In an effort to protect its brand from inflammatory tweets, the National Hockey League issued a social media policy on Sept. 14 for all players and club personnel. The new policy enforces a total "blackout period" on the use of social media on game days, which for players begins two hours prior to opening face-off and is not lifted until players have finished their post-game media obligations. The suggested blackout period for hockey operations staff is longer, beginning at 11 a.m. on game days, says the NHL.
Giving employees—in this case, players—ownership in social media and creating content helps build brand ambassadors. And while some may fear that a formal social policy may mitigate the spontaneous and authentic communication fans crave from players through social media, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly is not worried.
In an article posted Sept. 15 on NHL.com, Daly said the policy is sensible. "It lets our players and clubs participate substantially in the opportunity of social networking while identifying and mitigating some of the risks," says Daly. "To date, our players and clubs have been exemplary in connecting with fans on social networks, and fans should not expect to see any material difference as a result of this policy."
According to the NHL, the new policy makes it clear that players and club personnel will be held responsible for their social communications in the same manner in which they are held responsible for other forms of public communications. As a result, discipline is possible for any social media statements that have or are designed to have an effect prejudicial to the welfare of the league, the game of hockey or a member club, or are publicly critical of officiating staff.
The policy also provided social media tips for the players and club personnel to facilitate the best possible social media dialogue with fans.
Adam Singer, social media practice director for Lewis PR, tells PR News that the new rule likely won’t impact a player's ability to nurture a relationship with fans. “Social media offers a great path for celebrities and entertainers to connect with fans and share insight into their personal lives, which is compelling, but it should not be a distraction from their work as professionals,” Singer says.
In regards to the edict that players and personnel will be held responsible for their social communications in the same manner as for other forms of public communications, Singer says this point should be a cornerstone in all social media policies. “Having accountability for public communications in a way that is platform agnostic (social media, traditional media, etc.) makes sense as the foundation for a communication policy in general,” says Singer. “If you wouldn't say something with all your competitors, your co-workers, your CEO, your future boss and members of the media in the room, don’t say it on the web. Simple.”
Singer says it’s smart for the NHL—and all organizations—to create a formal social policy that invokes a thoughtful method of representing a brand and employer in an intelligent and professional way. “Social media policies might go away in the future and will simply be rolled into more general communications and HR policies," he says. "The tools are still new to some people today, and so as a society we feel like we need to make special rules for them. The day will come when it's no longer seen as special and will simply be incorporated into more general policies.”