#DSFE14 Day 1: Putting fans first

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#DSFE14 conference

Day 1 of the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference included a wide variety of speakers and topics. But the overwhelming theme was obvious: Put fans first.

A common theme from Day 1 of the Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference was loud and clear: Sports fans drive the conversation — and the content — in social media.

The conference’s first panel featured big-name sports brands like the Oregon Ducks, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Bucks and focused on digital and social media platform selection and strategy. But the overwhelming message of this — and most of the #DSFE14 discussion — centered on the sports fan.

Rightfully so. Fans are the bread and butter for teams, leagues and athletes. And, connecting with them in meaningful ways breeds success — not only social media scores, but bottom-line wins.

Sports fosters an unbelievable amount of user-generated content in social media, and time and again, today’s sports and social media leaders reflected on the importance of harnessing that valuable content. Not only does it provide teams, leagues and athletes with a rich funnel of engaging and authentic posts, it creates opportunities to reward fans by providing them things they seek out in social media — exclusive content, access and the occasional virtual badge of honor.

“Fans are narcissistic,” Chris Yandle, assistant athletic director/communications for the University of Miami Hurricanes says. Yandle — and others in similar roles — reiterated how fans absolutely love getting their social media posts amplified or acknowledged by their favorite teams or athletes. It’s something they can brag about to friends and is an easy way to recognize influencers — and generate additional engagement in social media — by sharing their posts, or even just liking/favoriting and responding.

The Seattle Seahawks take this approach to amazing levels, after developing an intricate social media response strategy. “We want to give fans their rock-star moment,” says Kenton Olson, director of digital for the Seahawks and Sounders. “A reply from a brand on Twitter is better than getting an autograph,” he says, noting the Seahawks empowered others in their organization to assist in the massive undertaking of replying to fans in social media.

Keep in mind, the Seahawks saw 400,000 Twitter mentions during its Sept. 15, 2013, game vs. the San Francisco 49ers. To manage that on an ongoing basis, Olson built a three-tier system to filter fan responses — all based on key business goals (including influence and previous interactions), then activated his team.

The Seahawks deserve credit for winning NFL social media supremacy — besting its Super Bowl opponent in a similar manner to the actual game. During the lead-up to Super Bowl 48, the Seahawks racked up 3,177 @ replies — sent directly to fans on Twitter — compared to just eight sent by the Broncos. It generated 167,500 engagements and nearly 213 million impressions.

The Padres, under leadership from NFL social media veteran Wayne Partello, also put fans first. Partello created a new mission statement crafted with the fan in mind and addressing the crowded nature of sports news. “We’re now in the media business,” Partello says. “We have to tell our story. If you’re not telling your story, others will do it for you.”

Another theme emerged from Day 1 of #DSFE14: Data is king, and it revolves around the fan. Turner Sports looks at social media from a data perspective. And, thanks to technology, Turner can learn a lot about its fans — including what content they want to see in social media.

Turner Sports even created a social media command center to analyze data and use it in real-time decisions related to social media content and fan interactions. It activated a mobile version of this command center during NBA All-Star Game weekend, generating more than 245,000 fan engagements, and uncovering an interesting problem.

“We could not give them enough content,” says Jeff Mirman, vice president of marketing for Turner Sports. “They wanted more. They more they got, the more they engaged.”

Athletes should take a similar approach to teams and leagues — put fans first and use social media as an engagement tool (not a megaphone or sponsor mouthpiece). Case in point: Jimmie Johnson Racing, which finds extreme value in fan engagement in social media through some innovative and fan-friendly content campaigns.

Johnson strives to provide fan value through his various social media platforms. It can be anything from turning a negative hashtag conversation into a brilliantly funny content opportunity (check out #blamejj, which generated 70 percent engagement on Instagram), to weekly giveaways that build fan momentum over time (see #jjswag on Twitter).

Johnson understands fans should be first in social media, according to Lauren Murray, who manages his social and digital strategies. He wants them to be the first to know news about him — and he uses social media as a tool to deliver that news in authentic ways.

