Matt Barnes tweet captured by USA Today before deletion

Matt Barnes tweet captured by USA Today before deletion

The NBA has an image problem on Twitter. Search “NBA Twitter” right now, and five out of the top ten search results showcase reckless tweeting by NBA players in the past month. So it’s not just an image problem, but a branding and SEO problem. (And in the social media era, all three are intrinsically related.) Here’s two recent incidents that really sent me over the top:

  • Matt Barnes, Los Angeles Clippers: After being ejected from a game, Barnes took to Twitter to take out his anger and, get this, curse out his own teammates. While he later deleted the tweet, USA Today and many others captured it and the screen grabs are everywhere. (Above.) Barnes was later fined $25,000 for his Twitter comments.
  • J.R. Smith, New York Knicks; Brandon Jennings, Detroit Pistons: These two tough guys took to Twitter in a public spat more fitting for a scene in The Wire. The argument culminated with Smith threatening to send his “street homies” to Detroit where Jennings plays. Mashable has a good round-up of the exchange here.

This is an even bigger problem when you realize controversial people like these guys are popular follows on Twitter. J.R. Smith is actually the top-rated NBA Twitter follow because he’s such a controversial, polarizing figure. (Check out this Bleacher Report recap of Smith’s off-the-court antics leading up to him being such a popular Twitter follow.)

It’s a bit of a head scratcher that NBA owners aren’t working aggressively to fix this. Image problems created by players like Smith, Barnes and Jennings can damage the NBA’s bottom line, jeopardize endorsement deals, and compel parents to steer their kids in another sporting direction.  

Presumably, the NBA already has communications staffers tasked with educating its players on Twitter best practices, but clearly, the organization’s existing internal communications structure is lacking.

There’s a reason tech companies hire an agency to handle their external communications efforts. Social media is a very specialized discipline, for one thing; for another, an outside agency is better able to notice when a social media PR crisis is emerging, and better positioned to deal with it. So maybe the NBA needs to hire another external team to manage its players’ Twitter use.

And the key word is manage, NOT handle. I get it. Fans want access to actual players and it’s the “rawness” of the player tweeting that makes the real-time communication platform so fun for fans. I’m simply advocating for a better social media framework with regular monitoring and management of tweets -- not just the NBA, but any large organization which has a lot of individuals with a separate social media presence. That’s what our next post in this two-part series will focus on.