Understanding the social media landscape is essential, and some teams are trying to help. “Our policy has been and always will be that a player joining social media is his decision," says Rob Mixer, the Manager of Digital and Social Media for the Columbus Blue Jackets. "We welcome their active participation, of course, because it¹s great for our team and for the players on a personal branding level, but we'll never force it upon them.”This is great and all, but I kind of think if you're a professional athlete that you need a plan going into using social media.
The pitfalls are many, of course, and they get worse if you're in the public eye. There are a lot of people who truly believe that if you're a public figure, then anything in your life is fair game to comment on, criticize, and outright attack. So there are things to watch out for, naturally.
But if you're going to go there, if you're going to do social media, then you need to decide upon who your intended audience and what the point of being there is for you is from the start.
If you want to connect with friends and family, with teammates, and with people that you already know, then make your account private. If it's not, and that's exactly what you want to do, then make it private now, and block those people you don't want seeing your stuff. You're not being a jerk if all you want is a friendly environment to be social in.
If you want to connect with fans, then be interactive with fans. But also be aware that there are going to be assholes who attack you for no reason. Don't be afraid to report people and / or block them if they're harassing you. If you end up earning a reputation for being "sensitive", then own that. Trust me, it'll make your life easier in the long run.
If all you want to do is get news out about your team, your charity work, your projects, or whatever, then be very picky about how you engage with fans. The entire point is to broadcast information, not be chatty with anyone and everyone. People will get the picture after a while.
Whatever you decide to do, then be methodical, consistent, and ruthless (if necessary) about it. It's your account, not your family's, the fans', and not the team's. If people don't like what you do or how you react, then that's too bad; you can't possibly make everyone happy, so why even try?
No one has a right to dictate how you run it, not even your team. I mean, you'll want to be respectful of everyone when possible, of course, but if it's a personal account that you set up, then they have no right to it. They might not like how you go about doing things, but in the end - unless it's specifically written into your contract - they can't do a damned thing about it, unless they want to trade you. And even then, in the US a team can be taken to court for violating the First Amendment of the Constitution: the right to free speech.
But, hey, if being traded is what you want, then that might be a way to go about doing just that. Although it gives other teams fair warning about what you might do to them down the road and they might think twice about trading for you. All actions and non-action have consequences, after all.
The other thing is if you're going to sign up for social media of any kind, then use it. If you don't like it or you're not using it, either make your account private or cancel it altogether. Don't leave it in limbo like so many do.
General rule of thumb is if you haven't posted anything up in six months, you might want to seriously think about the point of having that account - from a potential follower perspective, there's no point in following someone if they're not posting anything new, after all. If you're using it to read other things on the same site, but not using it to post your own stuff, then make it private and be picky about whose invitations you accept. If you're simply not using it at all, then close it if you don't think you'll use it again, or make it private if you think you might.
People will periodically purge their follow lists if no one's tweeting, for example. I usually give that a go at least once a year and I'll drop like 30-60 people in one shot - usually because they haven't done anything with their account in months or they're boring. What's the point of following someone who does nothing, after all?
The entire point of social media is to be...well, social. If you're not being social or going to be social, then there's really no point in being public about it. Broadcasting your stuff without intending to socialize isn't exactly being social, but at least it serves a purpose.
This doesn't just apply to Twitter, but to every single social media app / site out there. Figure out your purpose in using it, who your audience is, and then go for it. Yeah, people can generally be mean and ignorant, but there are fewer of those than you might think.
Frankly, if you're a part of the sports industry and you can't take stupidity thrown at you, then you probably should find a new field of work.
(I can take it, but thank God I'm not a part of it anymore. Sort of nice to not be in the sports media scene, or to be affiliated with a specific team. I'm still in it around the edges, but that's just because of the people that I know from when I used to be a blogger. Simply being a general hockey fan is pretty nice, I have to admit.)