At this year’s Fan Engagement Conference in Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, legendary British athlete Colin Jackson, Ireland international rugby player Sene Naoupu and GAA legend Valerie Mulcahy will be speaking on a panel hosted by Dr Olivia Hurley. The topic of that panel will focus on how sports stars view social media, its benefits and perils. Does the benefit of promotion and the positive interaction with fans, outweigh exposing sports stars to criticism, or worse… unsavoury social media trolls?
We live in the Social Media age, where social networks have replaced traditional methods of communication for most people. While free, instantaneous messaging has undoubted benefits in connecting people together, it also facilitates antisocial behaviour. With the shroud of perceived anonymity, people behave differently when online to how they do in real life. A poor performance for a high profile player guarantees a stream of negative mentions will be waiting when they open their account. Being on social media is perceived as a necessity for many public personalities, for their profile and marketing power, and it can be great for interaction with fans. However, if they personally manage their accounts, it also exposes them to the worst that the worldwide social media community has to offer.
In 2017, according to Statista.com, 71% of people who have internet access (approximately 2.46 billion people worldwide) had a presence on social media, and those figures continue to rise.
Since the mid 2000s, which both saw the emergence of social networks such as Facebook, and also the first 3G mobile phones, people hold in their hands the ability to message almost anybody in the world. No telephone numbers, postal addresses or consent are required… a “tag” is all that is needed. That is phenomenal power, but as Spiderman will tell us… with great power comes great responsibility. While public figures will always need a thick skin to deal with negative comments, it is the responsibility of everyone to consider the human being at the end of that “tag” on your social media post.
Sports people should be encouraged to fully engage on social media, but before we criticise them for not doing so, and choosing instead to hire a social media manager look after their account, we need to consider what they are dealing with. Being a high profile personality means they are more visible as a target for trolls and so it is easy to understand why many choose to just have a social media presence, instead of actually being socially present.
Social media presents the opportunity for fans to see the person behind the talent and humanise them. But it also exposes stars to abuse and criticism. Listening to this panel at #FECD18 discuss how they manage that balancing act should be worth the €80 ticket alone.