ImageCan you remember how, when you were a little kid, your parents taught you how to ride a bicycle? You probably started off with these side wheels and, when you were comfortable with those, your parents would take them off and slowly you would learn to cycle without. And there’s a big chance you ended up with some scars and/or bruises before you finally became proficient.

Riding a bicycle, like almost everything in life, is something you have to learn. Of course at first it looks dangerous and whenever you fall, you’ll get hurt. But after some training you become good at it and this has many benefits; it’s an easy and cheap way of transportation. And moreover you’ll get some exercise in contrast to taking the car or public transportation.

The same applies to social media. Not knowing how to use it can be harmful and from time to time it can hurt; mentally, financially and in some cases even physically. But when you start to understand the different tools and possibilities, it has many advantageous.

Currently many colleges are struggling with the usage of social media by their students and especially their athletes. Misusage, as a result of incompetency, can have severe consequences for both the player and the college. For example Marvin Austin’s post, a University of North Carolina defensive tackle, resulted in a ban from the postseason for the football team and a major cut in football scholarships. And in October Western Kentucky University suspended their running back after he criticized the team’s supporters on Twitter.

This is exactly the reason why the Washington State football head coach recently banned the use of any form of social media by the players. And this is not the an exception: major universities have banned or limited the use of social media for athletes. Other universities use alternatives. They install so-called spying software to keep track of every post by their athletes on social-networking sites. Athletes must sign an agreement and give the university and monitoring companies full access to everything they do on the web.

Is it really necessary to restrict the freedom of speech through prohibiting the use of social media or meddle with the right to privacy by e-babysitting your athletes? Of course there’s a lot at stake for these universities. But in the end students are at school to get an education. And in the 2.0 era, educating all students on the smart and responsible use of social media is an inevitable must.

Moreover, colleges are like companies. For example, Alabama State University has over $100mio in athletic revenues. Their athletes can be seen as the employees. These employees are important advocates for the companies and an easy and great way to promote the company and engage with the public. According to a research by Edelman, conversations with employees are ranked third on the list that measures the level of trust that the public has in businesses. Therefore when used in the right way by the athletes, social media can have a tremendous positive impact on the college as a brand.

So there’re enough reasons to favor the use of social media by college athletes instead of forbidding it. But just like for companies, a well thought governance model is necessary. Important processes that must be in place are training, social media guidelines and moderation policies. Many best practices can be found in the corporate world. And besides that, college should consider working together in their transition to become a social business (noncompetitive collaboration) because they all face similar challenges regarding social media.

I wish the colleges good luck on their big match-up with social media!

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