Keep Tweeting, @CoachJim4UM

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Jim Harbaugh Twitter

Jim Harbaugh joined Twitter right after his hire as the new head football coach of the Michigan Wolverines.

If Jim Harbaugh’s latest attempt at Twitter is any indication of how he’ll run the football program at the University of Michigan, Wolverines’ fans have a bright future ahead.

Coach Harbaugh started a new Twitter account this past week — @CoachJim4UM — and quickly amassed more than 125,000+ followers. His first (and, to date, only) tweet garnered more than 4,600 retweets.

It’s an exclamation point on Michigan’s attempt to turn things around in Ann Arbor. This storied program hasn’t had much to tweet about lately, and its coaching decisions, on-field performance and recruiting have left fans restless and looking for a hero to rally behind.

Rival Ohio State, meanwhile, won another Big Ten title this season and plays for an eighth national title on Jan. 12. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer embraces Twitter, and ranks among the top college football coaches when it comes to follower count. And at Michigan, keeping up with — and beating — Ohio State is always a goal. It’s likely one of the reasons Harbaugh returned to Twitter as part of the new gig with his alma mater. (Yes, he tried Twitter before with … some interesting results.)

Becoming an active Twitter user doesn’t equal success on the field or recruiting trail, but college coaches who embrace it can find advantages. Just like a CEO running a company, coaches lead a high-profile brand. Being absent from social media isn’t an option anymore — for CEOs or coaches.

“Nobody should be more passionate about a program than the head coach,” writes Kevin DeShazo, Fieldhouse Media founder and social media consultant to many collegiate coaches and athletic departments. “Every day you aren’t using social media to share that passion is, in my opinion, a missed opportunity.”

Michigan football needs help everywhere, especially on the all-important recruiting trail. The Wolverines rank last among Big Ten schools in 2015 recruiting, according to 24/7 Sports. Some experts believe Harbaugh’s hiring can stimulate interest in the program and lure blue-chip recruits back to the Big House.

“He’s a big name kids are going to want to play for,” Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell told the New York Post. “He is front page college news.”

The front page of college sports is no longer ink and paper. It’s 140 characters. It’s hashtags. It’s trending topics. Social media powers a large part of the interest in programs, in coaches … and in recruiting. Case in point: Trending activity around the recent Army Bowl and Under Armour All-American games, which included player commitment announcements throughout each broadcast.

Fans, parents and athletes tune into social activity — like they do SportsCenter or the sports page — except now they can participate. And coaches should, too. (Just don’t take Twitter lessons from Jim Mora right now.)

“If hyper-competitive coaches can use any new service to gain an edge over a rival, they’re going to,” writes Christopher Wilson of Yahoo News. Social media creates an advantage only because some coaches are reluctant to use it as a marketing tool — as an extension of their programs and personal brands. Pass on this opportunity and miss out — not necessarily on what draws me and other sports fans to social media (conversation, content) — but on reaching a large audience quickly and efficiently.

“[Social media is] your chance to tell your story directly to recruits and parents of recruits (along with fans, the community, the media, alumni and more),” DeShazo says. “Nobody can tell that story better than you.”

And nobody’s more excited to have Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines than Michigan fans. Coach Harbaugh’s Twitter presence can help him build an even stronger program, connect closer with fans, and sell his brand to top-notch recruits year-round.

So keep tweeting, Coach. And thanks for being a fan.

Three Sports and Social Media Trends I Hope Will Happen in 2015 (But Won’t)

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2015-trendsPlenty of pundits are sharing their thoughts about what to expect in social media in 2015. I don’t pretend to know what will happen — or have any particular unique insight that would trump these predictions.

This isn’t that blog post because I don’t believe that insight exists. Social media is too unpredictable.

I do, however, have opinions about what I hope to see from the world of sports and social media in the coming year. It’s 2015. Social media is past the toddler years – especially in the #SMsports world. It’s time to grow up and expect more from this space where fans, teams, leagues, athletes and the media converge to share ideas, start conversations and gather during the most important sporting events of the year.

Here are three things I hope to see in sports and social media in 2015 — but realize probably won’t.

1. Teams, leagues and athletes will talk less and engage more. 

Why it’s important: Engagement is probably the most overused word in social media. And in the sports world, engagement comes cheap. Post a clever meme, GIF or game photo, and – BAM! – instant “engagement.” But real social media engagement happens one to one, between individuals. True social media connections come when a team or individual takes the time to talk with — not to — its fans.

