Study Suggests Lance Armstrong Failed Social Media

Disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong made use of Twitter for employing image-repair strategies in a way that cultivated followers and countered media reports but neglected to enact any image-repair tweets, according to researchers.

It was revealed by researchers that Armstrong made the mistake of not using image-repair tweets after he admitted to using banned performance enhancing drugs in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.

It was disclosed by Clemson University communication studies assistant professor Jimmy Sanderson that traditional media such as newspapers and television have remained a staple of image repair but athletes now have additional revenue with the rise of social media. The research suggested that athletes should now be prepared with strategies to help navigate traditional and social media platforms for presenting consistent messages in multiple settings and contexts.

The image-repairing strategies of Lance Armstrong during 2012 and early 2013 were explored by Sanderson and co-authors Marion E. Hambrick and Evan L. Frederick. This was the period when the cyclist was facing a doping investigation by the U.S. government. Sanderson remarked it is an important direction to explore how Armstrong managed image repair via traditional media and digital media given the cyclist’s global recognition. Sanderson added understanding how these efforts intersect and diverge yield important insights for image repair, particularly for athletes. For evaluation purposes, 859 tweets of Lance Armstrong from 2012 to early 2013 were analyzed by the researchers along with his comments made during the much-publicized Oprah Winfrey interview where he admitted to using banned drugs, including Testosterone and Growth hormone.

It was indicated by the results that the now-banned cyclist made use of strategies, including attacks on accusers, stonewalling, and bolstering and then demonstrated contrition by employing mortification, simple denial, provocation, shifting blame, and victimization besides conforming and retrospective regret. Hambrick, of the University of Louisville, remarked digital and social media also afford them the capability to introduce alternative narratives and redirect audiences with respect to athletes, when image repair becomes necessary. Hambrick added athletes now have the opportunity to promote their charitable endeavors and diligence during workouts and practices, which may shift the public’s attention away from the situation that prompted image repair.

Armstrong, the winner of seven consecutive Tour de France titles, used Twitter for employing image-repair strategies to cultivate followers and countered media reports but failed to enact any image-repair tweets following his admission to using drugs in the Winfrey interview. The cyclist received a life ban from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) after he was found guilty of using and encouraging the use of banned drugs within his team.

Frederick, of the University of New Mexico, said Lance Armstrong could have maintained both an assertive and remorseful position that likely would have removed doubt and skepticism among his fans and the public at large given the immense public outpouring and the ability to navigate between identity positions using Twitter. Frederick added Armstrong instead minimized the effectiveness of future messages delivered via Twitter, as skeptical followers may view his tweets as little more than propaganda rather than insightful information and commentary.

The findings of the study were published in journal Communication & Sport

pdf_iconDownload in PDF: Study Suggests Lance Armstrong Failed Social Media