you are affiliated with. I feel this is the main point that all work place Twitter policies (actually all social media policies) should be based on and driven into the heads of employees/athletes/etc. In life, no matter what job you hold, your boss is always going to tell you that outside of the workplace you are still representing your place of work/your team and that you need to conduct yourself in a way that honors and reflects that position. Well, even though the Twitter realm might be out of the workplace, it is probably a good idea to hold yourself in a respectful way because even in the land of social media people are going to pinpoint you with whatever higher level you are associated with.
Once that this general rule is communicated, specifics relating to Twitter can be implemented. For my job, I already adhere to a couple of guidelines that I feel are very reasonable and necessary for everyone across the board. Each night I stop tweeting at a certain hour and I am to refrain from using profanity. These are no-brainers. If you are a high school teacher and you are sending tweets out at 3am in the morning, what are your students going to think when they see you just a few hours later? Or what if you are a real estate agent and some prospective clients see you dropping the F Bomb in several tweets right before they are going to see you about a property? I have had people from the community who I have helped or worked with immediately add me on Twitter right after I had met them. People are going to try to get an inside scoop on you before you even know they are following you so it is important to always keep your guard up.
Some other guidelines I believe anyone who is representing a workplace or team that is in the public view should adhere to are as follows:
1. Pay close attention to grammar and punctuation. Yes, it is fine to use shorthand and slang in your tweets within reason but don’t misspell words, don’t add a bunch of unnecessary punctuation marks or letters, don’t tweet in pig latin.
2. Never slam/criticize a competitor.
3. NEVER criticize a company that is affiliated/invested with your organization/company/team.
4. Be careful who you follow and who follows you. People will look at this and try to tie you to them.
5. Be very careful what you retweet and quote, whatever you send out will be construed as a direct reflection of you, even if someone else said it.
6. Know when to stop @ replying. Public conversations through Twitter are fun but some subjects are definitely more suited for direct messages, the phone, texting, or face-to-face.
7. Twitpic is a very useful and effective tool but make sure all images are appropriate.
8. Don’t get into arguments over Twitter with another user. These can be especially embarrassing as they are played out for everyone to see.
9. Keep your account information PRIVATE and always log out if you are on a computer or don’t let your phone get into the wrong hands. There is nothing worse than when someone poses as you on one of your social media outlets. Sometimes serious damage can occur.
10. When you are under the influence, don’t tweet.
Of course these rules and guidelines would be pointless if they are not enforced. The way teams/organizations/companies uphold the integrity of their Twitter policy is for them to decide. Some might opt to put pressure on an employee to delete their Twitter account entirely if they are in violation of the policy. Other organizations might implement harsher consequences and threaten employees/team members who are in violation of the policy with probation or termination or expulsion from the team.
Bottom line, I don’t feel banning Twitter completely is the way to go. While it does potentially eliminate the problem, I also feel it takes away rights from people and it also deprives them of a communication tool that is actually really cool. We are social animals and we should have the opportunity to express ourselves through a variety of different mediums. If we just tell ourselves to be smart and remind ourselves that someone is always watching, we should be fine. Tweet on! Don’t Blink.