News Analysis: Football clubs need to recognise social media as mass media

The use of Twitter within football has been at the forefront of several news stories in the last week, not least Liverpool FC's Ryan Babel's tweet of a mocked up picture of referee wearing a Manchester United shirt. So what should football clubs do to curb the controversy - The Drum investigates.

The Football Association will make a ruling today which could impact footballers use of Twitter as their clubs anxiously monitor their players social media presence.

Steve Downes, managing director of social media marketing agency Juice Digital said that clubs need to recognise social media as mass media and start training players on how to present themselves online. "Most football clubs have their players well versed in traditional media and back this up with contracts and media training. Clubs wouldn't allow a player to write a newspaper column without clearing it through a press office" said Downes.

He also said clubs were underestimating social media channels like Twitter. "A player’s appearance on Match of the Day is carefully controlled, but the programme has only a fraction of Twitter's full reach. Clubs need to treat social media just as highly as a TV appearance." Downes added it was not unreasonable for clubs to control a player’s use of social media, with clubs setting up accounts and providing specialist training.

Philippa Duxbury, marketing manager at the National Football Museum agreed that some players would benefit training, but dismissed the idea of an outright ban. She commented: "Like any of us in employment, footballers need to understand that when they wear a club’s shirt, they are representing that club and what they say reflects on the club."

Could social media use mirror a clubs in house code of discipline? Last year Darren Burgess, a head physio at Liverpool accused the FA on Twitter of being "completely amateurish" for refusing to substitute Steven Gerrard during an international match. Like Babel, the update was quickly removed and an apology posted, while Manchester United last year took control of Twitter accounts belonging to Wayne Rooney and other key players.

The SFA has this afternoon warned all Scottish clubs that abusive statements via Twitter and Facebook would incur a penalty for bringing the game into disrepute and it is expected that Babel will be singled out to warn other players off venting their wrath through social media.

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