Ahead of the big release of ‘A Billion Dreams’, Sachin Tendulkar was trolled on Twitter for promoting his biopic on social media. This was when he posted a picture on his Twitter handle from the special screening of his biopic for the armed forces.
The cricket legend received flak in the previous week as well when a tweet from his official account posted a trailer of the movie while he was still inside the ground with his Indian Premier League team Mumbai Indians in the middle of a game. One of his followers replied to that the tweet saying “Please ask your social media team not to tweet when you are in the middle of a game, rules say you as a part of team can’t use your phone when inside the ground.”
Before this piece becomes about when and how Tendulkar was trolled and leads to yours truly being a victim of the same treatment on those platforms, let’s move on to the main premise. How do players manage their accounts on these varied social networking platforms? What does it take? Managing their accounts is a completely different beast – that much can be gauged from the fact that someone like Tendulkar, who enjoys a God-like status in the country, isn’t spared.
Not many social media managers spoke openly about what goes on behind the scenes while managing their client’s profiles. According to them, it was a “trade secret”. However, Tech Shot Digital, among the biggest names in the business, did let us in on some of nitty-gritties in the business.
The importance of social media in a digital age
TSD’s Twitter handle Circle of Cricket has over 1.8 lakh followers. Add Facebook’s 67 lakh followers and a million on Instagram and you realize that TSD’s rise has been phenomenal in a short span of seven years. They now manage the digital rights of over 50 male cricketers and nine women cricketers and over dozen athletes from other sports.
Their clientele includes the who’s who of Indian cricket. The more famous ones being MS Dhoni, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh, Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Amit Mishra, Gautam Gambhir, Umesh Yadav to name a few.
“In today’s day and age, be it an individual or an organization, being on social media is very necessary, especially if you are well known,” felt Pankaj Rahul Singh, the founder, director and COO of TSD. Rahul along with Jay Motwani who is the architect and CMD of the organisation came up with the idea of managing the digital rights of the cricketers.
“We started off when there was hardly any social media. Orkut was in its dying stages, not many knew about Facebook, Twitter was hardly heard of and Instagram didn’t even exist. YouTube had just been taken over by Google but I could predict that this was the future,” said Motwani who then decided to leave his 10-year-old career in Microsoft’s telecommunication department to work on this vision.
Interestingly even during his stint with Microsoft, Motwani had handled the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s social media accounts. This was when the BCCI had then wanted to arrive on the digital platform in a big way. Things didn’t work with the BCCI out as planned, but the new career stuck on.
Rahul had also worked with former Indian Premier League commissioner Lalit Modi as the marketing manager of sports for two years.
‘My answer was simple, it will make you more popular’
These two men, because of their previous work profiles, had access to some of the biggest names in Indian cricket and decided to approach them with their latest proposal. “But they (players) wanted to know what was in it for them,” says Motwani. “My answer was simple: it will make you more popular”, he smiled, “That was good enough for them, and they agreed to give us their digital rights.”
Soon TSD had Dhoni, Sehwag, Harbhajan and Ishant as their first four signings. Interestingly, though, TSD didn’t charge them a penny for the services. But the clientele was impressive enough and had the fraternity talking.
Many others would eventually take notice and follow in their footsteps. Most other big names in Indian cricket either manage their social media account themselves or have it taken care of by their personal manager and their team.
So how did players react when they were first approached with a proposal to manage their social media accounts?
For someone like former India left-arm spinner turned commentator Murali Kartik, it was a great chance to connect with the fans. “Cricketers have a hectic life, so it’s practically impossible for us to manage everything on our own, update everything regularly. That’s where our social media team comes in,” he says. “Also, these platforms keep changing their looks and other features. It becomes difficult to keep up. So it’s better if we have people with us who know the ins and outs of these mediums,” he adds.
Kartik who is with TSD also uses these services to promote stuff outside of cricket as well. “I’m involved with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. TSD helps me pass on information to my followers with regards to that as well.”
While many young and upcoming cricketers are on social media as they like using these platforms, there are few who are on them because of the peer-pressure or because their managing agencies have asked them to use the platforms.
“I’m shy person and not an avid fan of the medium but have been briefed by my managers to use these platforms whenever I have the time as that helps them promote me as a brand,” revealed a player who has represented India.
The public and the professional life
Then there are others like veteran pacer Ashish Nehra, who never quite warmed up to the idea of going public with his personal or professional lives on social media. “Nehra told us he was too old fashioned to be on any social networks, and he is still not there,” revealed Motwani.
Being popular on social media is not a short-term game and that is why most agencies that handle the digital accounts of the athletes go for contracts with a time span of five or more years which, in the case of TSD, is a minimum of 10 years.
“For young and budding cricketers, the period we usually take to make their presence felt is at least three years, then we build on that, so the contract is usually longish,” Rahul analysed.
Another social media manager from Mumbai who works for a leading player management firm informed “Five years is a good enough period, if the player has been performing on field and his or her social media presence in most cases is directly proportional to how good or bad his performance is.”
What does it take to be the social media manager of a public personality, especially a cricketer in India? Selecting appropriate candidates is quite a task in a country where everyone fancies themselves to be a pundit.
