I was recently at the Sports Tech Innovation Summit at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium in north London. Whilst there I got chatting to some people from a very well known sports brand. As I told them about what we do at freestak, with our particular focus on social media, one of the group told me that their employer does not tolerate any impromptu social media output about what they are doing when on duty. Everything has to have been approved. That means that if they have travelled to the UK for a conference, they cannot update their personal Facebook pages or tweet on their personal twitter feeds. At all. About anything.

Social media freedom = opportunity

As someone who loves social media and all the opportunities that represents, this suggestion of total control by an employer of their employees, feels wrong and unnecessarily over-bearing. Surely if as a business you trust people to make important decision in their everyday working lives and carry out tasks to the best of their abilities for your benefit, then you can trust them to be sensitive about what they post on social media and how that might reflect on their employer.

But giving people freedom takes bravery and it appears that many businesses, not just huge multinational sports companies, lack the courage to trust the people that are working for, or are linked to, their brand.

And I suppose at times they have reason to. Take for example Major League Baseball star Bryce Harper. It seems that Harper is returning from knee surgery and is using a static bike to aid his recovery. Nothing wrong in that, you would think. Except Bryce posted a picture of him on a static bike on twitter for his 350,000 followers, proudly wearing Nike shorts. Unfortunately he has a multi-year sponsorship deal with rival brand Under Armour and is one of their biggest names.

I suppose we will never know quite how Under Armour dealt with this faux pas, but the picture was deleted pretty damn quick and replaced with an almost identical picture of Harper dressed in the most heavily logo’d Under Armour kit you can imagine (and looking rather sheepish at the same time!)

Control is rarely a good thing

One of the talks at the Sports Tech Innovation Summit was delivered by Richard Ayers, CEO of Seven League. His talk started with the fact that Stuart Broad is the only member of the England cricket team that the England Cricket Board allows to have a twitter account. Everyone else on the team is assumed to be an idiot and incapable of not embarrassing the great and the good of English cricket.

Ayers went on to say that whilst people will always (thankfully) be human and therefore prone to making errors, the fear of risk is usually unfounded and often risk itself is misunderstood. In fact, risk is made up of two things: hazard and opportunity. Too often organisations of all types focus entirely on the risk and forget that by giving their staff, stakeholders, players, etc the trust and freedom to do what is in the best interests of the brand, they will almost certainly benefit.

A better response might have been…

Back to Under Armour. The problem for them is that once something is on the web, it is on the web – especially if you have 350,000 twitter followers. So the photo that Bryce Harper posted was captured in at least one screen-shot before he had a chance to change it. Now Under Armour looks like a childish, preening primadonna and a paranoid control freak all rolled into one. And Bryce will have had his wrists slapped and will probably reduce his social media activity to utterly mundane posts and pre-prepared press releases. Which will lead to less and less engagement. Ultimately Under Armour loses.

How much better would it have been for Bryce to do something funny? Make a quip? Be human and accept he made a mistake? I am sure that had he done that, he would have generated positive buzz which would have reflected well on Under Armour. I guess that is easy to say, if you’re not a paranoid control freak.


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