Brandon's Blog: Social Media Training Part of Education

Feb. 4, 2013

University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page,, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.

Social media is powerful. Individuals are making decisions based on what people in their social networks are recommending, creating a network of 'friends' through this form of communication.

The public is only beginning to understand the power of social media, and in too many cases, we still can't comprehend the exposure one might receive from a 140-character statement or a seemingly innocuous post.

As an athletic director, one worries about the student-athletes who are now part of this culture. Not only are they just learning how to use social media, their entire lives are changing.

They are maturing into young men and young women. They are learning how to deal with the combination of school and athletics. They now make decisions independently, and some of these decisions will be life changing -- either good or bad.

Our student-athletes now are under increased scrutiny. They are asked to mature faster. They are asked to be role models. They are asked to be leaders and yet have little knowledge of the responsibility that goes along with that moniker.

All young people go through this stage, but our athletic department has a specific task. We have a guiding principle to create a positive academic and athletic experience for our student-athletes and prepare them to be successful in life.

We work to educate all our student-athletes on all fronts. Social media is just one aspect of this education.

At the University of Michigan, we didn't just begin the education process for social media in the past few weeks. We created a strategic initiative with an outside media training consultant in the summer of 2011. We wanted the consultant to bring home the message of the power of social media on a personal level.

We started the training process with football and men's and women's basketball. An individual from the consulting firm 'friended' certain student-athletes on Facebook. The football and men's basketball teams were 'friended' by a female, and the women's basketball team was 'friended' by a male. An online trust was formed.

Some of the resulting online discussions were not what some of the student-athletes would want a prospective employer to read.

We believe it taught the teams and coaches more than just how to deal with social media. The exercise showed our U-M student-athletes that it takes more than words to become a friend. It takes time to cultivate relationships. Just like it takes time to become a trusted member of a team.

Much like participating in sports, the more you work at it and the more you understand it, the better you get.

Social networks are not evil. These platforms can be powerfully positive tools provided one understands the medium. And to understand this immediate and changing medium is no easy task for both young and old.

Instead of worrying about the risks, we work to educate one another on the opportunity these new media platforms and the new technology can provide -- if used properly.

Change can indeed be very good.

Go Blue!

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