Social media – or anti-social media? There are times when the latter would be a more apt description, when it comes to football’s fractious relationship with Twitter.
The platform has provided a fresh line of communication between fans and the players and management staff at their clubs. But it is not one that is used to exclusively to deliver encouragement and support.
For footballers, a tin hat should be standard issue, upon opening a new account.
Mark Warburton is well placed to judge both the positives and negatives that come with finding yourself in the social media spotlight, with occasional abusive messages still sent his way from north of the border, many months after his time at Glasgow Rangers.
The tone had been very different when he had led the Scottish giants back into the top flight and he certainly received a warm welcome from Nottingham Forest supporters, upon his appointment at the City Ground.
But there is no question that, over the past decade or so, the growth of social media has given supporters a louder voice than ever.
And Warburton admits there are issues to contend with as a result, particularly when it comes to helping the younger members of his Forest squad develop a thicker skin or, as he puts it, helping them to become a little more “battle hardened”.
So far this season, there has been precious little to complain about at the City Ground, following a positive start to the new season. But consecutive defeats against Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday noticeably altered the mood.
“Was the reaction to a few results a surprise? Yes and no, it is a passionate game and you work all week and people pay their money to come and watch you. It is human nature. You just try to keep communicating with people and tell them what we are doing,” said Warburton, who saw his side deliver the perfect response to those defeats, in the form of a hard fought win over Sunderland.
“If this is the eye of a storm then we are in a good place. It does frustrate you sometimes, because everyone is human and everyone can be affected by it.
“The better the communication with supporters is, the better. Tell them what you are thinking; tell them what the planning is and tell them what the long-term targets are. If you can paint a clear picture of what is going on at their club, I think you can allay some of the criticism.
“We have a young squad, we had an average age of just over 23 at Sheffield Wednesday. It is a young squad and we will keep making it younger.
“They have to get battle hardened, they have to get used to criticism, they have to get used to disgruntled fans. It is all part of their character building. It is not always easy to take when you are 20, 21 or 22 – but they are learning.
“The great academies around this country do some tremendous work – but you cannot really prepare a player for that type of thing. You are in the first team now and you are playing in an era where every mistake is magnified and you have to deal with it. You only deal with it by enduring it and by learning from it. Battle hardened is the right phrase, because they have to get used to it.
“It is how you deal with it. I am not sure how you prepare a player for a barrage of abuse on social media – and you do get that. You get the keyboard warriors who fire out the abuse.
“It is the minority, but they can have an impact, because the boys do read it. Some of the comments are cutting. You have to deal with it. You get used to it as you get older. But you recognise it and you talk to the players about it.”
Warburton is not attempting to paint a picture of a dressing room full of vulnerable, fragile characters. These are professionals who are capable of stepping out onto a pitch to ply their trade in front of 30,000 people, after all.
But the impact of social media is something he has to keep in mind as a manager, particularly when attempting to mould a relatively young group of players into one that can be a success in the Championship.
“They do not take it personally, but they are human. The fact that they get paid x-amount to do their job means that they are at an elite end of a very tough profession,” he said.
“They have worked hard to get where they are now. They are at the top end. All credit to them for getting to that point. But in that lofty position you have to get used to criticism – and that does not come overnight.
“It does take time. You learn from their mistakes and these are young boys. By the time they are 23, 24 or 25, they will be in a better place.
“The change over the past 10 or 12 years has been staggering. I remember when Twitter was first mentioned – now it is where it is and you have to get used to it.
“Every time you put anything out there in the public domain, you have to think about it. These are the demands the players are facing – and as they get higher in the game, as they get more in the public eye, the more careful they will have to be.
“It is a tough world. I am on Twitter, but I only use it to retweet for a good cause or something along those lines. I don’t exactly use it. You do have to be aware of what is going off on those platforms and be aware of the impact they can have.
“It is ignorant to ignore the impact of social media. The fact is that it is only going to get stronger. You have to understand how you can use it and the dangers it can bring. You recognise the strengths and weaknesses of a product and how it can influence your squad and their performances.
“You talk to players every day about how they are doing. If a player has a poor or below par game, we talk to them about it. Why did it happen? Was it a lack of effort? Was there a problem with the work ethic? If the answer is no, then you take a positive out of it.
“That is relationship building; that is maintaining unity and harmony with the squad and staff.”
And that in itself has been a common theme when talking to Forest’s players since the summer. Words like ‘unity’, ‘togetherness’ and ‘harmony’ have become repetitive, in the most positive of senses.
“I remember being told many times that some people respond to an arm around the shoulder and others respond to a rollocking. But I have never met a person yet who is better off with a rollocking, if I am honest,” said Warburton.
“You have to be consistent in your behaviour. That is key for me. Players will see through you in a heartbeat if you are up here one minute and down there the next.
“They will see through you. They may not always want to hear what you have to say, but as long as you are honest and they know that it is not personal, then you have to say it.
“It is just about being fair, consistent and honest with the players. If you can be in that position, you are okay.
“Belief is very important. They know they have done the pre-season work, they know they have the fitness base in place. This is the elite end of football. You have to produce and you need to know you are armed with all the attributes. Have you eaten well? Have you slept well? Have you trained well?
“You need to be able to say ‘I am good enough’ and then to have the confidence to go out and enjoy what you do.
“There is so much around these players now, it is easy to forget that they can enjoy what they do. Just enjoy playing football.”
And by doing so, Forest’s players can send out their clearest message on the pitch, rather than in the Twitter-sphere.