The power of social media is shown in the aftermath of Jay Cutler's departure

In the aftermath of Jay Cutler’s departure in the middle of the NFC Championship Game last weekend, the power of social media was shown all over the league. It wasn’t just fans that were voicing their opinion on the web, but current and former players who now have their own Twitter and Facebook accounts. Many of these stars are not aware of the power that these sites have, and as a result their words are focused on by the more established members of the media.

I attended a conference on Issues in College Sport last year at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and at the conference I sat in on a panel about the power of social media with high profile athletes.Steve Kirschner, Associate Athletic Director for Athletic Communications at Chapel Hill, is responsible for much of the public relations activity at UNC and said that he has dealt first hand with many issues regarding controversial activity on players’ online accounts.

“Schools need to do a better job of educating student-athletes about social media,” said Kirschner, who said one student landed in hot water when a vulgar, but private, tweet made its way into the mainstream media when one of the private viewers made it public.

“The players should only talk online as if they were at a press conference,” he added.

Marcus Ginyard, a member of the men’s basketball team at UNC, was a panelist during this discussion. Ginyard has his own twitter account, and said he has “definitely” received negative feedback at times. He warned that others should be careful when posting on their own accounts in order to maintain their reputation.

Many of the athletes in today’s game should receive training before they begin making public posts, and there are now many media companies that are trying to help these athletes watch what they post. I had a chance to sit down and interview Kathleen Hessert, founder of the Sports Media Challenge. Hessert travels to different schools around the country in an effort to educate athletic departments and their student-athletes about the good, bad, and the ugly of the Internet’s social networking sites. She also counsels professional athletes such as Shaquille O’Neal and Peyton and Eli Manning, advising and directing them where to go with their online reputations.

Because players need to be so careful about the privacy settings on their personal pages, Hessert believes they should only allow the people they really trust to view their page.

“(The players) still need something for themselves that isn’t public. They need somewhere they can retreat, but only for close family,” explained Hessert.

She said that most athletic departments fail to communicate with their students about the latest in social networking, and subsequently struggle to effectively guide their students when it comes to posting things online.

“College athletic departments are trying to control what is being said,” said Hessert. “As a result, they have major problems. They tried banning Facebook a few years ago. When I asked a group of students how many of them had a Facebook profile, every single one of them raised their hand.”

All of this makes me wonder how much business Hessert is piling up now after many athletes are under fire for their comments regarding Cutler and any other instances that have occurred since I interviewed her last April. I’m sure her business is thriving and saving reputations all over the world of sports, as everyone makes the adjustment to the newest technology that is evolving every day.

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