It’s ironic that one of the biggest concerns of a modern athletic department is education, and not necessarily the kind associated with earning a degree.
Preventative and compliance education like diversity, Title IX, and drug and alcohol training have become more and more of a concern over the years as programs draw increased attention. Forget the record breaking television contracts and 24 hour sports networks for a moment, and consider that every single student-athlete and department employee has multiple social media platforms with international reach at their fingertips every second of the day. It’s a scary prospect for anyone associated with an athletic program.
But where there is a problem, there are multiple suitors offering their solutions. We polled NCAA leaders, US government advisors and collegiate education researchers on how to determine fact from fiction when it comes to social media education.
“We are approached regularly by social media education companies,” said Ron Wellman, athletic director at Wake Forest University. “They offer 100% guarantees for success rate with presentations, monitoring and even removing our SAs questionable posts. Believe me, we’ve heard it all.”
But while it’s easy for most athletic directors to recognize that nothing can ever be guaranteed fully, others worry about the things, and people, they won’t recognize. “Of course we are concerned about social media, and we want to do what is best for our student-athletes,” said Western Illinois Athletic Director Matt Tanney, “but the reality is that AD’s and even staff are not always digitally proficient when it comes to policies and procedures to help equip and protect their department. We craft and recommend best practices, but it is challenging to discern who is truly an expert in this category and who isn’t.”
Like any trailblazer, athletic directors have to lean on their team to fill in the gaps. Judi Henry, the senior associate athletics director and senior woman administrator at Texas Tech, was charged with vetting social media education companies before presenting them to AD Kirby Hocutt. “We wanted to be at the forefront in this area and do what is responsible and is impactful for our Institution, Athletic Department and its people. It was important for our team to do real research on different approaches with measurable results and an accredited team of leaders.”
Anne Collier, a net safety advisor to Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, and a former co-chair of Obama administration’s Online Safety & Technology Working Group added, “Institution Presidents and Athletic Directors need to be wary of snake oil salesmen promising 100% guarantees where social media education is concerned. It’s a behavioral and social medium – the world’s first, in fact. So what people put on it is completely individual, situational (in terms of what’s happening in the moment) and contextual (in terms of the physical and social environment). There is no silver bullet or quick fix presentation for everybody where all those variables are at play.”
This point was reinforced in McGraw Hill’s second annual report, “The Impact of Technology on College Student Study Habits.” Along with confirmation that mobile phones are the primary tool that students use to access information, the study highlights the importance of adaptive technologies and individualized teaching methods, referred to by many as the foundational approach.
“When vetting social media education companies, decision-makers need to let go of the past, be rational instead of emotion- or fear-driven, and jump into the present with foundational education,” Karen North the chairwoman and director of the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg’s Digital Social Media Masters program stated.
An added benefit to the foundational approach that North leaves out seems to be time, and by extension cost-savings. Because the foundational method leverages individualized learning and technology, it by definition is interactive and modular, meaning there are no department wide presentations required every time the training is updated.
Fortunately, the foundational approach has a champion in the form of The National Social Media Initiative in College Athletics. With partners like Wake Forest, Western Illinois, Texas Tech, Auburn, Baylor, Iowa State and numerous others, the movement is dedicated to establishing an industry standard of excellence with foundational social media education. Their goals are to offer a litany of tools, best practices, policies and procedures by which athletic departments can become empowered and equipped to mitigate risk.
The Initiative has already recognized one training provider for using a foundational approach; Social Media Sports Management, also known as SM2.
“Foundational social media education wasn’t available to – or customized for the NCAA three years ago. It trickled down from the public sector to the private sector and is now in athletics,” Stated SM2 CEO, Carrie Cecil. “I would love to take credit for the innovation but it was truly a collaboration with experts in this field and others that demanded we disrupt our resources, traditional thinking, decision-making, dollars and application if we were truly committed to positively impacting the culture of social media in athletics. And, today I feel grateful to be doing just that.”
Matthew Monte is Managing Editor of College AD and formerly Co-Managing Editor of Underdog Dynasty. He is a graduate of The B.I. Moody III College of Business Administration at UL Lafayette, mostly because it didn't require a foreign language. Matt is also a recovering stand up comedian who occasionally relapses.