I read an interesting post yesterday that made me sit up and scratch my head. The article was all about Manchester Utd placing a formal statement on its website which read as follows:

“The club wishes to make it clear that no Manchester United players maintain personal profiles on social networking websites.
Fans encountering any web pages purporting to be written by United players should treat them with extreme scepticism.
Any official news relating to Manchester United or its players will be communicated via ManUtd.com.”

Now for me this is an interesting development, we have all heard about senior directors in various corporates banning the use of social networks like Facebook in work hours but we have never seen a public statement from a Premier League football club banning all usage of them from their players.

The trouble is footballers have been causing trouble left, right and centre with their usage of Twitter and Facebook and the clubs haven’t really got to grips with how to deal with them. Some players have used their networks to engineer moves to other clubs, some have vented their disgust at being dropped from their teams and others have just not thought about what they are doing when they have updated their statuses.

Here are my top five footballer social networking faux pars:

  1. Darren Bent allegedly attacks Tottenham’s chairman as his transfer to Sunderland dragged on and is fined £80K.
  2. A professional footballer nicknamed “Motor Mouth” reveals he plans to leave his club Crystal Palace for Fulham on his Facebook page but manages to inform the site’s 2.7 million London network members.
  3. American Striker Altidore is fined by Hull City FC after revealing why his boss dropped him for the game with Portsmouth FC to all of his followers.
  4. Liverpool winger Ryan Babel enrages manager Rafeal Benitez by writing on his Twitter page two days ago: “Hey people, I got some disappointing news, I am not travelling to Stoke. The Boss left me out the squad. No explanation.”
  5. Thierry Henry apologises for “Hand Gate” the day after the match with Ireland.

If you are interested in footballers on Twitter here is Sport Blog’s Top Ten Footballers on Twitter.

Personally I don’t think Manchester Utd should have banned the players from using all social networks. I think they should have provided some type of formal training and explained the parameters of what they can and can’t do. For instance, we all know that the footballers are properly media trained before they go in front of a camera. They know how to answer interview questions, so why can’t they update their own social networks it doesn’t make sense? The players just need to use common sense before pressing update. In other words, don’t talk about transfers, don’t slate the manager and don’t criticise the club in public. There are three straight away – I could probably write 30 or so if I tried.

The fans love following their favourite players because it gives them some insight into their lives and this has to be good for the clubs. The truth is there is a lot of money involved in this industry and footballers are a completely different animal to the corporate world but I would always recommend training first and foremost rather than outright banning all usage. We will have to watch and see if the other clubs follow suit to finally put a lid on this but somehow I don’t think they will.

What do you think is Manchester Utd using the right approach?

About Chris Norton

Chris Norton is the founder of Prohibition and an award winning communications consultant with more than twenty years’ experience. He was a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University and has had a varied PR career having worked both in-house and in a number of large consultancies. He is an Integrated PR and social media blogger and writes on a wide variety of blogs across a huge amount of topics from digital marketing, social media marketing right through to technology and crisis management.