You’re Doing it Wrong: Pro Sports Teams Miss The Mark on Twitter’s Expanded Images

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It’s only been more than a month, but I’m surprised to find professional sports teams are not adapting well — or at all, in some cases — to Twitter’s recent timeline changes.

The blue bird announced Oct. 30 dramatic changes to how it displays timeline images across web and mobile platforms. Immediately, folks like me who do social media for a living began researching what Twitter’s new expanded images meant for our brand, the platform and its millions of users — who do not always embrace change.

Not surprisingly, we created crude pixel measurements predicting the optimized Twitter image — all within minutes of noticing the change. A follow-up email to a Twitter sales rep answered my questions — and got me a handy cheat-sheet. You can download it here, by the way.

What has been surprising in the month or so since this change is the inconsistency and lack of adaptation among pro sports teams. For whatever reason, I’m seeing mismatched and poorly executed expanded images more than I’m seeing well-designed and optimized pictures. More on that in a moment.

Why is this important?

There are strategic reasons teams and leagues should pay attention to the size of Twitter’s images. They matter. Social media scientist Dan Zarrella’s research (which came out before this recent change) found Tweets using pic.twitter.com links (the native photo upload feature in Twitter) were 94% more likely to be re-tweeted. And tweets with image links get two times more engagement than those without, according to Buffer.

Put in simpler terms: Fans are drawn to images on Twitter. And whether you like the change or not, you can’t help but notice tweets with expanded images stand out from normal, text-only tweets.

Large, non-sports brands are jumping on board, adding expanded images to their Twitter creative. But pro sports teams are slower to adapt. It didn’t take long to find some pretty glaring examples. For the most part, all are well-designed, on-brand and slick-looking images. However, executed in Twitter’s new expanded images format, they miss the mark. Sometimes badly.

Here are just a few — shown as they’re displayed in Twitter’s timeline — and as fans would see them in news feeds from desktop or mobile experiences. (You can click through each to see the full image and tweet.)

Atlanta Hawks tweetThe NBA’s Atlanta Hawks misfired with this deal on Twitter. A quick re-size of this image would’ve made for much easier fan consumption.

Colorado Avalanche tweet

#NHLTrophyNight gets cut off — literally — in this example from the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.

Arizona Diamondbacks tweet

No need to click EXPAND — if Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks had optimized this image for Twitter’s new settings.

Vikings tweet

You can get to know Jeff Locke, but wouldn’t it be better if we could see Jeff’s face? Like a shanked punt, the Minnesota Vikings misfired with this image. 

There are hundreds more just like these — every day — filling fans’ Twitter feeds. Check out my Twitter Custom Timeline for more examples of pro teams doing Twitter expanded images poorly.

So why the inconsistency? Posting images in social media is no longer a one-size-fits-all process. Different platforms mean different dimensions, and until this change, everyone — people, brands, sports teams — could get away with using essentially the same image across multiple platforms.

For better or worse, Twitter’s move means more legwork and a different design approach than images for Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, which generally display best in a square shape, or at least can be cropped using the platform’s native tools.

It’s a new set of parameters and requires extra work, something time-strapped digital/social teams don’t have. In pro sports, they’re busy covering games, player movements and managing promotional content. Designing a whole new set of images for one platform is not an easy sell. (Trust me, I’m dealing with the same issues in my day job leading social media content strategy for a Fortune 300 brand.)

Who’s coping well with change? The reviews aren’t all bad. Here are some examples of sports teams hitting the mark with Twitter’s new expanded images. 

Golden State Warriors tweet

The NBA’s Golden State Warriors are early leaders in the use of Twitter’s new expanded image feature, using it to promote an upcoming game time and viewing/listening options. Trailblazers tweet

Here’s outstanding use of an visually impactful tweet from the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, optimized fully for Twitter’s new expanded image feature. It showcases the team’s #RipCity hashtag. The only feedback here would be to bump up the size of the score so it’s even easier for fans to read (and RT) as they scroll through Twitter.

Ravens tweet

The Ravens have mastered the size of Twitter’s new expanded image size, too, but could better use the space available to add more impact to this visual.

