masters golf tiger dropSporting events are some of the most consistently watched and followed events in the US. The internet and social media have made sports even more popular than they ever were in the past, except now people have a lot more ways to make their voices heard. At Golf’s Masters this year, there was quite a bit of controversy involving Tiger Woods and a young talent. Social media picked up the slack to turn this year’s problems at the Masters into a big issue.

Rules Are Rules (or So We Think)

When it comes to sports, the public cares a great deal about the rules. A few months ago, Lance Armstrong’s admission to using performance enhancing drugs was one of the leading trends online. Everyone has an opinion when it comes to cheating, and they make their voices heard on social media and any other outlet available to them.

But it isn’t just cheating that can get people fired up and talking. The Masters this year showed that the rules of the game seemingly improperly enforced can create a great deal of controversy. This might not seem directly related to businesses or agencies working online, but it is.

The Masters this year faced two rules problems. As Sarah Kwak writes on, one young 14-year-old golf star was faced with “a penalty so rare that the last time one was given was at the 2004 PGA Championship.” Tianlang Guan was given a stroke penalty for a slow-play penalty. Folks on Twitter weren’t exactly thrilled with the ruling – the kid is 14 after all.

What really set off the Twitter-verse and the online sports community in general was what happened to Tiger Woods on Saturday. As Garry Smits writes, Tiger Woods was given a penalty of “two strokes for an improper drop at the par-5 15th hole during the second round.” Apparently Tiger had dropped his ball to a much more strategic location to give him a better chance at a good shot. The penalty wasn’t applied until the next day, when Tiger admitted he had placed the ball improperly. Unfortunately, it’s reported he stated on Twitter he wasn’t aware the drop was illegal.

Unfair and Inconsistent

People on social media and even news outlets jumped on the Masters for seemingly unfair treatment. They appeared quick to hit the young Tianlang Guan with a rarely implemented penalty, yet took an entire day to assess what Tiger Woods had done.

This fumbling and the public outcry that followed has hurt the Masters, I would argue. Their brand is a tad sullied by this failure to act swiftly and fairly. Sure, mistakes are made and at the very least, this should be a big learning experience for the Masters. Twitter is a great gauge of public opinion about products, businesses, brands, celebrities, and sports alike.

Public Reaction Isn’t Limited to Sports

Maintaining a good image and brand is incredibly important for any business. Social media makes that work a lot easier. But social media can be a double-edged sword as well. If you’re careless, insensitive, perceived as unfair or inconsistent, expect to be thrashed online. People (and customers) want to see fairness and humility and they often reward that in a business. This rules fiasco will likely blow over, but it’s done some damage to the Masters, and no one could argue with that.

How do you respond to criticism on Twitter?