#DSFE14 featured some incredible talents in the sports and social media world, and this is just a sampling of the conference’s first day. Continue to monitor the Twitter conversation and connect with these leaders as they implement what they’ve learned here. (For more about Day 2, see our previous post.)

Thanks for being a fan.

Fourth and 140 Signs Media Partnership for Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference

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Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference logo

Join today’s sports and social media leaders at the Q1 Productions Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference March 3-4, 2014, in Dallas.

It’s about time.

We finally have a blockbuster sports and social media conference for the ages. Some big names highlight the Q1 Productions Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference, coming to Dallas March 3-4, 2014.

And, I’m excited to report, FourthAnd140 is officially on board as a media partner with Q1 Productions for this event.

Leaders from sports organizations, major brands and facilities will discuss the growing opportunities digital and social media provide for connecting teams, leagues and players with fans. It’s a who’s who of #SMsports, so check out the agenda today.

FourthAnd140 readers can receive a $100 discount on registration. For more information, email sports@q1productions.com and mention the discount code F140.

“Q1 is thrilled to partner with such industry leaders as FourthAnd140.com, for its innovative coverage of sports and social media,” says Kate Jeter, Production Director. “We value the strategic focus of this leading blog source to help our conference attendees get the most out of their time together.”

For more information regarding the Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement conference, visit the Q1 website at www.q1productions.com/sportsfanengagement, and follow them on Twitter at @Q1Sports.

As we draw closer to the conference, I’ll share some insights from a few of the speakers, giving FourthAnd140 readers a preview of what to expect March 3-4 in Dallas.

Thanks for being a fan.

About FourthAnd140.com:
FourthAnd140.com gives readers a strategic view of how players, teams and leagues – professional and amateur – use social media to connect with today’s sports fans. Editor and publisher Tom Buchheim was one of the first bloggers covering the curious intersection of sports and social media, using his experience as a social media leader for a Fortune 300 brand (and a sports fan) to examine the trends – and characters behind them – in this rapidly-changing space.

About Q1 Productions:
Q1 Productions designs and develops webinars, training courses, conference programs and forums aimed at specifically targeted audiences, including the life science and sports industries. Through a highly structured production process focused on research calls with end-users and key stakeholders in the industry, our team is able to understand the immediate business concerns of today’s leading executives. Whether focusing on new or pending legislative and health policy issues for the life science industry or upcoming marketing trends in the digital and mobile space for sports organizations, our programs provide solutions to the urgent educational and information needs of our attendees.

CONTACT:
Nathalie Davis
Production Manager
Q1 Productions
312-822-8100
sports@q1productions.com

Power to the #: Tagboard and the Sports Strategy of Hashtags

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Tagboard's logo

Tagboard helps some of the biggest brands in the world play a more active role in the social conversation by encouraging their audiences to share their experiences on a branded, moderated platform.

User-generated content is the gold mine inside social media. Across its varied platforms, one of the simplest but most effective ways for sports brands to mine that gold is with hashtags.

Take a look around. They’re everywhere. More brands — of all kinds — are developing hashtag strategies to capitalize on the conversations in social media. It’s the new, or at least next, call to action in marketing.

“There is a lot of buzz about the hashtag being the next URL,” says Dan Redwine, director of community outreach at Tagboard. “It’s the new way for people to connect, share information and engage around any subject.”

You’ve heard about hashtags, but if Tagboard doesn’t ring a bell, I suspect it will soon — especially if you follow college or pro sports (or attend their games), enjoy brand journalism, or just like the latest social media trends.

With roots in tech-savvy Seattle, Tagboard expanded its niche social media service outside of Washington, where a year ago it was a fledgling start-up. Fast-forward 12 months, and Tagboard is cashing in on the hashtag craze, providing content-hungry consumers — especially sports fans — with a new fix.

Following a recent $2 million funding injection, it seems Tagboard provides content-hungry brands with a valuable service, too.