“From the outside, it feels that almost anyone who follows the game and has a Facebook and Twitter account can do this. But if that was the case, most people would have had a million followers,” pointed out Motwani. “We go for people who know the sport well, and are active on various social media platforms. But it’s a long process, and then we train them.”
“Knowledge of the game is not the only criteria to become a social media manager. Players are busy people they might not be able to keep track of what’s happening around the world and that is why we track of things other than cricket as well for example a player might miss an important event and forgets to tweet, it is here that we step in by either telling him to tweet about it or doing the same from his account as missing on those aspects might not reflect too well on the athletes image,” revealed the Mumbai-based social media manager.
Putting out the fire
Though, tweeting on behalf of an athlete can sometimes backfire as was the case with Mumbai and Kolkata Knight Riders batsman Surya Kumar Yadav who was reprimanded by the Mumbai Cricket Association in February for retweeting a tweet about him not being selected in the team. The player would later blame his managing agency for doing the same.
Because of this reason, it is a strict “no” to post or tweet on behalf of the athlete at TSD. “We have made it clear from the beginning that although we manage the digital identities of the players, we don’t tweet on their behalf. They do it themselves,” said Motwani. “We don’t want to be in a position where something written is attributed to us.”
This brings to mind the fight that happened between Harbhajan Singh and S. Sreesanth during the first IPL edition. It was so bad that Singh ended up slapping Sreesanth. The latter, however, has always praised the off-spinner on his Twitter account.
“We had nothing to do what Sreesanth wrote. Like I said it is there right to post anything on their Twitter page,” claimed Rahul.
But is there any advice, a word of caution they share with the clients?
“Initially, we would tell them to avoid getting into controversies and just speak on stuff related to the game or things that they were interested outside the sport. But as we understood the medium better, we became less apprehensive and now there is no such restriction from our side,” said Rahul, “We have noticed that players also generally refrain from commenting on controversial issues outside the game. Another golden rule is, ‘when in doubt call and check with us’.”
‘In an ideal scenario, we don’t want our players getting involved in arguments’
But no matter how well prepared the social media managers or players are, sometimes controversies become unavoidable. Like when Delhi’s skipper Gautam Gambhir and Bengal batsman Manoj Tiwari, both managed by TSD, got into an on-field argument during the 2015-‘16 Ranji Trophy game.
It was followed by allegations and counter-allegations on Twitter.
“In such situations, we can’t do anything. We just watch like the rest of the world,” said Motwani. “In an ideal scenario, we would never want any of our players getting involved in an argument with each other,” added Rahul, “But at the end of the day, that also engages enough people on the internet to talk about it. And that works for us as far as the business aspect is concerned.”
Another challenge for the social media managers and players is to handle the trolls. Sometimes the kind of trolling that happens on these platforms can easily scar a player, even forcing them to shut shop on social media completely. Players are made fun of when they don’t perform, sometimes they are the butt of jokes for no reason at all.
In such cases, they are asked to the usual remedy is “let the dust settle down”. “That’s the only way, because if someone has decided to troll you, no matter what you say they won’t stop,” said Rahul.
If matters get worse, the players can and do resort to other measures as well. Like blocking. “I rarely block, but when people get personal, you have to press the button,” says Kartik. There are others like Mumbai and Delhi Daredevils batsman Shreyas Iyer who “ignores” the trolls and doesn’t like to block anyone.
‘What to write, when to write, how to write’
The key to a successful online post, we are told by most social media managers is to know “what to write, when to write, how to write”. This is the reason posts also differ in the on and off season.
“On-season involves posting photos of their travel and post-match celebrations, while in the off season, it is about keeping followers and subscribers updated on the training they are doing, fun activities they are doing and so on,” revealed Rahul. Posting about family pictures, vacations if any and other stuff players do which isn’t related to the game also does get them the numbers during the off-season.
Timing of these posts, it turns out, is equally important. There are four important time slots, we are told: “The first thing you usually do when you wake up is check your WhatsApp, then go on to the Facebook. That’s between seven and eight o’clock,” explains Motwani. “The next slot is between 10.30 am and 11 am, when you reach office, and check Facebook and Twitter before getting down to work. Then you tend to go online just before or after lunch, which is between one and two pm, followed by another check at about 4 pm. A major chunk of time is spent on these social sites later between eight and ten pm,” he added, “Our challenge lies in providing interesting content on the athlete’s page during these time slots.”
That makes it an almost 24X7 job. “For sure,” concurred Rahul.
Another important aspect and something that can be a barrier for the high profile social media users is the language. Fluency in English goes a long way in putting ones point of view across efficiently. Some Indian athletes are known to not be very comfortable with the language but most social media manager now don’t consider this as a limitation.
“From our side there is no restriction on the language aspect. Someone like Virender Sehwag is very comfortable in his skin tweeting in Hindi and his followers love it because that doesn’t sound fake and has a connect,” pointed out Rahul.
But then there are players who aren’t that comfortable with the language but still tweet correctly. “In those cases, the players are usually surrounded by people who are comfortable with the language. So they mostly request those guys to check the post for grammatical errors,” Rahul revealed.
That barrier though has recently been removed with the emergence of the live video feature. Thanks to that, cricketers can directly reach out to their followers in their own preferred languages, allowing for even better engagement. In a digital age, engagement is key – whether it’s on the field or off it.