There has been a lot of discussion of late around the NHL’s introduction of its ‘Social Media’ guidelines. The guidelines have divided opinion across fans and hockey bloggers such as myself. Where through my work life, I have been involved with social media quite heavily and have become a fan of it myself, I think the social media guidelines the NHL has put in place, do seem if anything a bit vague.
On the surface, or at least what I’ve been able to see has been that players are not to use Twitter before, during, after games or practices and other obligations. It would look like the time frame of players not being allowed to tweet before the game is around two hours and the ban be lifted after all the media interviews are done after the game. Anyone found breaking the rule will be fined.
Where I have been privy to drafting social media guidelines for businesses, one thing I always make clear is that social media is something that everyone should embrace, not fear. The thing with Twitter obviously is that the feeds in many cases are public and can be seen by anyone.
I touched on the topic about a year ago, when Krys Brach and Cam Jansen seemed to have arranged a fight on Twitter (http://pushforpros.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/you-tweet-i-tweet-then-we-fight-yes/). In the post I suggested that the NHL would want to police behaviour such as this, and lets face it, it is in the public domain and might not be in lieu with the leagues interests, or convey the type of message the league wants to send out.
I think the main premise for the rules is to prevent guys tweeting if they are or aren’t playing in a game, which the NHL will argue will give teams a competitive advantage. Sure, I agree guys should not tweet the teams’ rosters, if anything that’s the teams’ job, but what’s to stop a sports journalist tweeting the rosters? Hockey insiders are clued up on things like this. At least what I’ve seen from the SM-Liiga, journalists covering the sport in Finland are quite happy to tweet the line ups for the games (as are teams’ fans), which I think is good.
There are great characters within the sport, like Paul Bissonnette, Sean Avery, Michael Grabner, Ryan Whitney, Mike Camalleri and so on, and it has been great to read the guys’ tweets and get ‘closer’ to them and to the pro hockey player mind set, obviously not in a freaky stalker sense. In a way, social media has made the players more accessible and the game more fun to follow.
I did put out the question (via Twitter of course) whether the FA (English Football Association) had guidelines for the use of Twitter and most had not heard of them having a guideline for the players. Most people seemed to think it was the teams’ responsibility to make sure that the players would not say anything that would negatively reflect on the team. Or the other responses that I got were along the lines of footballers being too dumb to tweet, but that’s a debate for another day.
Of course there are mishaps from the football (soccer) world. Most notably Wayne Rooney had a spat with a fan and challenged him to a fight after a Man U training, or the player (whose name escapes me) who tweeted that he was going to ‘smash his wife’s back doors in’.
Sure there are exceptions, but when you are talking about social media, the same rules apply as giving a media interview, ‘if you don’t want to see something in print, don’t say it’. I’m sure there won’t be any backlash (or there shouldn’t be) for posting a few pictures from a team dinner or something along those lines.
Interestingly a few days before this news broke I was having a discussion with the editor of PowerPlay Magazine in the UK (over Twitter funnily enough), about whether Twitter would lower the quality of the UK Elite League if players spent an increasing amount of time on Twitter. More on the training bit in the next paragraph, but I would like to think that pro hockey players are thinking training/games first to let social media interfere with their work. If social media started to interfere with a players’ performance, his employer, the team would have words with the player to make sure that his focus was on the ice and on the game, not in the world of hash tags and bit.ly links.
There are things that I agree with within the policy, such as no tweeting during a game, which is a no-brainer really, as I’m sure using Twitter on the phone will be frowned upon by the coaching staff as most teams would have a ‘no phones in the locker room’ policy in place. But before practice or a game? What problem is there if a player tweets “About to head to the rink. Pumped.” or something equivalent? However, many players such as the Twitter icon Paul Bissonnette, says he does not tweet on game days. I can understand if the league is concerned that players will start tweeting whether or not they’re in the line up or what the lines are, but in my opinion this is something that the teams should guide their players on, in terms of what is acceptable and what is not.
Which leads us to my real point. As in the corporate world, it is the employer of an individual who has to give guidance to the employees about social media use (during working hours), the same should apply in the NHL. Ultimately the players are employed by the teams, not by the NHL and the players should have their teams’ interests at heart first. I can understand that there areas where teams would want to monitor what guys say, but like Biznasty tweeted after the policy was made public, if he says something the team doesn’t agree with, he would get a call from the Coyotes PR guys. The way I see it the NHL social media policy should only apply to the employees of the NHL, not players. Though every coin has two sides, I can understand that the NHL wants to ensure that the players don’t say anything that would damage the reputation of the league.
Twitter gives fans the opportunity to talk thrash to opposing teams’ players. Former players like Theo Fleury and Jeremy Roenick have received series of jibes directed at them for what they did during their professional careers. I’m using Biznasty as an example here but him (and probably Ray Whitney) get a lot of jibes from the fans but I have to admit that they are witty in their responses and keep it within the lines of subtlety. Could you imagine the mess that it would create if a player would get into a spat with a fan (like Rooney did)? I would imagine that the local, as well as national (and International) media would have a field day with something like that.
Social media is a great way of bridging the gap between the fans and the players and it should be embraced and not feared, which is my initial reaction would be (note: I have not seen the guidelines document so I can only comment on what I’ve read in the media). However, the simplest form of social media policy is common sense. Players are used to rules and with the age of mobile devices, same rules should apply to use of social media as do to the use of phones on game days. I know the NBA and NFL has a social media policy in use already, though I can’t comment on its success as I don’t follow the sports close enough, however, I hope that the social media policy will not turn the players to mindless drones whose twitter streams would become something that only the NHL account would re-tweet.
I’m sure that I’ve missed out some of the key elements and arguments for and against the social media policy, but that would make this post far too long. Therefore I’m hoping that this will serve as a platform for comments and discussion. I’d like to think that I’m mature enough for someone to tell me that I’m talking out of my backside, but if you do have any views on the topic, I’d be interested to share them and get your views on it. No flame wars though, please.