Coaches Who Impose Social Media Bans Miss the Mark

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Twitter ban

Coaches and college administrators who impose social media bans are failing their student-athletes.

Social media is a learning lab for anyone willing to dedicate time, attention and passion to it. Name the interest, and you can find and learn from people, content and events shared across today’s platforms.

So why do coaches and administrators — at institutions of higher learning no less — continue to demonize social media and the opportunities they provide?

ESPN recently reported Clemson and Florida State banned all social media for the 2015 college football season. For FSU, this continues an in-season stoppage started in 2011. “We don’t need any distractions. It’s no big deal,” one Clemson player told The Post and Courier about the ban.

In 2015, this confounds me as a sports fan, and as a communications and social media advisor to senior business executives.

Let me be crystal clear: When used appropriately, social media is not a distraction but rather a tool to help achieve your goals. For every reason a coach can dream up to ban social media, I can find multiple counter-arguments that make it worthwhile — even in-season.

Here are three gold standard rebuttals:

1. Teachable Moments

College students are in school to learn. There is no better time or opportunity to teach them about social media — and I mean everything about social media. Missteps happen, but as I’ve written here previously, social media mistakes are not forever. Done right, education can provide players (and coaches) with the ability to effectively use social media — no matter the season.

Create curriculum that highlights these teachable moments — hire someone if necessary! Recognize past mistakes but learn from them and become better. Talk as a team about parameters and safety nets that are already part of your culture of winning. Be there for one another on the field, in the classroom — and online.

“The best strategy is to educate. Help them understand just how big social media is, that the world can see every tweet,” writes Kevin DeShazo, founder of Fieldhouse Media and author of iAthlete: Impacting Student-Athletes of a Digital Generation. “Banning your players from tweeting is taking the lazy way out, and it’s doing your student-athletes a disservice.”

2. Life Skills

From the highest-profile student-athlete (like the one who may someday play professionally) to the Division III bench-warmer, social media provides life skills that translate beyond the playing field and classroom. Social media reinforces basic writing and grammar. It opens doors for creativity and expression in photography, video and design. It provides opportunities to deal with sometimes volatile negative feedback, to learn from adversity or to manage distractions during stressful times. 

These are all things student-athletes encounter in the regular experiences of college life — and eventually life after college. Let social media add to the richness of those experiences.

“A player’s social media account, and, by extension, his smartphone, is the compass through which he navigates the world,” writes Zach Barnett, college football writer for FootballScoop.com. “Might as well teach him how to read it.”

3. Personal Branding

Perhaps social media’s most important asset is personal branding. Instead of teaching student-athletes to fear it, instill in them the skills to put social media to work for them — to set them up for success in life after graduation.

A coherent and upbeat Twitter or Instagram feed provides potential employers, business partners and friends with a better look into your world than anyone else can provide. This isn’t about creating a a facade but rather enhancing how you interact with people face-to-face. It’s an asset that — as sports business writer Kristi Dosh notes — 93 percent of employers check before making a hiring decision.

Student-athletes have 100 percent control of that message! And for those few elite athletes, social media may one day be the place they can make — and break — their own news. This is already happening! (Just ask Tom Brady about it).

Some sports leaders make sure to provide guidelines and education for their athletes — while not banning it. Guys like George O’Leary at the University of Central Florida get it. While he doesn’t use social media personally, O’Leary embraces the learning opportunity it presents his players. “That’s part of life. That’s part of teaching,” he said recently. “I do give out dos-and-don’ts on social media to them. What they should do and what they shouldn’t do. I would never ban that.”

Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long gets it, too, and even took to Twitter to counter the recent news of social media bans.

Demonizing social media does not benefit the student-athlete. Instead, tackling the issues associated with social media reinforces a learning environment and opens doors to new opportunities. Let’s coach our student-athletes to succeed at life, not just sports.

Thanks for being a fan.

Front Office Sports Opens Doors for Aspiring Sports Business Pros

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Front Office Sports logo

Front Office Sports is a resource for students and young professionals in which they can access our extensive database of informational interviews, infographics, and tips.

Sports business people give, and give, and give some more. Why else would a guy with few connections and little experience get to talk with talented, smart people in a highly competitive industry?

Four years ago, that guy was me. I took a chance, started a blog and hoped to fill a couple voids. One was an outlet for writing, which I desperately needed. The second helped fill a gap, because few were covering this curious intersection of sports and social media.

It was uncharted territory. Yet there was a community here, with plenty of guides willing to help me find my way … willing to share and give.

Since then, an explosion of social media in sports led to other voices in this space, and it’s been incredible watching so many with similar passions approach topics affecting the fans consuming the content, as well as those creating it. Talented people like Sunny CadwalladerJessica Smith, Neil Horowitz, Bob McKamey, Tariq Ahmad, Kevin DeShazo and many others.

While it’s a seemingly small pond, it can feel like a vast ocean for those trying to make a splash — and a career — in it today. Adam White likely had that feeling a year ago when he founded Front Office Sports, an educational resource for students and young professionals interested in sports careers. More than just a blog or Twitter feed, FOS is a community that connects the industry’s big fish with those hoping to make it big.

“People who work day in and day out to make all of this happen deserve to have their stories told,” Mr. White told Fourth and 140 recently. “When we think of interviews, we think of players and not actually people behind the scenes. That is why our motto is ‘the game behind the game’ because we are telling the stories of the people who are working behind the scenes.”

Mr. White wanted to create a resource to connect professionals and students on a more personal level, a seed planted by his professors at the University of Miami-Florida.

Adam White photo

Adam White is the founder of Front Office Sports.

“Many times I heard, ‘Connections are so important in our line of work because the industry is so small’,” says White, who juggles his FOS duties with a part-time job and full class schedule at Miami. “I figured if I was going to talk to people, why not share their insight with everyone, so those who were too afraid to reach out or didn’t have the means to could still learn everything I was learning. The whole idea was to help myself learn and give others opportunities to work on the blog while educating others at no cost or effort to them.”

Front Office Sports recently celebrated its first year of operation, and using a team of contributors, now cranks out content daily.

“We cover everything from how they got their start, to their favorite memories, to tips for students,” White says. “This content is important because it is relevant, real and not sugar-coated. The people we interview keep things clear and straight-up, which gives those who read it an unadulterated view as to what sports business is all about and if it is actually for them.”

In the past six months, White says Front Office Sports went from averaging 100 visitors a week to more than 100 per day. He credits the growth to quality content from volunteer staff contributors who also use their networks to draw in new readers — and new content.

“It has been remarkable to see the reaction of those in the industry,” White says. “They didn’t have to do it, yet they chose to take anywhere from 30 minutes to sometimes two hours out of their day to speak with us.”

White freely admits he hasn’t made money from the site, but believes the connections he’s building are invaluable. After a year of publishing, people now reach out to FOS, offering to contribute articles or share stories. In the coming year, he hopes to post more video interviews, establish Google Hangout panels, sell FOS merchandise, and start a scholarship — among an ambitious list of goals.

A true student of the industry, White says building Front Office Sports provides incredible learning opportunities, fueled by a sports community willing to share their time and talents. It’s not unlike the journey I’ve taken — albeit as a non-traditional student of the sports business game.

“Without FOS, there is no way I would have been able to talk to over 110 professionals from across the globe,” White says. “These people are such a well-connected group, but a group that is never afraid to reach out and lend a helping hand. They’ve not only helped catapult FOS to where it is now, but have truly impacted many other lives. That is a true testament to their characters and personalities.” 

I couldn’t agree more, Adam.

Thanks to this community for being so gracious … and thank you for being a fan.

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.