Tagboard is basically a collection point for hashtags or similar social media-driven topics. For consumers, it is aggregated content on steroids — pulling data from across myriad social media sources, while its paying customers — companies, brands, teams, etc. — customize the look-and-feel of their respective pages, displaying them to various audiences.

But this tool is more than a flash in the pan. Yes, it’s a start-up, but it’s gaining traction — and paying clients — in established sports markets like Major League Baseball and NCAA football. Why? Tagboard is built for sports — or any brand producing highly engaging, exceptionally visual, event-driven content.

“We never planned on having such a strong sports focus,” Redwine told Fourth and 140 recently. “However, the sports community is full of ideal Tagboard users, because they’re so passionate about their teams. That being said, we also focus on a lot of different verticals, but for the sports teams, I think mainly it’s our ability to leverage the game-time setting with our live-event mode.”

Redwine says Tagboard works with teams on a variety of engagement strategies — like displaying user-generated content on the big screen at Safeco Field for the Seattle Mariners (see video below), or on Stanford’s ribbon board display and web site.

“Our main objective is to make sure every fan is heard and that we are engaging in that conversation with them,” Mariners director of marketing Kevin Martinez says in an interview on Tagboard’s blog. “We really pride ourselves on being responsive to our fans. Without Tagboard, we would not be able to have such a high presence of social media in our game presentation. We have seen the amount of posts spike 10-fold.”

Despite hashtag success stories like the Mariners are seeing, traditional marketers are skeptical. I’ve heard them, too. From lack of value, to too risky, to off brand.

Tagboard provides a tool to mitigate those risks and deliver more value to marketers — in just about any industry.

First, let’s address the risks. Calls to action (CTAs) in traditional, paid media generally drive to owned (and therefore controlled) properties, not the Wild West of Twitter or Instagram. Using paid media to direct consumers to a hashtag instead of a website is difficult to quantify in traditional, “buy my stuff” advertising terms. And it can distract from those more established CTAs — like “visit our website” or even more recently, “Find us on Facebook.”

Execution is also risky, especially given Twitter’s snarky and skeptical nature, which can ruin even the most perfectly planned hashtag implementation. And there’s no ownership or copyright of hashtags — especially across different networks, not to mention the purported uselessness of Facebook hashtags.

Tagboard tackles both concerns, offering more control in a moderated environment, where board owners can choose to display the best-of-the-best content. It’s also promising improved analytics features.

The lesson here is that hashtags aren’t going away. It’s why a hashtag strategy should be discussed at the upper levels of an organization, whether it’s football or financial services. These are more than mere words or catch phrases. They enhance a brand’s existence, tell your story, connect you to a larger audience — in paid, owned and earned settings.

Hashtags should be treated (and chosen) with respect, and not delegated to a game-day intern or disengaged agency. And, as Tagboard proves, hashtags should be taken seriously, even if it’s a little silly giving so much power to the # sign.

Thanks for being a fan.

Cleveland @Indians Shorten Off-Season for Fans with #TribeFest

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#TribeFest logo

The Cleveland Indians host #TribeFest this weekend but already have fans buzzing about their team, long before Spring Training’s first pitch.

Winter. A cold and grey season dominated by professional and college football, culminating in college basketball’s March Madness.

Major League Baseball is a distant memory by early November, before snowplow blades are even sharpened or salt piled. Hard-core MLB fans begin circling that magical day in February, when pitchers and catchers report. Teams begin talking about the promise of a new season.

And Cubs fans everywhere believe.

In Cleveland, hope springs eternal perhaps as much as in Chicago. Baseball discussions – start around the digital and social media water coolers. They’re first about new players, like the recent acquisition of Nick Swisher. Then the excitement for the season builds. And even as frigid Lake Erie winds pound their city and the Browns flounder in off-season woe, the Indians organization initiates that first crack in the ice before the spring training thaw with #TribeFest

Held this weekend (Jan. 19 and 20) at Progressive Field, the Indians designed the fan-centric gathering around their followers’ interests, based on feedback from previous team events.

