Social Media Managers Are Not on an Island

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It was a regrettable tweet. It didn’t hit the mark. But more than anything, it should have never come to this.

In quite possibly the highest-profile social media firing over an ill-advised tweet ever, the Houston Rockets quickly and publicly parted ways with the team’s long-time social media manager, Chad Shanks. The tweet — seen by many but hastily deleted — appeared near the end of the April 28 NBA playoff game between the Rockets and Dallas Mavericks.

Houston Rockets tweet

This week, Houston Rockets Social Media Manager Chad Shanks was fired for this tweet. He shouldn’t have been.

The incident stirred a bevy of sports industry conversations online and offline. It incited fan reactions — for and against. And it created another valuable dialogue among those who follow sports and social media.

Chad Shanks’ firing is equal parts disturbing and disappointing. Yes, the tweet offended some. It crossed the line. Even Shanks expressed regret. It was a bad idea.

But do not quickly and blindly lump this story into the many others about social media managers, coordinators or interns who used poor judgment, demonstrated rogue behavior or experienced account confusion.

Shanks was a veteran social media pro with a masters’ degree in journalism, and previous PR and marketing experience. He’s been the fingers behind the @HoustonRockets for four years. (As someone who ran a big brand’s Twitter account for more than five years, I can tell you that’s an eternity in social media years.) His peers envied his freedom and creativity.  Many Rockets’ fans loved his work.

But he should not have been fired for one tweet.

Social media managers are rapidly becoming the most visible people behind their brands, stepping past traditional spokespeople or other PR types. As platforms have grown, social media managers have collected power as the “social voice” of their brands — none more visible than sports, which — oh by the way — drives 60 percent of Twitter’s traffic.

Yes, there’s probably more to the Chad Shanks story. And he admitted to pushing the limits. But social media managers — whether they’re representing sports teams, car brands, TV networks and everything in-between — are not on an island. They did not set sail to Twitter’s unique and often misunderstood world of 140 characters by themselves.

Twitter, and social media in general, must be part of larger digital and branding strategies. They must work together, not separately, or in complete isolation. Rockets’ leadership failed Chad Shanks by not providing proper clarity, direction or oversight. More important than heavy-handed supervision or micromanagement, though, they did not do enough to understand what Shanks was doing and how it fit into the team’s image and messaging.

If one tweet can cost a social media manager his/her job, leadership did not provide the guard rails necessary to prevent such a mishap.

Social media managers can use this as a lesson and opportunity to speak up — and step up. Take time to review your social activities and make sure they connect to your brand’s larger strategy. Given this higher pressure and added scrutiny, make sure leadership understands what you’re doing. Is it hurting or advancing the brand? Is it too edgy or boring?

Because social media managers are not on an island. They command a seat at the table. They deserve to be trusted and understood — not feared or cast out.

Thanks for being a fan.

Four Twitter Updates and Their Impact on Sports

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Twitter logo

Recent updates could play a role in how fans — and their favorite teams and players — use Twitter.

Twitter is on a roll.

This established social media platform that often went long stretches without significant changes, now boasts smart new, user-friendly features. The needed upgrades add interest and value for users — and investors.

The moves began in late 2014 and continue through the second quarter of 2015. For sports teams, leagues and athletes, Twitter’s upgrades are worth noting because of their impact on fan usage and engagement. For Twitter, the changes are absolutely necessary to remain relevant, innovative and growing.

Here are four recent Twitter updates I believe are most notable for the sports industry.

1. Log-Out Screen

Twitter’s double-edged dilemma is that it’s not Facebook — something that has traditionally drawn people to the platform. Yet Twitter has not grown as much as some emerging social networks, including the Facebook-owned Instagram, the fastest-moving social platform in 2014. A quick glance at active user numbers reinforces Twitter’s mass appeal stigma.

In April 2015, Twitter unveiled a new log-out screen experience that could help. Using previously unused space, this browser-only destination showcases the platform’s unique value: real-time information. It entices “lurkers” — the many uncounted on Twitter who simply use the network to read news, follow celebrities, politics, sports and more — to dive deeper and discover more relevant and timely content, people and topics.

Twitter log-out screen

Twitter’s log-out experience provides a place for sports teams and leagues to showcase their social media content in real-time.

It’s no surprise sports is the No. 2 Twitter “Stream” in this new experience, serving up real-time sports content depending on fan interest and current conversation. As more U.S. adults fragment their social media usage, Twitter can attract new, non-power users by offering value and driving additional interest to more popular topics — especially sports. For teams and leagues, the log-out screen is further proof they need to produce timely and relevant content — because it could reach an entirely new audience.

