So how did Jozy Altidore and Ryan Babel score social networking own goals? They spoke out of turn on Twitter, when they should have left their legs to do all the talking — and here’s what we can learn from their exploits.

Jozy Altidore and Ryan Babel

Aside from a recorded interview, or people willing to be a witness to what was said, attributing words to a particular person has always been open to question. So what’s changed? Twitter, as just one example, but social networking as a whole. Why? Because now the accused is the author.

Letting the side down

Take for example Hull City and US international striker Jozy Altidore, and Liverpool FC and Dutch forward Ryan Babel. We’re led to believe that they’re professionals, but as I’ve said before, professionalism is not to be confused with talent:

“A huge salary is not a sign of professionalism. Nor is a insulting the competition, getting blind drunk in public, beating up your girlfriend, illicit affairs, gambling addictions, abusive behaviour or questionable TV appearances.

Professionalism is about being dignified and composed in the face of adversity. Being aware of your influence and using that influence in a responsible and measured way.”

For both Jozy and Ryan, publicly criticizing the decisions of their respective managers caused a lot of problems. So, what can we learn from their exploits? First of all, let’s look at the fall-out from their unguarded comments comments:

  • they undermined their own standing, bringing into question their professionalism;
  • they undermined the authority of their managers, damaging what trust and respect they’d earned;
  • their own team mates might now think twice before speaking in confidence with them, knowing those comments could also become public;
  • their own standing and position within their teams was damaged, leaving them with challenges off the field, as well as on;
  • they hardly endeared themselves to their fans, their fellow professionals, or the public at large.

Setting aside the football and / or even sport-specifics, this kind of lapse in judgment could easily occur in an customer-facing business (which, by definition, most sports are), if team members aren’t properly briefed beforehand.

Now, there’s nothing any business can do to prevent their staff from starting their own fan Page on Facebook, or having a Twitter profile, but what they can do is be clear about what they expect from them and what the likely consequences will be if those team members do not adhere to the rules of the game.

A lesson in team work

In my ebook, The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media, security specialist Paul Maloney has already provided some sound advice for dealing with the negatives of social media.

  1. Start with the training — show employees what damage thoughtless comments on a social network can cause to them, their colleagues and the company.
  2. Guidelines — detail the things you expect them not to post about, and the things they can post about.
  3. Useful examples — use the example of a guy called Kevin Colvin (a bank intern who’s indiscretions caused him great personal embarrassment and eventually cost him his job) to demonstrate the personal impact, his photo appeared in major newspapers around the world, potentially damaging his future career prospects.
  4. Refresher training — follow up the training with procedures and guidelines to ensure everyone has the same understanding. The policies should detail the consequences of ignoring them, which could be potentially career-ending.

Ultimately, this is about managing people as much as it is about encouraging them to express their skills. To paraphrase world cup winning manager Sir Alfred Ramsey, as a manger, you might not always pick your best best players, but you will try to pick your best team.

One Response to “Just how did soccer players Jozy Altidore and Ryan Babel score social networking own goals?”

January 20th, 2010

And in related news, Manchester United bans players from Twitter:

“The football club has taken control of the Twitter accounts belonging to Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher and Wayne Rooney, while Facebook accounts for Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown and again Ryan Giggs have also been commandeered, it has been reported.”

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