Golf professionals are not necessarily known for the being masters of social media and Tweet-gurus. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t paying attention to what’s going on in digital world. Just like other athletes, golfers have their own share of digital presence, followers and fan clubs. So they pay attention to these social assets as well.
In the case of Rickie Fowler, one particular fan decided to make a stink online via a tweet about not being given an autograph. If the statement was left on its own, one would think that the golfer had committed a custom violation, not attending to his fans after a match before walking off the course. And in the online world this is the kind of thing that can become viral as tweet after tweet begins to pile on complaining about the same thing. Before one knows it, a golfer can find himself answering serious questions from a journalist picking on the story and trying to catch the player in the cross-hairs of a personal embarrassment (which has nothing to do with actually playing golf if anyone would be paying attention).
However, Rickie Fowler decided to nip the problem in the bud right away, confronting the complainer and essentially calling him a liar in public. That not only shut down the speculation, but it also generated a notable reaction from other fans who were present, who did see the golfer, and did see him cater to his fans after all. Calling bull manure for what it was, Fowler not only shut down the grumpy autograph fan, he also made sure the character wasn’t going to get any traction in the future. Ironically, the story still made the news, but in a favorable format for Fowler instead of a bad one.
Fowler’s situation is an interesting one for popular athletes and how they manage their digital presence. On the one hand some would argue the knuckleheads just need to be ignored. Engaging with them is just a fast ticket to saying something dumb that will get used against you. On the other hand, the opposite side would argue a digital presence has to be actively managed, and that includes responding to and correcting problematic statements so they don’t begin to take root and turn the tide of favor against a golfer. This is a bit of a new area of marketing for golf; most professional players are not known for managing big audiences online through social media like what is seen with basketball players for example. However, nothing says that golf can’t have it’s own hot fan engagement environment with plenty of written action. Fowler may well have set a new precedent on modern golf fan management.