But there's a difference between knowing how to use social media and knowing how to use social media.
What is social media?
An athlete's online profile can be an invaluable self-promotion tool, particularly for those who can't rely on mainstream media – it allows them to bypass news outlets and connect directly with their fans, opening the door for sponsorship opportunities.
But be warned... brand or be branded!
It's up to you to take control of how your social media presence represents you and present yourself in a way that boosts your credibility and your sport. Is the image you want people to have of you, reflected in what is online about you?
Young athletes who aren't educated about their online social life often don't realise the importance of separating their personal profile from their professional profile, especially in the beginning when they don't have a fan base.
But as their professional profile grows, it's important they have a social media plan that considers the image they want to create for themselves versus the image they may be perceived as portraying.
Remember, it only took Stephanie Rice 140 characters on Twitter to lose sponsors, bring her sport into disrepute and bring herself negative publicity. She is not the only athlete to lose income and reputation for posting online.
Your social media presence affects more than just you
What's often forgotten is that your social media reputation affects your relationships with friends and family, teammates, your sporting federation and coaching staff. Strains on any of these relationships are bound to start impacting performance in the sports arena, so if you can't use social media responsibly it might be best to reconsider using it at all. There are plenty of high profile athletes who don't have a social media presence!
However, if you simply can't live without social media, take this one piece of advice: Stop and think before you put your thoughts out there for everyone to read. Before sending, ask yourself some simple questions;
- Do you know who you are sending it to?
- Do you know what you will do with it?
- Do you want it to be around forever?
- How will it affect your future?
- If you are frustrated about a situation, take some BIG DEEP BREATHES before posting something about the situation.
- Be aware of privacy settings of your social network platforms.
- Ask permission before posting and tagging photos and videos of friends and have security settings that you need to approve any posts or tags you are included in.
- Only accept friend request from people you ACTUALLY know.
- Consider creating a website/Fan page for “ Fans” (Fan pages are a great way to interact with your fans, you can link it to your blog so people can follow your season and achievements. It allows you to separate your personal interactions with friends and just promote “you and your sport” – great opportunity for sponsorship)
- If you are still in doubt… consider – would you want your grandmother to see it?
Be clear about who you are representing (make it clear that the thoughts you express are your own). Take responsibility – you are responsible for your content. Remember that comments deemed inappropriate in normal conversation are no different in a social media environment. It is important to show respect for the organisations, groups and individuals with which you interact.