“We want to provide our fans an opportunity to have personal interaction with our players, with the ballpark, our broadcasters, and many members of our front office,” Indians’ senior director of marketing, Sanaa Julien, told the team’s blog. “Those personal interactions are what create lifelong memories for our fans.”

#TribeFest gives fans direct access to stadium locations normally closed on game days, and several current Indians players will be on hand, signing autographs and posing for fan photos.

The Indians are working social and digital channels to drum up interest. It’s a winning strategy filled with engaging and fan-friendly activities like a Twitter scavenger hunt, visually-rich social media content and an in-person event with rare access to the team’s players and facilities.

TribeFest countdown on Indians' Facebook page

Simple but impactful images can drive engagement on Facebook.

Using strong visuals in social media, the team is counting down the days to #TribeFest. They’ve been a staple on the team’s Facebook page, driving (at publish time) more than 1,300 likes and 150 shares this week alone. It’s easily the most engaged Facebook content since the team announced the Swisher deal on Jan. 3

Indians fans can also find excitement on Twitter, where the team is curating fan tweets (many female), building more buzz for #TribeFest and the 2013 season. #TribeFest is the latest in a string of activities from the Indians, which expanded its digital reach in 2012 to six social media platforms.

I’m a big fan of the effort and think the strategy – and associated tactics – give fans some of the most socially engaging experiences in all of pro sports. There’s something for everyone.

“We’re cognizant of the importance of social media as a tool to engage with fans,” Indians team president Mark Sharpiro, a frequent in-season tweeter, told MLB.com last season. “We now have the opportunity to directly connect to our fans and engage in authentic, two-way conversations. These connections with fans strengthen our brand vision to create memories, connect generations and celebrate families.”

Part of Cleveland’s digital dominance is the league’s first social media-only space – the Indians Social Suite. In its second season at Progressive Field, the Suite gave fans valuable offline interaction with other suite attendees and brand-strengthening online interactions via social media.

The club’s WiFi-enabled suite at Progressive Field is the hub of social activity, and by all accounts, it looks like the Indians are bringing Social Suite back for a third season. (Note: I’m submitting an application and hope to make a road trip to Cleveland this summer. Who’s with me?)

TribeFest tweet

The @Indians retweeted numerous #TribeFest fan tweets during the past couple weeks, driving interest in the upcoming offline and online events.

“The Indians deserve credit for the efforts they are making to reach out to their fans throughout Ohio and across the country,” wrote Angels’ fan Derek Ciapala, after spending a game in the Social Suite last season.

Yes, they do. And Tribe fans are fortunate. It’s not easy being a baseball fan in the middle of winter, especially in Cleveland. But when your team does more to connect with you, the nights don’t seem as long and the time until pitchers and catchers report seems shorter.

How’s your team staying connected during the off-season? Leave a comment below or tweet me what you’ve seen at @tombuchheim.

Thanks for being a fan.

Facebook’s Pages-Only News Feed and its Impact on Sports Brands, Athletes

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Pages on Facebook

A new Pages-only Feed creates more questions than answers for sports teams, leagues and athletes who rely on Facebook to connect with today’s sports fans.

What’s not to like? A dedicated News Feed gives sports fan a one-stop shop for content, and makes athletes and sports brands happy because their stuff can finally be seen by all those adoring “fans”. Right?

Not so fast.

During the same week an outraged Mark Cuban blasted Facebook’s promoted page posts strategy, the Blue F introduced a new feature that should cause even more consternation from Cuban and other sports brands with significant investments in Facebook pages.

In a nutshell
The Pages Feed essentially streams content from only pages we “like.” Access it from the left sidebar of Facebook’s main page or via this link directly.

Read more about Facebook’s Pages Feed on the web.

Your mom doesn’t know what it is
Who’s going to use it? A link on an already-crowded left navigation is nearly invisible to the average user, who lives in the main News Feed.