Why it won’t happen: This kind of engagement — true interaction — is difficult. It takes time and resources. It requires a strategy shift, which I don’t see happening. So, the hunt for likes, shares and comments will continue in 2015 among teams, leagues and athletes. Until the platforms — or the people using them — find a way to measure this return on conversation, social media will continue to be a one-to-many format in sports.

2. Fans will stop using social media as another outlet for hate. 

Why it’s important: The vitriol toward athletes, leagues and teams, and between fans, has to stop. People — yours truly included — will begin to use platforms differently if this doesn’t stop, or at least, dissipate. Some will stop using social media altogether. Yes, use these outlets as a way to reach the characters in sports you couldn’t reach without social media — but do so with some real-world, in-person respect.

Why it won’t happen: Platforms are too anonymous. Period. And that’s not changing enough to matter in 2015. The ability to use social media to spew hate will remain far too easy for those afraid to show their real faces behind the awful comments they post. The shadows of social media will only grow darker in the places that allow it, I’m afraid. And that will chase away value — for fans, teams, athletes — everyone.

3. Social media will stop being the home for highly visible mistakes.

Why it’s important: Brands (personal and organizational) are strengthened or weakened by their social media presence. So badly executed and highly public mistakes in social media diminish brand value — as well as the value of the platforms themselves. A smart, strategic approach to social media — put in the hands of capable, experienced and passionate people — can limit the mistakes we so often see from teams, leagues and athletes. But more importantly, put in capable hands, social media adds value to a brand — and those who seek to connect with it.

Why it won’t happen: Social media is still in its infancy for too many teams, leagues and athletes. Yes, there are plenty of folks who get it — and are doing amazing things in this space. But their work is diminished when those who don’t understand the value and power of social use it poorly — making high-profile gaffes that garner the most attention.

Is this a pretty pessimistic outlook on social media? Maybe. I prefer realistic. I will have plenty of incredible and fan-centric things to write and about share throughout 2015 — I’m sure of that. This is where I’d like to see the industry (is this an industry?) go in the future… to put the fan at the forefront of everything we do. We’re not there today — and I don’t expect us to get there easily in the coming year.

What trends do you see coming? Leave a comment or tweet me your ideas.

And, as always, thanks for being a fan.

Own Your Social Media Mistakes

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The Ray Rice saga reeks from top to bottom, and nothing I write here can help the Baltimore Ravens organization distance itself — and the National Football League — from this debacle. Nothing I write here will help solve the issue of domestic violence. Nothing I write here will calm the outrage of people — sports fans or otherwise — who have witnessed this story unfold and are sickened by actions of the once-respected people involved.

Those are issues best tackled elsewhere, and plenty of smarter folks are doing their best to tackle them. (For starters, check out Mike Sielski’s piece or this from Keith Olbermann or this from Sam Laird.) What I can offer are two simple social media lessons we can learn in the wake of the Ray Rice incident…

Own your social media mistakes. If you are foolish enough to live tweet a news conference with a player accused of beating up his wife — regardless of the circumstances surrounding those actions — you should not delete those tweets (or a subset of them) hours, days or months later.

Apologize. Acknowledge mistakes. Do better the next time.

I’ve deleted plenty of tweets over the five-plus years I’ve been using Twitter (both personally and representing my brand). But it’s usually for a grammatical error, a bad link or something similar — and usually within minutes or hours of tweeting it.

The Ravens’ actions — deleting months-old tweets — is disturbing. It suggests to me something more sinister at play — of covering tracks and tying up loose ends. It’s not behavior appropriate for social media — where transparency trumps public relations. And it only generated more outrage – in the news media and on Twitter.

Never live-tweet a news conference regarding a legal matter! Yes, hindsight is 20-20, but who was running the show and decided back in May this was a good idea?

The Ravens’ punctuated an already over-the-top, victim-blaming display when it live tweeted statements made by Rice, and his then-fiancee. The Ravens have answered the question, “Should we live tweet this?” — should it ever arise in team sports again.

From a social media content strategy perspective, legal matters are of interest to a certain point for fans. But because they’re legal matters, teams and leagues can easily stay above the fray by issuing legally-approved and prepared statements, rather than rapid-fire play-by-play.