The lessons here are pretty simple, I think. First, I get it. It’s early and we’re all still getting used to this change (especially social media pros). But it’s time to take advantage of the tools available. Create a template. Use it. Rinse and repeat.

Social media platform changes, redesigns and updates are inevitable. Those who embrace — and take advantage of — these enhancements have a better chance reaching consumers in new and innovative ways. Your content will stand out, get noticed, be shared more. Give the fans the best experience possible on Twitter, and that starts with using the platform correctly.

Thanks for being a fan.

Editor’s note: Subscribe to my pro sports teams Twitter lists to keep tabs on how they’re using Twitter’s expanded image feature. 

Twitter list of NBA teams
Twitter list of NFL teams
Twitter list of NHL teams
Twitter list of MLB teams

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

The Sports Strategy of Vine

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Vine’s rapid rise hasn’t caught the full attention of the sporting world. Lack of strategic thinking could be keeping teams, leagues and athletes from jumping on board.

It didn’t take long for 2013 to bust out its newest, must-have social network. Vine debuted in January, providing a new micro-video service for its partner and big brother, Twitter.

If you haven’t heard of Vine, here’s the six-second explanation: You use your iOS device to record six-second video snippets and share them on Twitter. (You can also post Vines to Facebook, though the in-stream experience is not optimal.)

Vine speaks to the ever-decreasing attention spans of Twitter users while also reaching the creative and artistic Instagram crowd. Vine is hot, especially among 18- to 24-year-old iPhone and iPad users who already share short video bursts with friends through services like Viddy and Snapchat. Though there is no official count for Vine users (and no API or admin panel to tap into yet), the app took off. Just this month, Vine topped the charts among Apple’s free apps. (Now Android users patiently await the app in the Google Play store.)

Sports teams, leagues and athletes began using Vine immediately, including major professional sports leagues (and teams) from Major League Baseball, the National Football and Hockey leagues, and more. It was the new thing, and seemingly everyone gave Vine a try.

Vine is not spreading
However, like many shiny new social media tools, Vine withered (sorry, I had to go there) even before some teams gave it much of a chance (right, Dallas Mavericks?). Still other teams with impressive social media followings across several networks took a complete pass on Vine (right, Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers?).

What are the barriers? Similar to longer-form videos, creating Vines (good ones, anyway) requires planning and creative execution — two traits not synonymous with fast-paced, in-the-moment sports marketing, which is often done on a shoestring budget along with 100 other digital marketing/social media tactics. Simply put, snapping a photo is easier than shooting a succession of video clips.

Vine speaks to the ever-decreasing attention spans of Twitter users while also reaching the creative and artistic Instagram crowd.

Vine requires a strategy
It’s unfortunate Vine isn’t catching on more in sports. Not because Vine is a new and fun thing in social media (though it is), but because Vine provides value to fans. Vine complements content in a way photos and traditional video can’t, and that’s how strategic-minded teams, leagues and athletes use it. Vine is a chance to do more with less. It’s a highly creative and super-portable way to tell your brand’s story in social media. From a variety of angles, Vines can highlight day-to-day activities in ways text and photos can’t.

So Vine can and should fit into an overall social media strategy, but for some reason, it’s not catching on. I imagine some teams look at it as just one more social media account to maintain. One more beast to feed in the daily content grind. One more activity among a litany of others. This tactical point of view is short-sighted because Vine is so entwined with Twitter, much the way Instagram is baked into Facebook. These new visual mediums are not so much social networks as they are engagement sources and content feeders for the larger, flagship accounts.

Who’s doing Vine well in sports? Check out SportTechie’s solid review. Which teams and players do you follow on Vine? Leave a comment (or better yet, tweet me a Vine).

Thanks for being a fan.

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

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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.

Baseball Boring? Social Media Begs to Differ

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Major League Baseball is winning over fans in 2012 with its social and digital media strategy.

Major League Baseball fans have it good.

The league leads professional sports when it comes to reaching fans in new and innovative ways. The recent start to the 2012 season — and all the ways in which fans can connect to their favorite teams — proves that.

Baseball is NOT boring. It’s not dead. It’s alive and well and filled with energetic and engaged fans.