The only ones talking about the Pages Feed are Facebook reps, marketers and those who cover the industry. Seriously. Ask your mom if she’s heard of it. It’s meant to appease marketers, who shouldn’t be satisfied. Despite rosy reviews, Pages Feed was poorly designed and hastily unveiled. To date, there are also no Insights available.

Pages Feed is also unavailable in those environments. That’s a huge problem because Americans now get the majority of their Facebook fix through apps and mobile. And if you love sports, you love using mobile devices to follow them.

Ask the tough question
No one wants to ask a fundamental question about Pages Feed, so I will: Does it eventually mean an end to Page posts in the larger, more important News Feed? It’s hard to imagine that would happen. But then again, a year ago, no one imagined only 16 percent of fans would see the average page post.

Time for Facebook to show a little more of its playbook.

Shows us your secret sauce
Another detail lacking in early reporting of Pages Feed: The algorithm driving the feed. Facebook hasn’t offered up much, and again, no one is clamoring for it. The post order appears very random, though Adweek’s Tim Peterson offers this:

“While brands should expect their fans who are fans of only a few other brands to see every post in the Pages Only feed, that won’t necessarily be the case for users who are fans of many brands,” writes Peterson. “In those cases, Facebook will essentially weigh the page posts as they do any content to the regular News Feed, taking into account engagement signals to make sure the stream isn’t lame.”

For leagues, teams and athletes who post multiple times a day to Facebook, these are essential details necessary to deliver on successful social media strategies.

So what?
Great. Another Facebook change, followed by a wringing of hands by marketers, who many believe have soured Facebook for good.

Except sports is different.

Our “fans” are actually fans. They’re passionate, dedicated and hungry to connect with their favorite leagues, teams and players. Forty-five percent of 18-35 year olds follow sports teams or athletes on social media.

This isn’t batteries or bath soap. This is America’s pastime and Americana. It’s homecoming and Friday nights. It’s March Madness and the Super Bowl. And Facebook is one of the first places fans flock to when they want to follow those passions. To connect, engage, consume and share.

Professional and collegiate teams and leagues – and their athletes – have more to lose. So, they need to continue weighing the value Facebook pages provide. They need to ask tougher questions and demand more when platforms change. Most importantly, they need to keep creating content fans want and will ask for – no matter what happens to Facebook.

Thanks for being a fan.

Mark Cuban Pokes Facebook’s Promoted Posts

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Mark Cuban

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is one of the more controversial – and confrontational – characters in sports.

Mark Cuban is really good at shaking things up.

This isn’t news. But the bombastic Dallas Mavericks owner is stirring the sports and social media pot with attacks on Facebook. Cuban said what many digital marketers with less skin in the game have been thinking for months. Facebook’s page posts are rigged, forcing page owners to spend more on the platform’s ad programs.

“Why would we invest in extending our Facebook audience size if we have to pay to reach them? That’s crazy,” Cuban told Dan Lyons of readwrite this week. “Why would a brand invest in getting likes they can’t reach without paying a premium?”

You can tell when something riles up Mark Cuban. He heads to Twitter, where he spent a few tweets on this issue, showing just how much Facebook was making him pay to promote content to reach all 2.3 million fans of the Dallas Mavericks Facebook page.

Here’s that tweet:

Mark Cuban tweet

Mark Cuban used his Twitter account to shed light on the rising cost of reaching Facebook fans who have presumably already agreed to be reached.

With business interests extending beyond sports, Cuban’s properties are deeply entrenched in Facebook marketing, as are most savvy brands today. His comments echo other, less well-known characters who claim Facebook is “broken on purpose” to drive ad revenue through promoted posts.

Nonprofits, small businesses and Fortune 500 brands all face this issue. Invest heavily in building – and growing – a Facebook community, only to have a small percentage of those connections see your posts. How small? As little as 16 percent, by Facebook’s own accounting.