Just because we use a platform to share breaking news doesn’t mean we have to break all the news on it. The expectations for in-the-moment social media content are not the same — nor are they appropriate for a team or league to share — surrounding legal matters.

The Ravens should apologize — for its handling of the Ray Rice saga and for a lousy attempt at cleaning up a social media mess four months in the making.

Thanks for being a fan.

My Red Carpet Moment

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Coach Bob Ladouceur on the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of "When the Game Stands Tall."

Coach Bob Ladouceur on the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of “When the Game Stands Tall.”

You might call it a bucket-list item.

I recently attended a Hollywood premiere for When the Game Stands Tall, complete with celebrity appearances, entertainment reporters and a red-carpet entrance (well, green AstroTurf, to be precise).

The film, in theaters Aug. 22, is about legendary high school football coach Bob Ladouceur and the De La Salle Spartans from Concord, Calif. Maybe you’ve heard of the team’s amazing 151-game winning streak?

As someone who has lived and breathed sports my whole life, the glamour and glitz of the premiere was overshadowed by a more meaningful moment late in the evening, after the film credits had rolled, and the camera crews and paparazzi had vanished into the California night.

I got to meet Coach Lad, shake his hand and hear his story.

It was a bit surreal talking to the guy who was just featured in the film I came 1,700 miles to see. A film I’ve come to know through my work (at American Family Insurance, which is featured in the film*). But Coach Lad was just an ordinary guy to talk to – with an extra-ordinary outlook on life. [Just wish I’d snapped a photo of the two of us!]

When the Game Stands Tall chronicles Coach Lad’s life and his team’s quest to return to greatness on the football field. The film is, in my opinion, an instant sports movie classic, underscoring the power of teamwork, passion, community, pride. It’s why it’s so important to surround yourself with positive role models.

Tom Buchheim

That’s me on the red carpet for the “When the Game Stands Tall” premiere. OK, it was actually green turf, but you get the idea.

It reminded me of all the hard-working folks I’ve tried to surround myself with in social media — those passionate about the intersection of sports and social media. Theirs is a labor of love – it has to be given the insane hours, time away from family and hectic pace.

I’m thrilled to live vicariously through their experiences, share some of my perspective here, and join a larger community that’s pretty amazing.

This whole experience made me appreciate people like Coach Lad, who’s living proof that hard work, dedication and a commitment to giving “a perfect effort” will take you places you never imagined … like a Hollywood movie premiere, or a handshake and an inspirational moment with a legendary coach.

Thanks for being a fan.

*Full disclosure: By day, I’m a social media administrator for American Family Insurance, which is featured in When the Game Stands Tall. I don’t usually bring my day job into Fourth and 140, but this was an exception I felt was worth making.

On Twitter, Community and the Passing of Tony Gwynn

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Twitter logo

Twitter is the gathering place for sports fans to break tweet records and support their favorite teams and players. But it’s also a place for solace — to distinguish men like Tony Gwynn.

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” — Hemingway

Sports fans took a pretty emotional ride today, fueled by sadness, grief, nostalgia … then anticipation, patriotism and sheer joy. Twitter was the engine, and the community its driver.

It’s days like today that make Twitter a unique space for sports fans of all types. It was a day where a Hall of Fame baseball player lost his battle with cancer, and was mourned by millions. It was also a day soccer fans anticipated for years — capped by an incredible moment in U.S. sports history.

Together, we shared these contrasting events in this community built on 140 characters. Each time I encounter days like today, I grow to appreciate many of the people I’m connected to through one way or another on Twitter. Through tragedy and triumph, we all learn a little about each other, one tweet at a time.

And our community grows closer.

We shared stories — about sixth-grade batting slumps.

We struggled — together — to comprehend death, especially of once-vibrant heroes we grew up watching, emulating, imitating.

We reminisced — with stories, photos and articles.

We also watched as a grieving son bravely shared his thoughts on the loss of his dad, just one day removed from Father’s Day.

As my friend, Sunny, eloquently wrote today, “In sports, we (fans and media) sometimes lose sight of the human element. In our passion, we forget that athletes and coaches, who are the ones in the public eye most, are dealing with the same issues we deal with on a daily basis.”

So we turn to Twitter, because it offers solace. It offers that human element to help us comprehend sad events — and celebrate joyous and historic ones. Yes, it is the gathering place for sports fans to break tweet records and support their favorite teams and players. But it’s also a place — as Hemingway noted — to distinguish men like Tony Gwynn.

