Advocacy Thought Leadership

What Tennis Can Teach Us About Managing Social Media

According to a recent comScore report, just five year ago, social networking represented 1 out of every 12 minutes spent online; today, it’s 1 out of every 6 minutes. The implication of this exponential increase is huge — for all of us who are engaged in social media; for our clients and employers; and even ourselves.

Let’s put this into perspective: At 750 million users (says TechCrunch) and 143 million unique monthly visitors, Facebook is the second-largest Web property in the U.S., reaching 75 percent of American Internet users monthly. It’s joined by its younger sibling in the social networking race — Twitter — which enjoys 28 million UMVs and, oh yeah, an average of 140 million Tweets per day. Tumblr grew a staggering 166 percent; the IPO-baby, LinkedIn, is growing at a 58-percent clip.

One thing is clear: The world is watching what we do and how we do it online, particularly on behalf of clients and employers. The question is how we are responding to this amazing, exploding and immediate communication phenomenon.

As the first week of Wimbledon continues, my thoughts turn to what we — public relations professionals — may be able to learn from this most disciplined and strategic of games. What can it teach us about managing social media communications and marketing? A few thoughts are below; I welcome yours in the comments.

Be Prepared

Preparation is key for any successful endeavor, whether it be business, communications or sports. Understanding the basics, formulating a plan, devoting time and resources to your strategy, sizing up the “opponent,” practicing, getting feedback and adjusting are all finally critical to victory. Even when on the court and in the midst of the game, a good tennis player will adjust to conditions, stay agile and mobile, stay focused and constantly prepare for the next shot. Good players are prepared to respond quickly to problems. So must those who use social media platforms.

Once You’ve Hit, You Can’t Take it Back!

Ask Anthony Weiner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rashard Mendenhall, Courtney Love, Gilbert Gottfried, the Red Cross, Chrysler, and thousands of other Twitter users who hit “send” and immediately wished they hadn’t. Ask the elite tennis stars at Wimbledon and the thousands of amateurs who hit a ball long or wide or into the net and wish they hadn’t. Under pressure, in the heat of the moment, often without thought, missed shots happen. And in the business world, seemingly innocent social-media missives often have a way of finding mischief and unforeseen consequences for those who do not properly manage their communications

As PRSA Chair and CEO Rosanna Fiske, APR, noted last year in an Adweek op-ed, “Reputation is hard-earned and long-standing. It comes from years, not moments, of doing and saying the right thing.” Those who have been caught toying with the public’s trust have learned the hard way that while social media can be a fantastic communications channel, it has potential perils for those who don’t truly understand or respect its power.

Follow the Rules

The rules of tennis are clear, universal and long-standing. In direct contrast, there are few rules of engagement in social media and many companies are scrambling to implement a strategy, as well as create guidelines for their employees’ use of social media. (PRSA offers a handy set of social-media guidelines for public relations professionals and organizations.) PRSA’s guidelines can be customized for any organization or client needs; but in the end, following those guidelines becomes an individual ethical decision.

For those who thought the use of social media was another passing fad — it clearly isn’t. And for those who underestimate its power, some simple advice: don’t.

Geri A. Evans, APR, is a member of the PRSA Board of Directors and president of Evans PR Group in Longwood, Fla.

About the author

Geri Evans


  • Another more obvious lesson we can take from tennis is that the nature of the game is to go back and forth. Obviously in tennis both sides want to win, but to do so they have to go back and forth. It’s not fun if one person is there but not paying attention, and all of the balls go by them. Similarly It’s not very much fun when one person is completely dominating the conversation in social media. It’s meant to be a two way conversation.

  • Renee,
    I like your analogy and appreciate your comment. You are right: by its very nature, social media platforms work by engaging others, by conversing at a more personal (or at least the perception is that it is more personal) level.  What a shift in communication strategy for all of us as we turn from a more traditional mass communication, one-sided approach to a more intimate, interactive approach. Not only do tennis players have to understand and engage their opponent, but the most successful ones also engage the audience  It makes the match so much more fun!

  • I enjoyed the analogy…especially since I like writing sports/social media analogies. I wrote one about court surfaces at 

    I especially liked the “Once You’ve Hit, You Can’t Take It Back!” analogy. And just like a player would apologize to a fan if a mishit ball hit them…people should own up to their mishits in the social media realm. Like you said, missed shots happen, so it is our reaction to those missed shots that are important.

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