The alternative for sports (and all) brands – no matter the size – isn’t simple. While Twitter remains a solid second option for connecting with fans (especially during a game), you can’t argue with Facebook’s numbers, and its ability to filter noise (and spam), one of the arguments in favor of Facebook’s recent page changes. Also, adoption rates for emerging social networks (like Pinterest and Instagram) remain low, especially when dwarfed by the big blue F.

Always ready for conflict – and to innovate – Cuban challenged Facebook, pointing to those newer networks which allow 100 percent reach for social media marketing messages – at no cost.

The characters behind 140 characters: Mark Cuban

“If someone likes your brand, it seems like common sense to me that you can expect your posts to reach 100 percent of those that like your brand,” said Cuban, who suggested a monthly Facebook fee as an alternative. He’s also pursuing those less-popular social channels to reach fans, calling out Tumblr and even (gasp) MySpace.

Where’s this all leading? Cuban can afford to hedge his bets on new sites. But for smaller teams, and especially budget-conscious colleges and universities, time is as scarce a resource as money. Spreading yourself too thin across multiple social channels is risky and expensive. It requires more people and more content, which can ultimately drown in a sea of junk.

Cuban’s math may also be fuzzy, as Loud Door’s founder pointed out in an open letter to the billionaire. Jeff French argues Facebook is still the best option for marketers seeking an economical way to reach consumers via social media.

As with past Facebook innovations, other social channels could follow suit, implementing revenue models and formulas to dampen noise (and raise capital). “Being broken pays off, so social media is often deliberately broken,” writes Ryan Holiday in this Observer piece from September. “In fact, nearly every major social network, site or app has greedily pursued this logic.”

For Mark Cuban, it’s less about Facebook cynicism and more about making a statement, and he’s done that. Will it derail Facebook’s promoted post strategy? Unlikely. But Cuban has a strong voice and he could lead other sports brands away from Facebook, and with them, fans of other brands. That kind of movement could get Facebook to listen – more than the loud ramblings of an eccentric NBA owner.

Thanks for being a fan.

Image by Keith Allison (via Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s Focus on the Conversation

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Conversation

Help FourthAnd140.com find the characters who make the intersection of sports and social media more interesting.

When you’re at a party, who gets your attention? I look for good conversation. I look for people who want to talk with me, are interested in what I’m saying, and who say interesting things.

The same is true in social media – and even more so when you toss sports into the equation. But the louder voices tend to drown out the smaller ones, and it becomes a numbers game. When people stop engaging, the conversation becomes less interesting.

I’ve been absent from this blog for a few months now. Why? So many others began covering this space – the intersection of sports and social media – and I couldn’t keep up. I lacked the vital resources to do so: time (I do social media full time for a Fortune 300 brand) and energy (I have two kids who keep me going from dawn to dusk).

I can’t compete with so many others out there who are now covering this space for a living. I can’t keep up with the Mashables and ESPNs of the world – and I never will.

When people stop listening, the conversation becomes less interesting.

However, I can still share a perspective they don’t offer – one part fan, one part social media/PR/communications professional. I can (and occasionally will) write about the latest and greatest happenings hitting sports and social media. Mostly, I want to focus on the conversation.

That’s the essence of social media + sports for me. It works best when everyone’s involved and engaged. The channel shouldn’t matter, though I’ll keep tabs on Twitter and Facebook, the two loudest parties. But we’re starting to hear music coming from other places – like Tumblr and Pinterest – and my new favorite, Instagram. And conversations worth joining. And people worth meeting.

So FourthAnd140 is back, but our focus turns to the people making this intersection of sports and social media interesting: The characters behind the 140 characters.

We’ve met a few in doing this for nearly two years, but there are many more we want to meet. And we want to share their stories here. If you know someone who lights up your sports + social media feeds – who understands the conversation – tell us. Send us a tweet, post on our Facebook page, or leave a comment. We want to invite them to the party and introduce them to our friends.

Let’s make this conversation even better.

