The world of football in the media has changed dramatically in recent years, with the emergence of Facebook and Twitter providing players with a platform to get their voices heard on a more personal level.
Traditionally, reliance on traditional forms of press meant players were all painted with one particular brush, with the general consensus that Premier League professionals enjoyed the finer things in life at nightclub hot spots or movie premieres.
But, with the help of social media, players now have the chance to share their real life stories and situations with ‘fans’, and can even interact and banter with their followers in an effort to bring them closer to the common man.
“The media is such an important element now, and to have an understanding at a young age is vital,” Rio Ferdinand told the BBC at an event designed to help young players with the media.
“I think it’s important not only for yourself but for your football club - that they know they’ve got good young guys and family guys who genuinely love football on their books. You can get that across in no better way and no quicker way than through social media.”
Ferdinand holds a place amongst social media’s royalty, with over one million ‘fans’ on facebook and close to two-and-a-half million followers on Twitter.
It isn’t just the Manchester United defender who has realised the potential though, with Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere and England striker Wayne Rooney two others who have amassed followings well over the million mark on Twitter – Rooney also has over three million on facebook.
The big European names have also embraced social media, with Cesc Fabregas and Cristiano Ronaldo two high-profile players to get involved and reap the rewards at an early stage.
As Ferdinand mentioned though, a player must remember that they are representing the club on any social media platform. As players like Ryan Babel have found out in the past, any in-discretion can look just as bad on your team as it can on yourself.
“It (social media) can be a positive for you, but if you don’t use it right it can become a negative. It’s one of those things that if you want to do it, you do it,” added the England international.
“If you want to become a bit more integrated with your following and the people that follow you club and let them know what it’s really like to be a footballer then this is the chance – a lot of people don’t really understand or see that.”
It’s almost like a modern-day necessity for players to be able to embrace these new forms of media, but Ferdinand is well aware of the advantages a positive image in all forms of the media can have on a young players career.
Newspapers remain littered with stories relating to football players in both the front and back pages, and having a good relationship with journalists can be pivotal to remaining on the right side of the stories.
“I wish I’d had input from someone years ago. When I was 18 or 19 I looked at the media as the devil. It’s good to have good relationships with people and build relationships in case you ever do need people,” he added.
“In this career we know it isn’t always going to be plain sailing and positive, so your going to get negative moments and sometimes you might have to lean on someone in the media.
“If you’ve got that relationship that you’ve created from a young age your going to get help when you need it.”
You can’t deny that social media has brought players and fans closer together, with re-tweets, competitions and regular pictures and updates providing a constant news stream for dedicated fans.
It’s also changed the way we receive our news. Papers and websites can often be left behind as players choose to give what would be an exclusive via their Twitter or Facebook accounts. The reasoning is simpler, with the middle man being cut out and the news being delivered direct to the people who really want to know.
It also stops any chance of a player being mis-quoted by a journalist, which can be a positive and negative as once the send button has been hit, there is no going back.
“It’s like the flick of a switch now and you can get stuff out there. You go through mix zones after games but really you can bypass that by tweeting something or putting it on facebook and it’s out like the flick of the button,” added Ferdinand.
A cynic would argue that Ferdinand, who has utilised social media to its maximum potential, is the wrong person to give a balanced perspective on the pros and cons of Twitter and Facebook.
But, the positives far outweigh the negatives because of social medias simplicity. It’s easy to use, meaning all professional footballers can take advantage and not feel intimidated, as can be the case when a young player takes the stage at a press conference or with journalists.
Working in the comfort of their own surroundings, players can give valid insight into the day-to-day workings of their life, and as footballers it’s a topic that intrigues millions of people across the world.
To not interact with these fans would be a real mistake when the opportunity is so readily available, and as Ferdinand has found to his benefit, it can also help boost your individual profile off the pitch.
His is an example that any young player should be looking to follow.
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