You might think that another social media storm over a footballer’s tweet merits little attention. But this one reinforces the importance of earned rather than expected employee advocacy.
The story in essence: Sunderland AFC are struggling at the foot of the English Premier League table. A couple of weeks ago, they lose a match and, in the aftermath, one of their players - Victor Anichebe - tweets a rallying cry to his followers. He thanks fans for their “unbelievable support” and says the team will move on from the “hard result to take” and “go again”.
So far, so good. However, when publishing the tweet, Mr Anichebe leaves in an instruction he had clearly received - presumably from the club - reading “Can you tweet something like…”.
At a stroke, the slip laid bare the role that Mr Anichebe was being asked to play as a ‘corporate’ mouthpiece. The words did not come from him, but from someone who felt they would help the club retain the confidence of its supporters.
The incident just lays bare the real issues involved with ‘expected’ advocacy. It is at best risky, at worst unethical.
It’s risky because it is open to perfectly human slips like this. You can ask someone to say something on your behalf, but if they don’t believe it, they can say other things in different contexts or simply not live up to the spirit of the words they have been given to parrot. It’s like a house built on sand that can quickly collapse. Respect, credibility and confidence are quickly lost as a result.
I’d argue it’s unethical because it’s simply not transparent. We’ve all seen heated discussions over the importance of vloggers disclosing whether they are being paid or otherwise rewarded for reviewing and endorsing products. Asking individuals to use their own, personal accounts in the way requested here – again, assuming that it was the club issuing the now-legendary instruction - is similar in my view. Perhaps it’s not just employees who need guidance on how to use social media appropriately, but their employers too?
All in all, an unfortunate mess. But as Mr. Anichebe might (not) say, let’s move on and “go again”!