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Why Social Media Is Still A Murky World For Sports Stars

Digital sports marketing expert Sean Callanan says elite athletes are in social media “no man’s land”, navigating a world of commercial complexities and Twitter trolls.

“They’re effectively seen as public property,” Callanan told PickStar’s Off-Field podcast.

“I think at the moment they're a bit in no man's land or no woman's land to be politically correct, in that they don't have anyone sort of on their side.

“It's a bit of a hot potato from clubs to, one, train them or tell them what they can or can't do because then you're getting into their personal lives, so they don't do a lot of it other than the stern social media scary movie ‘don't do this’.

“The leagues don't really do it, the agents haven't really come to the party to understand the digital space and sort of given them good guidance and the Players Associations … they're just spread thin. They can't train 800 or 900 players and get them all up to speed, so it sort of lends itself to being in that space of, ‘we'll (just) tell you what not to do.’

“I can give you that training in ten seconds. Just don't be a dickhead and you'll be fine.”


Callanan, the founder of Sports Geek, is advising elite athletes to avoid Twitter.

“I think some (social) platforms have done a better job protecting athletes than others,” he said. “I think Twitter is really taking an absolute pounding at the minute, it's not a really great place for an athlete to be.

“The troll problem is just out of control on Twitter. If I was an athlete and athletes that I talk to now are advised, like ‘do you bother with Twitter? No.’

“Why would I open it? It is just abuse. When you see athletes like Serena Williams saying ‘I prefer Snapchat because I get to choose what I see and who can reply to me’, so it becomes very broadcasted and less social. But unfortunately, that's the world we live in, the internet is full of idiots, you can't stop that.

Athlete Michelle Jenneke's #ThatsGold Coca-Cola campaign

But despite the challenges, Callanan said digital still has the potential to bring enormous benefits to sports stars.

“There is an opportunity for athletes to show their brand, show their personality, there's a reason that a lot of athletes are finding Instagram a lot better because again, they still have the same idiots commenting on their photos but it's not in your face, you don't have to read them. So I think there's an opportunity there,” he said.

“(Social is) their platform and so whatever they want to do with it down the track, whether they've got a store visit to go to or whether they've got a sponsor they want to pop up, that's the opportunity.

“(They must) realise that what they are doing does have value. So if a cafe gives you a free coffee, you don't need to give them an Instagram (post) because it's worth $500, $600 maybe, for a $4 coffee.

“So to understand that there is that marketplace out there, that people are seeing it, and at least put some value on it and understand that there is some value on it.

“But you can definitely funnel it into your own business interests and stuff like that, and it's effectively the audition for that media career, anyone that's got a strong social following, showing that their fans will jump when they say ‘jump’, they'll be the next media stars.”

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