A Positive Image
Starts With Media Training
By Chris Littmann
The Columbia Missourian has a story today on college coaches monitoring what their athletes are doing on social media sites. While the story focuses mostly on Mizzou itself, there's a company discussed in the piece that I could see spreading like wildfire. That company is UDiligence, which started marketing its service to schools in the middle of 2008.
UDiligence is taking some of the heavy lifting that comes with monitoring social media pages for athletes off of athletic departments and placing it on the company's API. (What athletic department wants a photo like the one below circulating in the public eye?) The company makes use of a Facebook app to check those pages for student-athletes. In the case of Twitter and MySpace, no app or additional software is required. At this time, they are not searching private Twitter pages.
I was surprised a service like this hadn't received more attention to this point, so I jumped on the phone with UDiligence's CEO, Kevin Long, for a chat Friday afternoon.
"This is not about being a police man for them, it's about helping them understand what's going to protect them beyond today and tomorrow, it's about helping them get a job when they're done," Long said.
Initially, I couldn't imagine players opting in to a Facebook app, but Long makes the point that this is basically the new credit check, background check or drug test when going in for a job. These things really do evolve and he's probably right. If you walked into a job interview, unemployed, and someone asked you to add this Facebook app, would you balk?
At the moment, Long says UDiligence is serving roughly two dozen schools, the vast majority of which are monitoring their entire athletic departments rather than just individual teams. No pro teams are involved, which struck me as surprising, but Long said some NFL and NBA teams have contacted him about using the service as a way to do an additional level of background checking on potential draft picks.
The cost for this service is $1,250 a year for 50 athletes or fewer, or $5,000 a year for 500-750 athletes. Some old-school administrators might not like spending money to monitor social media pages, but it's probably better than the PR aftermath of having to deal with something like this. Right now, the current list of naughty words UDiligence searches for is up to 421. I was shown the list, and while I can't run it in its entirety, I can say that if you grab any five, you've got a heck of a night out. I mean really, it's like an athlete arrest mad lib sheet. How about these five: "toke, Bartles and James, erotic dancers, kevlar vest, shot gun." Tell me that night wasn't a party! The list is customizable, so coaches can add their own items that aren't already on the list or remove the less offensive items. If you're wondering how they came up with the list, you can look no further than frat at Purdue.
The UDiligence tool is actually pretty powerful. Long walked me through a demo that allows you to sort by a number of options. You can sort by the type of comment across categories like alcohol, weapons, profanity, etc. You can determine whether the offending comment came on a profile page, a comment on a page or a friend's comment. (On Facebook, even photo captions and photo comments are scanned.) Schools have the option to set up e-mail alerts, too. You're able to remove offending comments or save them for later if you want to question a player about what was said.
The last question I had was whether any media company had contacted them about their API as a means of tracking athletes behaving badly. No one has, although Long said he's surprised by that and added "I would just guess they're not aware of it."
As a bonus link, check out the page on the UDiligence site that shows examples of things they've found on athlete pages. Some of it is probably NSFW, but completely hilarious. And let this be a reminder: learn to use your privacy settings!