“Its traditions fit the fabric of spring and summer like few other elements of Americana,” says Joe Favorito, a veteran sports and entertainment marketing and PR consultant. “No other sport anywhere in the world can find ways to engage the casual and ardent follower for a night, a week or a year.”

Social and mobile drive fan interest and engagement. MLB recognizes this, and has doubled its efforts in 2012.

“Baseball is really a social conversation for us,” MLB.com’s director of new media, Andrew Patterson, told Mashable at the beginning of the season. “There’s a game going on, but there’s a conversation happening too.”

Conversation is important, especially when the season is so long. At 81 home games, the average fan has little chance to see every one in person. So fans watch TV, go online and use social media to follow the action. Specifically, they use social media as the action happens.   

“Sports have the whole social/TV engagement thing on lockdown,” says Josh Wolford, a staff writer for WebProNews. “83 percent of sports fans say they check sports-related social media pages while watching the game on TV.”

MLB recognizes this new and growing trend, and turns its sometimes slow and floundering product into 140-character, bite-size pieces.

“Integrating more social and mobile into the experience isn’t an aberration, it’s more likely to become the norm,” Patterson says. “The idea now isn’t just to package the content we have and put it out on social media — it’s to create content we know works well on social.”

Where is MLB winning the social media experience? Here are some of FourthAnd140.com’s favorites:

Social Media Clubhouse
Every MLB website hosts a Social Media Clubhouse, which is a one-stop shop for social-media savvy fans. For example, the Cleveland Indians’ Social Media Clubhouse makes it easy to connect with players on Twitter, follow all the official social media sites – including new additions Tumblr and Pinterest. The Social Media Clubhouse is somewhat hidden in the templated MLB team site navigation (under Fans>Connect with TEAM). The page is also very much a jumble of images and links, but it’s a start.

MLB FanCave gets bigger
Now in its second year, MLB FanCave boasts nine new inhabitants, who were chosen from a whopping 50,000 interested fans. The Cave uses online and real-life experiences to give fans added value, including musical artists and celebrities who will visit the Manhattan digs this summer. FanCave definitely speaks to the younger MLB fan, which fits well with its heavy social media reliance.

The Milwaukee Brewers take their campaign for All-Star Game votes to Facebook, with these easy-to-add Cover Photos.

Facebook is covered
MLB teams make it one-click simple for fans to customize their Facebook profiles this season with a series of pre-made, highly-produced cover photos. Check out what the Milwaukee Brewers offer fans who want to show team pride on Facebook, including some recent All-Star Game ballot propaganda.

Mobile apps go with you
MLB At Bat is a free app which offers player statistics, box scores and more. Subscribers can pay $14.99 for additional content, including video and live radio broadcasts — all right on your phone or tablet.

My favorite is the location-based MLB At the Ballpark app, a check-in service for those fans lucky enough to attend games in person. At the Park connects fans with other fans, and can track stadium check-ins — complete with win-loss records for the games attended. Users can unlock deals, order food and find seats once inside a stadium.

Tweetups and more
More MLB teams are adding in-game activities for social media-savvy fans, like social media nights or special seating. Cleveland wins this space with its Indians Social Suite — a dedicated box for Twitter-friendly fans, and other teams are sure to follow. (I feel a road trip to Cleveland coming on this summer.)

Where else is MLB winning with social and mobile? Add your favorites in the comments below.

Thanks for being a fan.

Five Offseason Twitter Activities for Major League Baseball Players

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Keep On Tweeting t-shirt design

Twitter doesn't take a break in the offseason, and neither should Major League Baseball's top tweeting players.

As early as tonight, the 2011 Major League Baseball season will be in the books. And as you read earlier this month on Fourth and 140, it was an extraordinary year for social media growth. But that doesn’t mean athletes, teams and fans have to stop connecting with each other in the offseason.

Klout recently published its list of most influential baseball players, and it’s a good reminder that the beginning of a long offseason – no matter the sport – does not have to be the end of social media activity, especially on a high-volume channel like Twitter.

So, I have five suggestions to keep Major League Baseball players tweeting – and their fans happy – during the long winter months ahead.

