Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Trending - ESPN Playbook [Print without images]

Tuesday, May 14, 2013
NFL rookies still adjusting to social media

By Bill Speros
Special to ESPN.com

Manti Te'o
Could Manti Te'o have done a better job of diffusing the "girlfriend" scam fallout?
Someday -- and that day may already be here -- NFL teams will measure a prospect's social media influence and skills in addition to his time in the 40 and number of reps at the NFL combine.

While two of the top three pro football players in terms of Twitter followers, Chad Johnson and Tim Tebow, are both unemployed, social media presence remains an important factor in determining a player's marketability and how he handles himself.

NUVI is a software platform that analyzes social media data through graphics and visualization. It was spawned out of Gatorade's "Mission Control" project, which that company used to track its sponsored athletes across Twitter, Facebook and other digital platforms and visualize the data in real time.

The creators of NUVI recently shared with Playbook some of the data they gathered about the social media buzz generated by five notable NFL rookies: Manti Te'o, Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Dion Jordan and Eric Fisher. Te'o and Smith generated the most negative sentiment during and after the NFL draft, which presented both a challenge and an opportunity.

"A lot of the mentions about Manti Te'o included references to imaginary girlfriends, imaginary fans and imaginary draft picks. This fact shows that the 'catfishing' scam is something Te'o will have to overcome on social media as he goes forward with his career and works to facilitate a positive social media conversation," NUVI’s report on Te’o concluded. Te’o deleted his Twitter account prior to the draft.

So how does someone "facilitate a positive social media conversation"?

"Manti Te'o missed an opportunity to help change this image," NUVI CEO David Oldham said. "Before the draft, he was kind of humble. He sort of ignored questions, but he could have put some of those concerns to rest."

"I think you need to joke around with it, take it on the cheek and engage those people," added NUVI's Cameron Jensen, a former BYU linebacker and practice squad player with the Seattle Seahawks in 2007. "When he ignores it, he lets it linger and go on forever."

Jets quarterback Geno Smith (@GenoSmith_12), whose data showed the lowest sentiment score of any of the players before the draft, has been silent on social media since April 25, save for a couple of retweets. He has spoken to the media. Despite the Twitter silence, he has more than doubled his number of Twitter followers since the draft and now has more than 39,000.

"Quite a few influencers mocked Geno Smith for being picked so late in the draft. It will be important for Smith to cultivate a positive relationship with these people through social media as well as through playing well in the NFL," the NUVI study on Smith concluded.

"The silence is better than saying something wrong, but it isn't the best," Oldham said. "We'd tell him to address the people who were mocking him. He can mock himself. … Then those haters wouldn't have much to say."

The advice to engage the undecideds also applies to No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel of the Jaguars, who does not tweet and has a limited Facebook presence. "When people are waiting to decide about you, this is a way to win them over," Jensen said. Fisher had more than twice the social media conversation as Joeckel, even though the offensive linemen were considered to be very closely rated in terms of talent. "You want to build a brand and he's missing out on that opportunity," Oldham said.

Fisher (@Big_Fish79), who has gone from about 2,600 to more than 19,000 Twitter followers since being drafted, scored high when it came to positive sentiment. Much of that boost came from a tweet from teammate and Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. It was the most shared positive mention about Fisher.

On-field performance always will be the top determining factor, the NUVI officials said, but social media’s influence will continue to grow.

"Social media will become a variable teams will use to understand how well does a player fits into their culture," Oldham said. "It can be a huge indicator of how they interact with people and deal with criticism and fame."

Bill Speros is an ESPN.com contributor. He can be reached on Twitter @billsperos or via email at bsperos1@gmail.com.