Sunday, April 7, 2013

Used properly, social media can bring fans closer to the game

Monday's Expert

Unfortunately ''social media'' isn't always social. Josh Dugan has discovered that the hard way.

And while banning sports stars from Twitter and Facebook would undoubtedly limit negative press on the front pages, it would do more harm than good.

National Institute of Sports Studies direction Keith Lyons suggested this week young athletes should be paid to stay off social media.

''Imagine having a scheme, not only of media training that was personalised but actually have the clubs pay the athletes not to have a public presence,'' he said.

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Lyons went on to suggest players should employ a third party to tweet for them. Sorry Mr Lyons. I know what you're getting at, but I couldn't disagree more.

Twitter in particular has revolutionised the way fans interact with favourite teams and sports stars.

It allows athletes to showcase their personality a bit more, and present a different side to them fans would otherwise not see.

I can tell you from experience most football players are much more personable when the cameras and tape recorders aren't rolling.

What they say in TV or print interviews is normally an athlete doing everything possible to ensure he doesn't offer that one quote to the media that could be blown out of proportion.

When Twitter is used properly by athletes it creates a much closer dynamic between themselves and their fans. Whether it be a simple thanks for messages of support, it makes supporters feel more involved.

For instance, before Sunday's clash against the Roosters there was uncertainty over whether back-rower Joel Thompson would play for the Raiders.

Normally team changes are made public an hour before a game, but Raiders fans knew Thompson wouldn't play six hours before the match when he tweeted ''Congratulations to @Jarrodcroker on his 100th 1st grade game very talented… Wish I was playing today mate I need to get my body 100%.''

Raiders fans were also desperate to know if Raiders 18-year-old whiz-kid Anthony Milford would make his debut against the Roosters.

Again, instead of finding out an hour before kick-off, teammate Blake Ferguson put the conjecture to rest by tweeting ''Good luck to my little man Tony Milford making his first grade debut!''

We all know ''Fergo'' has got himself in hot water with Twitter in the past, but this is a strong example of using it the right way - to convey relevant information to fans when they want it.

I'll admit I have a vested interest in advocating social media. When players offer tidbits of useful information like this it also makes my job a lot easier (although often infinitely more stressful at times when players decide to drink alcohol on a roof).

Players, particularly young ones, are counselled regularly by NRL clubs on proper and improper use of social media. They're warned once they've posted something on the Twittersphere, it's in the public domain and fair game.

Just because there's a few bad apples who use it inappropriately, is it fair to penalise those who do?

A slew of Raiders players have opened Twitter accounts recently, including Terry Campese, David Shillington and Jarrod Croker.

The more players interact with fans the better. A simple gesture on social media, even if it's a ''quick thanks'' to someone wishing them good luck, could make them a Raiders fan for life.

It also makes fans feel their support is appreciated by the playing group, and that can only be positive.

The players aren't robots. They want to interact with their supporters in their own way, not just through press conferences where what they say is often dictated by the media.


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