A Positive Image
Starts With Media Training
By Brian Kuppelweiser
John Flowers became a Twitter sensation during the West Virginia men's basketball team's Final Four run earlier this year.
Flowers, a junior forward for the Mountaineers, posted videos online via his Twitter account of he and his teammates unwinding during the downtime between games.
One video showed players Jonnie West and Joe Mazzulla recreating the theme song video of "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air."
The videos, some of which found their way onto website www.deadspin.com, brought added public attention to the Mountaineers.
However, some universities wouldn't have allowed such content to leak out through social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.
To deal with the added emphasis on social media, one company has begun to market itself as an insurance policy to limit the chances for negative publicity because of an athlete's network.
UDiligence, which is the brainchild of former congressional press secretary Kevin Long, is based in Montpelier, Vt., and designed to protect the online reputation of athletes.
Long thought of the idea after traveling the country for his other company, MVP Sports Media Training.
"It was an idea that came from doing media training for college athletic programs around the country," Long said. "I was traveling around the country doing training, and in doing that, I came across a lot of incidents of student-athletes putting negative things on their social networking sites."
UDiligence uses an automated system that searches each athlete's profile for certain terms or words. The list of terms, which Long said numbers at around 425, can be customized to each individual coach's preferences to make as strict or lenient as he or she wants.
"It scans Facebook, MySpace and Twitter pages for items that could be viewed in a negative light by people outside of that person," Long said. "Anything that may have a negative connotation we grab and send an e-mail alert back to the assistant coach or department administrator or whoever is in charge of the program."
The program's beta testing first began in 2007. It hit the market a year later. Now, dozens of teams use the program.
The first university to try out UDiligence was the New Jersey Institute of Technology, which Long praised for protecting their athletes.
"At the time when they signed up, they were a Division I school that was not yet in a conference," Long said. "They saw the wisdom in protecting their athlete's reputations as well as the school's reputation. It is a real credit that they understand that athletes need to have a clean slate on their resume when they head out into the business world."
The program costs approximately $5,000 for an athletic department comprised of almost 500 athletes.
"(Cost) depends on the size of the school," Long said. "We base it off the number of athletes that are being covered. Some schools just do one team, but most do the entire athletic department."
WVU does not use UDiligence, but it does monitor each players' social networking profiles internally.