Thanks for being a fan.

Four Alternatives to the #RedskinsPride Social Media Disaster

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Redskins logo

Fueled by political interest, the Washington Redskins name controversy sparked a failed #RedskinsPride hashtag campaign. What could the team have done instead?

When will they learn? Social media is not about you. It’s about them. And poorly planned and executed hashtag campaigns that fail, prove it every time. The latest example? The NFL’s Washington Redskins and its brief #RedskinsPride social media debacle.

Unfortunately for Redskins’ fans, the controversy surrounding the team’s name is not a new issue, but one which has renewed interest following a recent effort by lawmakers — including Nevada Senator Harry Reid. He and 49 other U.S. senators sent a letter to the NFL calling for the team to change its name, considered racist and insensitive by many.

Blame the team for more press, too, since it took to Twitter recently to rally support for keeping the Redskins name. It was an unmitigated disaster, starting with a response from team president Bruce Allen, which the Redskins (and some current players) shared via Twitter.

The real problems began when the team’s Twitter content began to look and feel more like a heavy-handed public relations campaign played out in social media than actual social media. The Redskins were forcing traditional (and tired) old media tactics in a new media space, over which they have little or no control.

It didn’t work because these networks — Twitter especially — are the place for self-expression, conversation and engagement. And nothing riles up a crowd — fueled by some good, ol’ fashioned Twitter snark — quite like the opportunity to demolish a poorly designed and executed hashtag campaign disguised as PR. Add in high-profile political figures, and this baby is ripe for the picking.

The campaign really blossomed following this May 29th tweet, supposedly sent to generate a groundswell of fan support for keeping the Redskins name, and a call to arms to use social media — and #RedskinsPride — to push back a tide of negativity that had crossed over from sports into social and political issues.

The reaction was swift and destructive, with sentiment around the #RedskinsPride hashtag skewed sharply negative, according to Emory University research. But it doesn’t take a PhD to see what played out on Twitter was anything less than ridiculously awful.

This is not a new thing in social media. Many brands — sports and non-sports alike — experience hashtag hijacking. As long as Twitter provides an outlet for snark, opinion, humor — call it what you will — these takeovers will continue.

The Redskins failed on many levels, and in my opinion the team needs to re-examine its entire social media strategy. Force-feeding PR into a social media diet doesn’t work. It requires careful balance that often falls flat when the PR parts are poorly disguised. If they’re not already, the Redskins social media team should stand up for its communities, and build a new strategy focused on more authentic content and conversations that drive deeper brand loyalty — not division.

In that spirit, let’s talk about what might have been. Instead of using a PR hammer to split your fans over a controversial wedge issue in social media, I’d offer these four ideas that could have helped the Redskins do right by their communities, and likely would have turned out better than #RedskinsPride.

1. Engage, engage, engage. Find your team advocates and talk to them. What are they excited about following the draft? What do they hope to see from training camp? Who are their favorite all-time players? The Redskins fail miserably at one-to-one conversations with fans (and haven’t done so on Twitter since May 17). Here’s a chance to direct the attention on your community through active and authentic social media engagement. Besides, replies are outstanding sources of future content, and could help humanize this struggling brand.

2. Change the subject. Use social media to showcase your team’s tradition, players and history — using vintage photos in a Throwback Thursday-style content series. Instead of pouring gasoline on a smoldering issue, focus on less controversial, more positive topics. This could also provide user-generated content for the team to re-purpose across its social platforms.

3. Give stuff away. Launch a social media sweepstakes. Free stuff drives fan interest and can drown out detractors pretty quickly, especially if the prizes are worthwhile. Use social media to give away behind-the-scenes access at training camp, tickets or other unique experiences. Focus on what fans want, not what you want fans to hear.

4. Stop talking. Take a social media sabbatical. If you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, shut the hell up! Stick to day-to-day routines, which this time of year center around training camp, signing draft picks and preparing for the upcoming season. It’s OK to take a day or two off, especially if your brand is under fire — or a microscope. Routine might be boring, but it doesn’t attract as much attention from the Twitter snarks or further damage your brand.

Should the Redskins ever choose to change the team name, social media is an outstanding space to develop a new mascot and fresh branding. Regardless, the team should take a hard look at its social media strategy. It should also find ways to heal the open wounds festering from this controversy, and help its beleaguered fan base find positives in the upcoming season.