Thanks for being a fan.

Student-Athletes and Social Media Monitoring: A Conversation With Varsity Monitor

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Varsity Monitor logo

Varsity Monitor is one of several new services available to colleges and universities looking to track the social media activities of their student-athletes.

Social media monitoring of student-athletes is quickly becoming a hot potato among the NCAA, college coaches, administrators, lawyers and legislators.

Despite a recent NCAA ruling some believe puts this matter to rest, more questions remain. Who governs this space? Where does the law stand on privacy and litigation around potential negligent social media monitoring?

I won’t deny these are all major concerns, and I’ll be covering them in an upcoming piece on FourthAnd140.com. But I thought it was a good time to hear from one of the pioneers in this space, so you can understand what we mean by social media monitoring at the university level.

Varsity Monitor was one of the first to provide this kind of service at all levels.  Here’s a brief conversation the fine folks at Varsity Monitor had recently with FourthAnd140.com about the services they provide – and the issues they face.

F140: What does Varsity Monitor do?

VM: Varsity Monitor provides social media monitoring of athletes’ social media activities, both within their personal accounts as well as what other people are saying about them online. We have proprietary technology to scan and filter for specific content, and everything we do is within the framework of the social media TOS [terms of service] and is permission-based. We take the privacy of the athletes we work with very seriously.

F140: Who uses your service?

VM: Athletic departments, compliance and coaches. Our clients include Oklahoma University, University of Texas football, University of North Carolina, University of Nebraska and Villanova University.

F140: Why is there a need for social media monitoring of NCAA athletes?

VM: Social media introduces new challenges for athletic departments. For example, every athletic department has a code of conduct, what do they do about social media? Does it make sense to have a code of conduct with no plan to make it a reality? A way to confirm the rules are being followed? That’s where Varsity Monitor comes in. We provide them with tools to address this new challenge.

F140: How so?

VM: For college athletic departments, it’s about preparing the SA [student-athlete] for life after college/sports, while protecting their institution’s brand. The misuse of social media by athletes can negatively affect the brand of the school, in the process harming the athletes’ post-athlete employment opportunities. On the flip side, proper use of social media cannot only enhance the school’s brand profile but also make the athlete more marketable after graduation.

F140: What technology powers Varsity Monitor?

VM: We have developed proprietary technology that is able to scan, aggregate and filter social media content created about and by the athletes.

F140: Wouldn’t banning the use of social media by student-athletes just solve these issues?

VM: Banning is not the answer. In addition to our monitoring services, [Varsity Monitor] offers advanced administrator and SA education to help everyone use social media in a constructive way. By banning social media, you are limiting the skill set of your athletes for jobs in marketing/sales after sports and also limiting the potential upside of the use of Twitter and Facebook. We understand why people ban, but those who work with Varsity Monitor are able to use education, monitoring and enforcement, thereby managing the social media behavior without the need for bans.

F140: What does VM do when you find questionable information? How do you handle it?

VM: We treat all information observed as confidential. We never publicize it or use if for commercial gain. We attempt to keep negative posts/image-destroying information from reaching a larger audience. Finally, and most importantly, we educate the individual on the positive use of social media, discussing how it can impact one’s personal and professional life.

F140: What other services are provided by Varsity Monitor?

VM: We scan for positive content and examples of highly effective ways to use social media, so administrators can demonstrate to others the best way to take advantage of social media.

F140: What sets Varsity Monitor apart?

VM: First and foremost, we believe monitoring is a tool to be used to educate. That’s our mantra. Second, we treat all information observed as confidential. We have very strict guidelines on how this information is handled and managed. We listen to our customers, providing a flexible service designed to adapt to meet the unique demands of our clients.
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Regardless of your opinion of social media monitoring services like Varsity Monitor, I believe they’re here to stay. Can they improve? Yes. And since they’re moving from an NCAA mandated-driven tool to a service-driven model, the focus should remain on student safety, education and personal branding. As I’ve argued in the past, this is a time of great learning for student-athletes, and their coaches and administrators should take advantage of these teaching moments.

