With the rise of social media ubiquity, access to massive audiences is more available than ever. This has been a boon for athletic departments wanting to reach boosters, impress recruits, and connect with fans. Some teams have done a good job developing a personality with their social media accounts, going beyond basic news reporting to talk trash to an opponent, make jokes, or engage in debate.
Who the individuals actually posting on these accounts are is sometimes unclear as access to the “official” accounts of athletic departments might rotate between staff members, students, or department higher-ups. Sometimes account management even falls outside the purview of the athletic department, instead being maintained by a communications or public relations division.
While the vast majority of tweets, posts, and updates are either nondescript or inoffensive, there is always the risk of pushing the envelope too far in an attempt to stand-out in a crowded social media stream. Creating a meme or crafting a tweet that gets thousands of retweets can draw tremendous attention to a school’s program, but how do athletic departments ensure the proper messaging is being maintained?
The latest iteration of this scenario occurred with the University of Florida’s official Twitter account. A post that was later taken down depicting a burning house and the caption “Nothing to see here” as a comment on the state of Florida’s football program was deemed in poor taste by the school and generated additional negative attention for the beleaguered team. The school’s desire to pull the image many thought humorous is an illustration of how difficult it can be to maintain a consistent voice across social media platforms while also trying to be relevant amidst the noise of online traffic.
The dilemma for athletic departments and social media often boils-down to wanting a genuine, urbane voice that also doesn’t overstep the arbitrary and shifting notions of propriety for the department. An athletic department official can’t review every post prior to upload and must trust those with access to the “official” accounts to provide a fresh voice without going too far. This is an impossible ask that will undoubtedly result in situations similar to what happened at Florida recently.
Unless athletic departments want to remain limited to score reports and news updates, they must be prepared to make the occasional retraction on social media. Officials should limit who has the ability to post on behalf of the university and decide if having a humorous, insightful, and personable social media presence is worth the rare occasions where a tweet needs to be deleted.