Bernard Jackman: Twitter? Players needn't kick it into touch, just use with caution

Bernard Jackman

Social media has changed the way we communicate and are here to stay.

This week, one of Twitter's newest celebrity tweeters, Charlie Sheen, added one million followers in 24 hours and Kim Kardashian, who has more than six million followers, apparently makes up to $10,000 per sponsored tweet.

Nice work if you can get it.

I only started on Twitter a couple of months ago and it's quite addictive.

In the world of sport Twitter has become one of the most effective tools to communicate between athletes and fans.

Each can connect to the other in a direct, fast and easy way, but the flip side is that it can land them in hot water.

There have been many high-profile Twitter blunders by sports stars.

Ex-Liverpool winger Ryan Babel was fined £10,000 by the FA's Regulatory Commission and warned about his future actions following his comments on Twitter about referee Howard Webb, and posting a mocked-up picture of Webb in a Manchester United shirt.

Babel tweeted an apology soon after, but the damage was done. He became the first player to be charged following a post on Twitter, but was not the first player to get into trouble.

Darren Bent, the then Spurs striker, launched an F-word rant at Spurs chairman Daniel Levy for delaying his transfer to Sunderland. After an apology, the matter was dealt with internally.

Gregory van der Wiel, the Ajax full-back, was photographed with rapper Lil' Wayne in 2009 with the caption "Me and Lil' Wayne last night". Unfortunately, 'last night' he had told coach Bert van Marwijk he could not play for the Netherlands against Australia because of a concussion.

The incident led van Marwijk to say that all social media should be banned for footballers.

A few other managers also voiced their opposition against the social networking site. Sunderland boss Steve Bruce said he wished he could ban his squad from using it but that it kept Darren Bent happy so he let his players use it!

Wolves boss Mick McCarthy didn't beat around the bush when he said that "too many tweets make a twat".

This week, following the win over Scotland in Murrayfield, some of our international rugby stars received negative comments on Twitter with one 'fan' tweeting to Brian O'Driscoll that his time was up.

Jamie Heaslip and Cian Healy, two of the more frequent tweeters in the squad, also came in for some stick.

Players are only human and they can take this criticism to heart. Particularly young players.

This week, Keith Earls was quoted that he was affected by some of the criticism he received on the Lions tour of South Africa and he refused to read any of it any more, instead relying on a few trusted people for feedback and support.

The problem with the social media sites and internet forums is that people can hide behind pseudonyms and are more likely to write something nasty than they would say if they met that player in person.

My advise to players? The worst thing you can do is reply or engage with someone who is being abusive or attention seeking. Just look at how few streakers we have on pitches at televised matches now that the TV cameras ignore them.

For the coach and manager, players using Twitter is a tricky issue. Warren Gatland, the Welsh coach, reportedly banned his players from using it for the duration of the Six Nations -- in fact it was a self-imposed ban by the players themselves.

Meanwhile, England rugby coach Martin Johnson told the BBC that any of his players who tweeted out of school "might not be an England player for long". Asked if he would be joining the Twitteratti any time soon, Johnson replied: "Don't hold your breath."

So should players be banned from using Twitter here?

In short, no. I don't believe so. Rugby is competing with so many other sports in Ireland that it's important our players engage with the fans.

As Twitter can help bring players and supporters closer, banning players from Twitter would be a backwards step.

Clubs and managers should let players enjoy tweeting while at the same time the player needs to be aware of their tweets and their potential consequences.

There is a certain element of trust that is given from the international and provincial management to our players to make smart decisions on and off the field. Once clear guidelines are put in place as to what can and can't be said, and the players don't break those rules, then I think players should be allowed to tweet away.

We can learn from other sports in how they manage their players. In the NFL, the Twitter policy is that players may not tweet 90 minutes before the game kicks-off and must maintain a tweet "silence" until post-game media obligations have been satisfied. Violation of the policy costs a player $25,000.

If Ireland are to be successful over the next few months and at the World Cup in October, we will need individuals within the team to be comfortable in their own skin and feel that they can express themselves on and off the field.

Declan Kidney is the Master of developing that culture.

You can follow me! @bernardjackman