However, college sports is also big business. Athletic departments are wise to manage their online reputations, which includes monitoring social media activities – just like many Fortune 500 brands do today. (This is part of what I do for a living.) You can’t ever control the message, but you can monitor and react to it. And you can teach those in your organization to use social media safely, properly and effectively – to the benefit of everyone.

What do you think of social media monitoring services like Varsity Monitor? Leave your comments here, or hit me up on Twitter. I’ll continue to cover this topic because I’m passionate about it.

Thanks for being a fan.

Twitter Powers Jeremy Lin’s Rise to NBA – and Social Media – Superstar

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Jeremy Lin is dominating the NBA - and discussions on Twitter.

By now you’ve probably heard of Jeremy Lin. The newest NBA star and point guard for the New York Knicks burst onto the scene this week, scoring a bucketload of points and helping his team win four straight games, including a 92-85 win over the Los Angeles Lakers Feb. 10.

Lin’s rise from bench warmer to burning-hot superstar is an amazing story. A week ago, he’d never started an NBA game, or scored more than 13 points. Lin is also an Asian-American, something unheard of in the NBA, but also inspirational to many with similar backgrounds. This is a guy who has been sleeping on his brother’s couch!

It’s an incredible story. And you know who likes a good story? People on Twitter.

Since taking the reigns at point guard for the Knicks less than a week ago, Lin’s playing prowess was matched only by his social media status. Want some proof? Just try to keep up with the numbers.

Let’s start with Lin’s Klout score. On Feb. 5, it was a flat-lined and pedestrian 58.77. It ballooned to 73.63 in just six days. During this same time, Lin’s True Reach was just 9,000 before ballooning to more than 89,000. His follower count traced a similar path above 150,000. It’s a number that will look silly at the end of the NBA season, because I suspect it will be six or seven times that come June.

Kloutastic: Jeremy Lin's rise from obscurity to social media stardom - in less than a week.

Lin’s story is not just about follower count, it’s also about the conversation. And Lin dominates the talk on Twitter every time he suits up. According to Trendistic, “Jeremy Lin” was included in as much as 1.69 percent of tweets worldwide on Friday, Feb. 10 (9 p.m. CST). In his previous three games, he garnered 0.12, 0.17 and 0.19 percent of the Twitter conversation, respectively.

Not to be outdone, Lin’s Facebook page swelled above 260,000 likes with off-the-chart engagement levels (107,000+ People Talking About This). Posts as recent as Feb. 4 received 23,000 likes and more than 3,000 comments.

Trend-LIN Topic: Jeremy Lin creates incredible buzz on Twitter every time he plays.

Lin’s rise captivates audiences outside of New York City, which is where Twitter and Facebook fan the flames of “Linsanity” – one of the many user-generated hash tags created to describe him. These variations – along with the regular spelling of his name – dominate Twitter’s trending topics before, during and after Knicks’ games.

Lin’s story has overwhelmed the social media landscape – in just six days. That is unbelievable.

Perhaps it’s also why some say Lin is already a polarizing sports figure, similar to Tim Tebow (who is Lin’s hero, incidentally). Too much Linsanity, too fast, could quickly turn off fans. Others say – like Tebow – Lin’s faith is an issue, and that you either love him or hate him.

I don’t see it that way. What I see is a kid getting his chance and taking full advantage of it. Unlike Tebow, Lin was not a highly-regarded pro prospect. He was undrafted, worked his way up through the NBA summer league but was cut by the Houston Rockets in December. He’s only getting a chance on the Knicks because of injuries.

Lin’s story is compelling and worth talking about, not only to Knicks’ and NBA fans, but people everywhere who just might have found the NBA interesting again.

Where does Jeremy Lin go from here? Follow along on Twitter, and you’ll get a front-row seat.

Thanks for being a fan.

Photo credit: Jeremy Lin’s Facebook page