Thanks for being a fan.

Twitter’s New Profile Design: The Impact and Early Results for Sports Teams and Leagues

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Twitter logo

This week, Twitter rolled out a new profile design and updated features for all users. Sports teams, leagues and athletes are using this new space to showcase their brands.

Twitter made some dramatic design changes to its web interface recently, which are now available to all users. For sports teams and leagues, the news first came via blog post a couple weeks ago, so there was time to prepare. Some were more ready than others. More on that in a moment.

First, why did Twitter makes these changes? Social media profiles are becoming an extension of our personal brands, and Twitter’s previous design and features apparently did not keep up with the times. So, the big blue bird added a larger profile photo and custom header options, plus new ways to feature tweets (by engagement, pinning and filtering).

The visual changes — the most obvious of this latest update — homogenize Twitter’s look-and-feel, however. Profiles are eerily similar now on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus, all boasting large “hero” images and similarly-placed profile photos. The tweet customization is a nice addition for Twitter, but traffic to Twitter profiles will always be lower compared to news feed views, just as they are on Facebook brand pages. Consider these new features are only available on desktop, and the number of eyeballs gets even smaller.

Overall, it’s kind of an underwhelming update to me, though nonetheless interesting and equally challenging to use this space to creatively showcase your brand — whether you’re an individual, business or sports team.

Noteworthy in Twitter’s strategy was its inclusion of a sports league and athlete in its preview phase of the new profile roll-out, featuring boxer Floyd Mayweather and the Australian Football League.

Australian Football League on Twitter

The Australian Football League was one of the first sports league to get Twitter’s new profile design.

Since the new Twitter web profile became available to everyone on April 22, sports teams and leagues have been hit-and-miss on adapting to the changes. Here are a few I noticed on Day 1 and some insight into what I noticed:

Chargers Twitter header

The San Diego Chargers were one of the first pro sports teams to take advantage of Twitter’s new profile.

One of the challenges with Twitter’s new header image is its sheer size. The space is massive, almost unwieldy, at 1,500 by 500 pixels. Just finding a photo — stock or not — to work well in this space is difficult. (Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time creating header image options in my day job doing social media for a financial services brand.) Here, the San Diego Chargers used a combination of styled images to fit the space in stunning and on-brand fashion. (Hat tip to Joel Price and  Alex McLeland from the Chargers for their creativity here.)

Another obstacle with Twitter’s header image is creating seamless web and mobile experiences. Twitter offers little to no guidance, which is frustrating. (Download the new Twitter profile one-page cheat sheet here.) As seen below, the St. Louis Rams header displays well when viewed in a mobile experience (and as a thumbnail from web browsers).

St. Louis Rams Twitter header

The St. Louis Rams Twitter header image is optimized for mobile viewing.

But when viewed full screen from a web experience, the Rams’ Twitter header image literally misses the mark. The profile image covers the text on the header and the “hero” image is somewhat less heroic when it cuts Tavon Austin’s face off.

Rams Twitter header - web

But the Rams Twitter header has some issues when viewed on the web.

Which approach is better? Given 76 percent of Twitter’s monthly active users access the site via mobile, maybe the Rams have it right. Focus on a kick-ass mobile experience first, because that’s what three-quarters of your traffic will see. But I still appreciate the desktop experience, which offers amazing opportunities to showcase photography and design creativity.

Which is better? There’s likely common ground, which for now requires some trial and error with Twitter’s header image, and some serious design skill (and patience). The Kansas City Chiefs may have found that happy medium. While perhaps lacking in splash, the team’s mobile and desktop versions nonetheless bring a consistent experience for fans.

Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header - mobile

The mobile version of the Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header is more consistent with its desktop counterpart.

Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header - desktop

The desktop version of the Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header image.

What works and what doesn’t work? Perhaps the fact that some teams haven’t activated the new profile (as of April 24) is proof their respective creative teams are working behind the scenes to get it just right. Or maybe it’s just not that significant. But I thought it was worth exploring some of updates, because while Twitter often changes small features, rarely does it unleash such a dramatic new look for all users.

So, which teams, leagues and athletes are taking advantage of Twitter’s new profile — and doing it well (or poorly)? Tweet me what you see or leave a comment below.

Thanks for being a fan.