2. Ticket Sales

The most revenue-friendly upgrade is the ability to sell game tickets directly on Twitter’s platform. The Atlanta Hawks recently debuted this feature, reportedly selling out the team’s allotment quickly.

This savvy use of Twitter’s Buy Button opens the door to additional ticket offers — beyond pro sports. Imagine the impact and effectiveness of a well-executed game-day ticket sale campaign on Twitter? The options are limitless. This could also open additional revenue streams for Twitter. More importantly, it gives fans an in-platform, mobile-optimized opportunity to purchase tickets — something every team and league should evaluate.

3. Re-tweet with Comments

My personal favorite, this update combines a trend toward richer, more information-laden tweets with the ability to add context and personalization to the social conversation. (It will hopefully put an end to clunky and poorly-worded manual re-tweets and modified tweets, too.) Historically, tweets with images have generated more engagement than text-only content. The re-tweet with comments essentially turns a quoted tweet into an image link and provides the re-tweeter the ability to add an entire tweet’s worth of copy as context.

Matt Ducheme quoted tweet

A quoted tweet provides 116 characters for the re-tweeter to include, providing a more engaging and share-worthy piece of social content.

For sports teams, leagues and athletes, a re-tweet with comments creates deeper fan engagement opportunities and additional broadcast content sources. Instead of a reply, standard or modified re-tweet, this feature provides a fuller story for your followers that can drive increased sharing and conversation.

4. Revamped Trending Topics 

Twitter Trending Topics

An expanded Trending Topics section provides additional utility for sports teams and their fans.

On certain days, sports is the news. A quick glance at trending topics is proof positive that sports and Twitter go hand in glove. In April 2015, the blue bird revamped this section on desktop and mobile experiences.

Both provide context for users around trending topics, shedding light on popular (and sometimes ambiguous) hashtags, conversations and other events people are talking about. It also spelled the end of Twitter’s Discover section.

Again, this is part added utility for power users and part translation for Twitter novices. The lesson for sports teams and leagues is — trending is still relevant and drives users to consume and engage on Twitter.

Creating original social conversations or joining existing ones on has value, and monitoring these trends is vital.

Honorable Mentions

Twitter made several other platform tweaks recently, though I don’t see them having as much impact on sports. Here’s a brief review of those changes:

Vine HD Video: Twitter complementary service Vine now supports higher-quality video (up to 720p). This provides better video experiences for fans and added emphasis on video quality for sports teams and leagues that create this looped content.

Direct Messages from Anyone: A feature once available to only Verified accounts, this enables a user to send private, direct messages to anyone on Twitter — even if they don’t follow the user. It also creates the ability to reply to a DM, even if the sender doesn’t follow you. This is a feature that should be used — by anyone — with care. And, I can only reiterate what other social media pros have said: Tread lightly with DMs.

Periscope App: Some sports teams and leagues have experimented with Periscope, and like other complementary apps, it can enhance content strategies with the ability to live stream certain events. I’ve written previously about how live video streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat can impact sports and social media — and agree with some that additional app updates will only drive more usage across sports. Look for live streaming to grow in the year ahead.

All these updates are good news for sports fans and important trends for the sports industry to follow. Twitter wants — and needs — to improve its product to stay viable as the social media landscape evolves (and investor demands increase). Hopefully, future upgrades will continue to serve the needs of everyday sports fans, while balancing the need to grow and differentiate.

Thanks for being a fan.

The Sports and Social Media Strategy of Meerkat

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Meerkat -- a live streaming video app for Twitter -- burst onto the scene recently. Is it a match made for sports, or another shiny social media object to chase?

Meerkat — a live streaming video app for Twitter — burst onto the scene recently. Is it a match made for sports, or another shiny social media object to chase?

It’s probably premature to talk about a social media strategy for an app that just came out.

Or is it?

Part of social media is testing and learning, trial and error, leading the way so others may follow.

Some brands have experimentation built into their DNA. Most don’t and will never venture far from the comforts of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. I’d estimate 80 to 90 percent of brands lie somewhere in the middle and make their moves based on the other 20 percent, or their competitors.

But many sports teams and leagues crave experimentation. “If fans are doing something, so should we.” This mindset drives sports to try things first in social media — new platforms, edgier content (think GIFs and emojis), just to name a few.

This experimentation mindset is not for everyone, just like it’s not for every brand. Sports fans are different, so sports teams (and leagues) should be, too. Trying out a new live-streaming app is just another in the long line of social media experiments — some successful, some failed.

Meerkat could be that next big thing on Twitter. It’s worth trying. Why? People are talking about it. They’re downloading the app and experimenting themselves (perhaps to the bewilderment of the average Twitter user).

Many of us learn how to use social media together — watching each other, learning in a community setting. Sports teams and leagues do the same. Those brave enough to experiment alongside the average social media user gain immediate credibility and authenticity in my book.

