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Think Before You Tweet: Social Media Lessons for Athletes

February 22, 2013 | Lee Gordon

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All of us have done something because we thought it was "cool," but it turned out not to be the best choice. When it comes to social media, an ill-advised post or tweet can hurt your chances of getting recruited or even ruin your career.

A recent study by the Barna Group showed that Americans believe professional athletes have a bigger influence on their lives than pastors by more than a three-to-one margin. It's a telltale sign of the power athletes have over the general public. Add social media to the conversation, and the influence athletes have over our society increases ten-fold.

"The rapid rise of social media in recent years has changed the way athletes interact with their fans and the public at large," says Athletes' Performance director of public relations and production Peg Iralson. "Athletes need to understand everyone today has the ability to be a journalist by taking video or snapping a photo from a phone. In an instant, an athlete's private life can can become very public, especially if they are acting unsavory."

More than ever, athletes must be aware of what they say on social media, because the world is always watching. Cleveland Indians outfielder Nick Swisher has 1.64 million Twitter followers. Anytime Swisher sends out a tweet about his feelings on life or where he is in the world, 1.64 million people know about it—not including all the re-tweets he receives. One of Swisher's tweets reaches more people than the total attendance of the Indians' entire 82-game home slate this year. Now that's influence.

"As a sports anchor for a decade, we would dedicate people in the office to monitor the Twitter and Facebook accounts of athletes," said Elton Gumbel, director of multimedia at 180 Communications. "Many times we didn't need to get interviews because we got what we needed on social media."

Social media education is of paramount importance for all athletes, regardless of their age. If you are active on social media, then you should be educated about the impact it can have on your brand, reputation and career.

Want examples of those who do it right? Here are a few of the best tweeters in all of sports:

Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari (@UKCoachCalipari)

Coach Cal constantly praises other programs on campus and even sent praise to USA Today—something not done by many coaches.

Cal Assistant Basketball Coach Travis DeCurie (@fastbreak206)

A rising star in the college basketball world, DeCurie has used social media to promote his positive message. You will see a lot of quotes from John Wooden and others. DeCurie also praises other programs on campus.

LeBron James (@KingJames)

With over seven million followers, LeBron James has a lot of power. Watch how the best basketball player handles his social media—it's genius. James praises young and old, and gives his fans small glimpses inside his life, which makes him more marketable to his fan base.

At this point, you should understand that social media can do one of two things for you: it can bolster your brand and help you succeed, or it can cause your career to crater. To help you get the most out of social media, follow these four simple, but effective tips.

Be positive. You can't go wrong quoting John Wooden.

Provide value. Give your followers something to take away. If you are doing community service, take a picture. If you are at a game supporting your school, take a picture.

Think before you tweet. There is no disclaimer on Twitter. There is no option that says, "Are you sure you want to tweet this?" Don't send something that you wouldn't want your mom, grandmother or a judge to see.

Spell check. If you are going to post something, the best way to lose credibility is to fill it with misspelled words and sloppy grammar.

Check out these articles on how to use social media to your benefit.

Photo: Mashable.com

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