1. Stay active on Twitter
Engage with your followers. Ask and answer questions. Talk baseball in the winter. Even though the season is over, you can still build your personal brand and help your team when Spring Training rolls around. Fans who are with you in January will be with you in April. And August. And October.

2. Adopt a social cause
Most athletes support a non-profit or charity. The offseason is ideal for increased involvement, and Twitter can be a powerful promotional channel. Why? Your fans will support your efforts, which means they’ll tweet about your charity. And donate to it. And suggest their friends and family do the same. Get behind a cause, and bring your fans along via Twitter.

3. Share your workout
Keeping in shape during the offseason is a challenge for every athlete, so why not use Twitter as a motivator to up your game? Get your fans involved, too. You can inspire them to get fit, and they can motivate you to improve for next season.

4. Give stuff away
Got some game-worn gear? Reward your most active – or interesting – or funny – follower with free baseballs, caps or jerseys. Better yet, tie in your giveaway with a charitable activity by asking followers to re-tweet information supporting your cause. It’s a way to show them you’re human, fun and approachable. And you can unload some of that extra stuff just sitting around the clubhouse.

5. Avoid the mundane
This may be the most important suggestion on the list. (Let’s call it a requirement.) If you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, don’t say it. Too many times athletes discover trouble when boredom is expressed in different ways on Twitter. They end up challenging the athleticism of NASCAR drivers, making bizarre statements based on current events, or pissing people off with their politics. (See the previous four suggestions if you want to continue to tweet but aren’t sure what to talk about.)

So sports fans, what else do you want your favorite Major League Baseball athletes to talk about on Twitter during the offseason? Share your suggestions in the comment section below.

Thanks for being a fan.

World Series Caps A Social Year For Major League Baseball

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MLB Fan Cave helped generate new fan engagement in a sport that's seen dwindling attendance the past three seasons.

It seems odd to talk about fan engagement at the end of the sports season. The competition has boiled down to two teams, and, quite frankly, many fans have moved on because their teams are no longer in contention.

Still, Major League Baseball execs can bask in the glow of another Fall Classic knowing the past season was successful on several levels. Most importantly, attendance figures were up in 2011. Major League Baseball’s social media engagement were way up, thanks to some successful social media risk-taking and increased player participation on social networks.

The rising star in social media and sports is arguably Major League Baseball’s Fan Cave, a “first-of-its-kind immersive fan experience” housed in New York City and hosted by two super fans chosen from nearly 10,000 applicants. Talk about dream job!

The winners, Mike O’Hara and Ryan Wagner, were paid to watch all 2,430 MLB regular season games AND every postseason game. They shared the experience with the world on Facebook, Twitter and a blog on MLBFanCave.com.

It was an impressive run, generating more than 100 million social media impressions for Major League Baseball in just six months, according the ESPN.

“[The Fan Cave] accomplished exactly what we set out to accomplish, which was we wanted to become part of the online social conversation this summer,” MLB executive vice president Tim Brosnan told ESPN.

The Fan Cave experiment paid dividends in the traditionally tough and snarky digital realm, bucking a trend of low engagement and negative sentiment. ESPN reports 45 percent of tweets about Fan Cave were positive, compared to 15-20 percent for accounts representing the league and its teams. That just doesn’t happen in one season.

Social engagement is higher for Fan Cave, too, according to ESPN, a full 20-25 percent better than team and league pages. It’s a model other leagues and individual teams are sure to copy. Can you say New York Yankee Fan Cave?

While there’s no way to directly tie attendance to online efforts, Major League Baseball teams overtuned dwindling attendance figures in 2011. For the first time in three seasons, the leauge enjoyed growth in ticket sales.

In today’s economy – and the economy of the future – meeting the customers where they are has to include a social media strategy. For the most part, MLB Fan Cave did it right in 2011. Its success will likely lead to bigger and better things for sports and social media. And that’s a good thing.

Thanks for being a fan.

Tweetups Can Bring Fans Back to Major League Baseball

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Major League Baseball can learn something from the NASA Tweetup experience.

