Photoshopped picture of Howard Webb tweeted by Ryan BabelSports stars are no longer local heroes but rather they are high-value assets and brands in their own right. As such their lives are governed by a host of rules to ensure that their actions don’t garner negative publicity, affect their performance or that of their team. Now managers are adding social networking to the rule book after a series of tweeting sportsmen received fines and made headlines.

This week Steve Cotterill, manager of Portsmouth Football Club, banned his players from using Twitter. He’s stated they’ll be fined a hefty £1,000 a word if found tweeting. The same penalty will apply if the players use Facebook.

It’s likely Cotterill wants to protect his team from the kind of controversy which surrounded Liverpool’s Ryan Babel in the past week. Babel received a £10,000 from the English FA after he criticised referee Howard Webb following Manchester United’s win over Liverpool in the FA Cup. Babel posted a photoshopped picture of the referee wearing a United jersey (pictured).Cotterill isn’t the first manager to lay down Twitter-law.

  • QPR manager, Neil Warnock, set down Twitter guidelines for his players after Jamie Mackie slated El Hadji Diouf on the social network. Mackie broke his leg playing against Diouf’s Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup and claims Diouf shouted abuse at him as he lay on the ground and publicly tweeted about the issue. In an attempt to prevent any future FA action for players online activity, Warnock has said: “I’ve had a word with the lads about this: they can use Twitter all they want – as long as it has nothing to do with the club.”
  • In advance of last years World Cup campaign, England manager Fabio Capello banned his players from social networking and writing a newspaper/magazine column in order to keep them focused on the task at hand…although that obviously didn’t work out too well for Fabio.

Soccer players aren’t the only ones having their online wings clipped.

  • Golfers were also issued with a blanket ban of Twitter and other social networks during the 2010 Ryder Cup to ‘keep players focused’.
  • The English cricketers were issued with social networking guidelines before the Ashes series in Australia late last year. A ‘self-policing’ policy was put in place to ensure key information stayed within the four walls of the dressing room.
  • Cricketers Kevin Pietersen and Dimitri Mascarenhas failed to adopt such a common sense approach to social networking and were both fined for outbursts on Twitter last year. Pietersen chose to express his ‘disappointment’ at being dropped from England’s limited-overs squad on the site, tweeting: “Done for rest of summer!! Man of the World Cup T20, and dropped from the T20 side too. It’s a fuck-up …” Meanwhile Mascarenhas referred to national selector, Geoff Miller, in less than savoury terms in a tweet and won himself a £1,000 for his troubles.
  • That £1,000 looks like small change when compared to the $25,000 that NFL player Chad Ochocinco was fined last year for tweeting during a game. The NFL have a policy in place which states that players are prohibited from using social networking sites such as Twitter or Facebook 90 minutes prior to kickoff and not until all post-game media sessions have ended.

The moral of the story?

Whether you manage a company or a sports team, as social networks such as Facebook and Twitter continue to grow and become easier to use with greater frequency thanks to mobile technology, it is important to have guidelines in place governing their use. You would control what is said about your company, staff and products/services in a press release or on the company website…similarly you should be confident that your business is being represented in the best possible light by your staff online. Taking some time to put in place simple common sense guidelines for online conduct can help to avoid problems down the road.