When fans of the University of Tennessee men's basketball program see that Coach Bruce Pearl has a Facebook page, they ask to be his "friend" so that they can see and read his thoughts and doings. Unfortunately, there is a problem. Coach Pearl has no idea where the page is located or what is on there. You see, he had nothing to do with its creation, or with updating it. While the page is within the "letter of the law" for Facebook, there is what many would call a violation of the social contract of social networking.
When it comes to social networking, there are some unwritten rules. One of these rules is that organizations should not deceive people by creating "publicity" accounts for others with giving a full disclaimer to that effect. The reason is simple: social media and social networking is about building a trust relationship with your network.
When people ask Coach Pearl to be their friend, they may or may not understand that he will never see their request to be his friend, and once they are accepted he will never see anything they post or respond to anybody. The only hint is the one area highlighted below:
How can this possibly be true? Very simply: I asked him.
Coach Pearl was walking out of a taping of an interview before the Tennessee Volunteers loss to the University of Georgia Bulldogs this past Saturday. I jokingly told him I was bummed that he never accepted my "friend" request. He replied saying "don't be offended, I know nothing about that Facebook page and have nothing to do with it."
Of course I really was not offended. I was indeed really trying to see if that really was his page. And technically it is not.
So the question is, is this a fraud on the #Vols nation, so many of whom have "friended" him. Not only have they "friended" him, they have posted so much non-Tennessee related muck to his wall (like smiles, blessings, horoscopes, etc), that the University of Tennessee has no control over the message being presented. This lack of control may inadvertently lead to something being posted that could cause potential NCAA violations.
Much of this may be a moot point though because the page is quickly approaching the 5,000 Facebook friend limit (he has 4.871 friends, including on-air talent and television producers). If indeed this limit still exists (you will find contradictory information if you look into the question), the page will cease to exist and will have to be converted to a "fan page."
Oh wait he already has one of those too.
But having a fan page does not mean that risk management goes away. His "fans" may also post something embarrassing about the Coach, like this video where he talks about all of the "weapons" the team has:
Getting back to the social contract of social networking. If there is no trust relationship between the "friends" of Coach Pearl and his Facebook page, can there be any inherent trust with is 12K plus Twitter followers that he actually manages, owns, and updates his Twitter account?
We have sent an inquiry to the Tennessee Volunteers sports information staff with this question, and will update when we get a reply.
If he does indeed run his own Twitter account, the Tennessee staff should work on integrating his Twitter feed into the Facebook page wall, as well as his fan page. That is how a real social networking dialogue can occur.
Before they do that, however, they should add appropriate disclaimers to the Facebook resources they have created, and disallow unmoderated comments on the wall. That is how they can start to manage the risk.