This isn’t about jumping on the newest shiny object. The strategy — right now — around Meerkat is going where the social conversation and community goes, sometimes before there’s even an established community. It’s about trying new tools that fit your brand, your audience, your product — even if you’re not sure how. It’s about breaking the rules when they haven’t even been established.

Along the way, social media experimenters — whether they’re regular people with 20 followers or an NBA team with 400,000 followers — discover utility through usage. They lead the way. They blaze a trail for others.

Aptly enough, the Portland Trail Blazers were among the first sports brands to test Meerkat with their fans, streaming video of a recent team practice, all live to Twitter.

Was it successful? It’s too early to talk metrics with Meerkat — mostly because there really aren’t any. Social experimentation is more art than science, and relying on hard numbers or comparisons to other tactics is futile.

Meerkat has uses, some we’re already seeing from early experimentation.

  • Insider access, where cameras wouldn’t already be providing some kind of coverage
  • Breaking news events
  • Q & A’s (with Twitter interaction that displays right in the Meerkat feed)

I don’t think Meerkat should supplant an owned presence, such as live streaming from a website, where people can find additional engagement opportunities. It also shouldn’t replace other, established video outlets like YouTube.

Meerkat should fit the moment, the message and the medium — just like any other social media tool. A coach’s news conference is probably not a good match. It’s too long, difficult to control the quality, etc. But when a relief pitcher is warming up in the bullpen, a team could give a live look through Twitter via Meerkat — in the moment, brief and relevant. Its use could further fuel the fear of missing out culture of sports and social media.

And let’s face it, this may all be folly for a “Where are they now” story months from now. Meerkat could end up with the Ello’s of the world — a footnote on the road to a larger plan by Twitter to offer live streaming video as a service.

As many have noted, live video streaming is not new. What’s new is the deep integration with Twitter that Meerkat provides, its popularity, its intrigue. Are those alluring enough to overcome Meerkat’s shortcomings? The social media experimenters will help us answer that question.

Thanks for being a fan.

#q1SFE15 in Review: There Is No Off-Season for Sports and Social Media

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The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is March 2-3 in Kansas City.

The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum was held March 2-3 in Kansas City.

I’ve caught up on my sleep and let my brain process the knowledge dropped at the second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum, held this week in Kansas City. Like last year, it was a chance to meet in real life people I admire — and have come to know thanks to social media.

#Q1SFE15 was also a chance to immerse myself in the sports fan’s experience, because after all, that’s what this blog is all about. Here’s what I learned — as a media partner, social media professional and fan — from a talented group of sports and social media leaders.

The Sports Fan is Boss

Whether it’s creating an incredible game-day experience or providing engaging social media content year-round, sports teams and leagues have the fan in mind with nearly everything they do. It begins with game day, but involves so much more. From tailgating, to in-stadium WiFi, to off-season social media content — and everything in-between: The sports fan craves what teams and leagues have.

At Nebraska, football game day is one of seven “state holidays,” according to Kelly Mosier, director of digital communications for the Huskers, who recently upgraded the team’s stadium to HD WiFi. This is tables stakes for teams now, even if it’s just satisfying a vocal minority of fans.

“Cell phones are this generation’s portable radio for fans,” Mr. Mosier said. “[Football] is more than us. It’s a community event. Even if it’s happening outside our stadium, we have ability to be part of that conversation.”

Mosier and his team monitor real-time social media feeds using sophisticated queries. The result is a plethora of engagement opportunities, and the ability to showcase the Husker product for fans unable to be in Lincoln on game day. This includes amplifying user-generated content and providing glimpses of fan activity that can produce authentic but also viral moments.

“We’re letting our fans across the country know it’s awesome to be at the game,” adds Mr. Mosier.

Create a Memorable Experience

The Indy Fuel are re-introducing professional hockey to Indianapolis, which presents much different challenges than an established sports brand like Nebraska football. “For us to be successful long term, we need to provide an experience that beings fans back,” says Lee Dicklitch, vice president of operations and fan experience for the Fuel. “We must share an experience that gets people to notice, and that ensures we don’t lose equity with our fans that we’ve worked hard to build up.”

The Fuel used an on-ice introduction video (see below) that puts an exclamation point on the need to amaze fans in-venue — because this might be the team’s only shot at creating a long-term fan of the franchise.

Sports is Always On: Embrace It

Game day is just part of the fan experience equation. Pre-game, post-game, off-season, training camp, free agency, signing day … you name it, fans want it.

TJ Ansley of the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers talks about ways to keep fans engaged in the off-season through social media.

TJ Ansley of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers talks about ways to keep fans engaged in the off-season through social media.

