#Ballboygate is rapidly becoming one of those classic social media stories. For those who are not aware of what #Ballboygate is it relates to an incident that took place during a football match this week. On Tuesday night (23 January 2013) Swansea City were playing Chelsea, both of the Premier League, in the second leg of the Capital One Cup (more commonly known as the League Cup). Swansea were 2-0 up from the first leg and with just ten minutes of the return leg remaining the score was still 0-0 when the #Ballboygate took place.
The ball had gone out of play behind the Swansea goal, live television pictures were trained on the players on the pitch. There is noise from the crowd and the TV cameras show that a ball boy (usually young boys who are used to retrieve the ball when it goes out of play) is writhing on the ground in some discomfort gripping the right side of his torso with his hand and wincing. Further replays from a variety of angles show that the ball boy was taking longer in returning the ball to the field of play than the Chelsea players thought was necessary. One of the Chelsea plays, Eden Hazard, went over to the ball boy and a tussle took place with the ball boy not wanting to let go of the ball. The ball boy falls to the floor with the ball underneath him. The replays show that Hazard appears to kick out and he kicks the ball from beneath the ball boy but that his shin comes into some contact with the bellboy’s ribs.
How hard he actually kicked him only two people will ever know, the ball boy and Hazard. Potentially it was painful as kickboxers are taught to kick using their shin rather their foot to make contact with their opponent. So even though Hazard did not connect with his foot some injury could have been caused. This resulted in Hazard being sent off and leaving Chelsea one man and two goals down for the rest of the tie as Swansea went on to reach the final at Wembley next month.
Now what has this got to do with Social Media you may well be asking. The reason is because of a couple of Tweets that were posted in relation to this match that underline the importance of reputation management for brands and the need for brands to have a clearly defined content management strategy for their official accounts and to ensure that their staff are fully aware of the potential impact that a seemingly trivial Facebook post or Tweet on Twitter can have.
The first Tweet was issued by the official Chelsea Football Club account. The account had been tweeting updates on the match though out the evening. This was tweeted after Hazard had been sent off:
“Has football gone mad? Hazard is sent off for kicking the ball under a ball boy attempting to smother the ball rather than return it. #CFC”
Within ten minutes of the game finishing this tweet was being reported in the press by among other Sky Sports News. Online criticism of the West London football team was growing and the Chelsea Football Club Twitter account posted:
“Apologies for the earlier ball boy tweet. Hazard has now met with the ball boy and said sorry. #CFC”
The earlier tweet has since been deleted, but not before various people took screenshots of it. My thought was that this demonstrates the difficulties that brands can face when managing their online reputation. I am sure that the person manning the Chelsea twitter account is passionate about the club and was expressing a partisan view of the incident but this did not stop a variety of Twitter users from criticising Chelsea’s online presence.
A clearly defined content management strategy is essential to organisations. It needs to lay out plainly what is and is not acceptable when managing a social feed. One thing that I always advise clients is to stick to facts rather than expressing opinions as opinions often cause disagreement. The problem with facts is that they tend not to be that interesting. We are looking to create user engagement from our social activities but facts can often be dry and are not a particularly good conversation starter, particularly when they relate to a company.
I do think that Chelsea did the right thing by publishing an apology for the offending tweet rather than simply deleting it.
The other tweet I would like to discuss was posted before the match by the ball boy himself. It is a widely held belief by most football fans that if the home team is winning that the ball boys will take as long as possible to return the ball in order to waste a little time and help maximise the team’s chances of winning. Conversely if the home team is getting beaten then they will return the ball as quickly as possible so that play can continue and the home team will have more time to get back on level terms. No football club has ever admitted to telling their ball boys to do this but as I say the belief among many is that this must be the case. Before the match the ball boy, who is actually 17, tweeted:
“The king of all ball boys is back and making his final appearance #needed #for #timewasting”
Now put yourself in the shoes of an employer who discovers that a member of staff has said something online that potentially tarnishes the reputation of your organisation, how do you react? Organisations need to ensure that all staff receive some form of social media training so that they are aware of the potential pitfalls that seemingly throwaway comments may have. Again I always advise clients and their staff to try to avoid discussing their place of work and to remember that while you may think you are sharing your thoughts with just your friends that these things have a nasty habit of getting into the public domain and can cause you serious repercussions. My advice is that if you would not be happy for your tweet or status update to be the headline on the front page of a national newspaper then do not post it. It is not that employers should threaten their staff with dismissal for this sort of action but more that everybody should be self-aware when they are online and realise that there are potential implications of their online activity.
Prior to the match the ball boy had just over 700 followers on Twitter, within an hour of the game finishing his followers had swelled to over 50 000. One day later and he now has 95 000 followers. We never know what lies in our future and an innocuous turn of events can lead to an individual being thrust into the limelight whether they wanted to be or not. The ball boy has been subjected to some very harsh criticism and abuse in his Twitter feed. He is not the most prolific tweeter, maybe half a dozen tweets every couple of days, but right now he has 95 000 people who are waiting to hear what he’s got to say.
Please try to take from this article the need for your company or organisation to have a properly defined social media policy and to make sure that your staff also appreciate how being self-aware while online is beneficial to them. Try not to take from this article that if you want to get an extra 100 000 followers on Twitter you should scuffle with a footballer on live television! If you have not seen the incident and would like to make up your own mind as to who was most to blame then you can view #ballboygate here.