A Positive Image
Starts With Media Training
By Joe Favorito
As the school year winds down the collegiate athletic tools of the trade are put away for the summer and college campuses get a bit of a respite from the year round activity and business that sports is today. There are several championships yet to be played ... lacrosse this week, College World Series in a few, but for the most part athletes are headed home for the summer break.
However what does not rest for athletes, administrators and coaches are the ever-present forms of social media which go on unabated 24/7, and even in the quietest of times. It is that ever-present microscope of scrutiny that can do damage to any reputation, be it person or school.
The issue of brand protection for collegiate organizations has never been more important because as a property, college athletics, from Division III through the largest public institutions, has never been stronger. As local news morphs to a more global scope through the use of digital media and all its social applications, the ways to communicate, both positively and sometimes negatively, take on new focus.
In year's past, maybe there would be transgressions no matter how slight that would be missed or swept under the rug. However the fact remains that any student athlete, coach or administrator is now solidly in the public eye, and with that scrutiny comes more responsibility and concern over damage to brand.
Also with that open playing field of social media comes the worrisome efforts of administrators to keep track of all that is going on in the social and digital media space. It is akin to playing a game of "Whack a Mole," taking a digital mallet and trying to keep each of the "social media moles'... Facebook, MySpace, twitter, blogs, message boards etc ... at bay in a real time atmosphere. Many administrators assign a staffer, who may not be around in the summer, to watch as many platforms as possible and check out potential issues. However that system, especially when one multiplies the number of teams and athletes at a University becomes very daunting and often times the only time one hears of potential issues is after the fact.
One automated alternative which has been adapted by a growing number of Universities in the Midwest and South is a monitoring product called UDiligence.™ Created by a team of technicians and professionals who work within both the athletic and crisis management areas, UDiligence is the only automated service that helps collegiate athletic departments protect against damaging posts made on student-athletes' Facebook®, Twitter® and MySpace® pages. Departments receive alert emails whenever a troublesome post occurs, so staff can address the issue before it becomes a bigger problem for the student-athlete and the athletic department. The product, which has to be voluntarily downloaded by the participant, serves as a proactive insurance policy that further protects the reputations of student-athletes, coaches and athletic directors as well as the public image of teams, departments and schools.
Is it a bit too "Big Brotherish?" Does it invade privacy of student-athletes who are not necessarily "staff"? Perhaps. However in this challenging time, where athletes are held to a higher standard and are challenged in many ways off the field and out of the classroom, UDiligence can provide some very intriguing insurance for a University.
In many ways, what UDiligence does provide is a sort of litmus test for leadership for a University. The schools that use the product, including the University of Nebraska, the University of Mississippi, and Bradley University among others, feel in many ways that they have made a brand and a financial investment in the athlete and others in the department, and are asking for a show of faith back for those who have been invested in. Does it take some of the silliness and quirkiness out of being a student? Perhaps. But it does teach responsibility, especially in a very social setting where athletes today can just as much be targets as peers for those in the community. The system does have controls that can be set for what is objectionable and what is not. There is substantial give and take between those doing the monitoring and those being monitored, and many times the product can alert key personnel to rising problems before they spin out of control and end up on a police blotter or on a questionable website.
UDiligence is not a band-aid for all that is problematic in today's society, and there are obvious ways to circumvent the system for the enterprising athlete. However it does give a University a good amount of proactive planning in a time when reactive is more the norm.
Will it gain widespread support? Will Universities on all levels see the product as a cost efficient way to avoid risk? Too early to tell. Could the technology have helped avoid some of the tragic situations that have occurred on college campuses in recent months involving athletes? Unfair to say in hindsight. However the technology does provide those participating with a great deal more peace of mind as the summer is upon us and their athletes are out of sight, but not quite out of mind.
Simply put, UDiligence is part of coaching beyond the game -- preparing student-athletes to assume leadership responsibilities in fulfilling the obligations of life. It helps protect the long-term reputations of student-athletes, providing teaching moments where a coach or staff member can mentor the student-athlete regarding responsible social networking should they post something troublesome.