“There is no off-season anymore,” says TJ Ansley, director of digital media for NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. The team — under Ansley’s creative leadership — produces a crazy amount of content after the last buzzer sounds and before the pre-season tips off.

This can include re-purposing content from the previous season, or creating original photos essays, video recaps, highlight stats and team podcasts.

The Trail Blazers even played “hashtag games” as a fun and engaging way to generate conversation and collaborate with other NBA teams. The activity trending each time on Twitter — despite happening during a slow-called slow period.

But really, there is no down time for sports. No quiet period. No vacations. And that means there is no off-season for sports and social media. The demand has only increased from fans looking for ways to connect with their favorite players, teams and leagues — and with other fans.

It also stems from the growing role social media plays in our everyday lives. FOMO — or the fear of missing out what’s happening on social media — is something teams and leagues can capitalize on during slower times, to ensure fans stay connected and engaged through social.

What’s Next? Let the Fan Decide

Some believe social media will become a “profit center” and generate more revenue than any other channel. These opinions — and the activities behind them — were also part of #q1SFE15 discussions. However, I’m not sold on those speculations, and I’m not going into detail about them here. The ability to predict sports and social media trends is an act of folly. The fan will decide. [Click to tweet.]

What’s certain is social media — in whatever shape or form it becomes — has a place in sports and in the sports fan’s life. It’s up to the smart folks who attended #q1SFE15 — and their colleagues across the industry — to deliver what the fan wants.

Thanks for being a fan.

A post script: My thanks to Q1 Sports for including Fourth And 140 as a media partner for the 2015 Sports Fan Engagement Forum. One of my favorite things to do is meet people — in real life — that I’ve come to know through social media. And this event provided another one of those opportunities. 

A group of #q1SFE15 participants shared a meal together after the first day of the forum.

A group of #q1SFE15 participants shared a meal together after the first day of the forum. (Photo via @LisaMBregman)

 

#q1SFE15 Day 1: Fan Engagement Drives Sports Strategy

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The sports fan was at the center of nearly every discussion at day one of the second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum.

And why not?

Just like traditional business models put the customer at the center of everything they do, sports teams and leagues acknowledged that fans drive key decision-making and strategy in digital, social media, event activations, and more.

How do teams and leagues understand the fan? Data. Use information about fans — wherever it’s available — to drive decisions. That can be social media data — the richest coming from the platforms or third-party providers. It can come from traditional fan data — focus groups, customer relationship management tools, website personas — anywhere the fan interacts with the team or league is ripe for the picking.

The Seattle Seahawks use data to analyze average social media engagements per post and benchmark against averages from other sports teams. The goal? Post better content that fans like.

“It isn’t rocket science,” says Kenton Olson, director of digital media and emerging media for the Seahawks. “We can stop and reassess what we’re doing and make adjustments to what we’re posting.”

Social media plays a role in how sports can better understand what fans expect from in-game experiences, or how they consume content (mobile vs. desktop), to which sponsors and community partners fans want their teams to work with each season.

“Encourage the ability of sponsors to join your team in making the fan the hero,” says Darcy Raymond, vice president of marketing and entertainment for the Tampa Bay Rays. Mr. Raymond pointed to the #RaysUp program which provides fan-centric content that also delivers authentic partnerships and highlights community support.

Giving fans what they want is a key driver for social media content, and was a theme running through most of the day at #q1SFE15. The Portland Trail Blazers strive to create “snackable” pieces of content more easily consumed from mobile devices — something that plays well on social media, keeps fan attention, and provides valuable information and multiple engagement points for fans.

“We want to create awesome moments for our fans,” says Russell Houghtaling, director of digital media for the University of Oklahoma. With social content, Mr. Houghtaling says it’s important to “play the long game. Be consistent in who you are through your stories.” The payoff is a more consistent message — and experience — for the fan.

https://twitter.com/Q1Sports/status/572439535990128640

Even subtle things like gauging the mood of fans can be accomplished through social media. The Portland Timbers monitor the pulse of fans through the #RCTID hashtag — a fan-driven conversation about all things Timbers. The tone of tweets plays a role in the frequency and types of content the team will post.

The New Orleans Saints understand their fans and adjust the team’s Snapchat content calendar. “When we’re winning, our fans can’t get enough,” says Alex Restrepo, web/social media manager for the Saints. “When we’re losing, we take breaks.” It sounds simple enough, but in a must-post-every-day-no-matter-what world, being silent has its advantages.

It’s about knowing your fans. Let them set the pace for your social, digital and in-game strategy. These were just a few of the themes from day one of the Sports Fan Engagement Forum. Learn more by following the #q1SFE15 hashtag or by connecting with forum speakers and attendees.

And keep making it about them, not you.

Thanks for being a fan.