Major League Baseball is having an attendance problem this season. As of June 9, ticket sales are down nearly 500,000 from a year ago. Blame it on the economy, lousy weather, apathetic fans. Whatever the cause, it’s hurting the great game of baseball

Underneath MLB attendance woes, however, is a word-of-mouth problem. People aren’t talking about baseball. How can the league – and its teams – generate more interest in the game and bring fans back to the ballpark? It’s a multi-faceted approach for sure, but social media is (and should be) a growing area of focus.

The @MLBFanCave is one way Major League Baseball engages fans in a social space. Individual teams also make social engagement a focus, as seen with the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox.

Boston fans were recently invited to a tweetup at Fenway Park. I liked the idea, but thought the Red Sox marketing team could’ve done better. And perhaps they will in future tweetups. (It was the inaugural one.)

As a veteran of the recent STS-134 NASA Tweetup for the final launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour, I believe Major League Baseball clubs could learn a thing or two about tweetups from NASA.

With that in mind, here are my nine tips successful MLB fan tweetup:

Don’t cheap out. Run a tweetup on a shoestring budget at your own peril. To maximize word-of-mouth, put some dollars behind your first effort. It’s OK to charge fans a price, but to get real engagement, consider selecting a few lucky fans to “win” a tweetup spot.

Give them good seats. Since attendance is an issue, good seats should be plentiful. Skip the luxury box, though. These are real fans who need to be seen and heard.

Give them swag. This could include a game program, game ball, team gear, etc. And provide matching T-shirts for everyone to wear (or order), so they can be easily recognized on the TV broadcast and scoreboard.

Snap a group photo. Make time to get everyone together – maybe even on the field – where you can capture the moment. Post the photo on the team’s Twitter feed and Facebook page so everyone can tag it and share it with their networks. 

Provide access to players, team leadership and stadium. Again, your goal is word-of-mouth, and nothing gets people talking on social networks more than getting access to hard-to-access people and places. This could include a tour of the locker rooms, front office and cool stadium areas (like the scoreboard or PA announcer).

Publicize. This is (usually) free and easy. Recognize tweetup participants on the big screen. Have your TV and radio broadcast teams mention them (and the all-important hashtag) on the air. Pitch the story to the technology reporter at the city paper. Promote the event frequently on Facebook, Twitter and your website.

Get players involved. Many MLB players use Twitter to interact with fans, so it makes sense to invite them to engage with tweetup participants and tweet about your event. This might be the highlight for some fans.

Invite a celebrity. Your team likely has a local or national celebrity who’s also on Twitter. Including them in the mix provides star power and one more reason to get people talking about your event.

Post-game follow-up. Publish a recap of the tweetup on your website, including photos and an archive of the hashtagged content. Link to blogs of participants. Post everything on Facebook and Twitter, too (obviously).

How does a team start a fan tweetup? There are a couple of options. The easiest is a lottery-style sign-up, or special ticket offer. But for your first tweetup, I’d recommend seeking out engaged fans.

In that case, consider creating a Klout perk. They’re relatively inexpensive and Klout will do much of the leg work identifying the most-engaged fans in your city, inviting them to your tweetup.

Whatever way teams organize tweetups, the goal is the same: Reach new fans through social media. Provide something unique to get fans talking about your team, players, stadium, etc., at a time when attendance – and interest – is lagging.

Word-of-mouth is what social media is all about. And a tweetup experience – done right – will generate the buzz MLB teams need to get folks in the seats. Have ideas to get more fans involved? I’d love to see them in the comments.

Thanks for being a fan.

Seattle Mariners Beer Vendor Delivers Fabulous Fan Experiences Through Twitter

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Meet @Msbeervendor

Seattle Mariners beer vendor Kevin Zelko delivers beer via Twitter at @Msbeervendor. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Zelko)

When there’s social media news in the sports world, it’s often at the team, league or player level. Those high-profile characters carry the most weight and usually make the most impact.

What’s more authentic, interesting and fun are stories about real, everyday people making connections in the sports world through social media.

Oh, and beer.

That would be Kevin Zelko: Seattle Mariners beer vendor by night and special education teacher by day. He’s one of those rare characters in sports media where a gazillion followers, huge budgets and even bigger egos do not rule. Instead, Mr. Zelko uses Twitter to serve up an engaging and innovative sports fan experience – 22 ounces (and 140 characters) at a time.

Opening Day for @Msbeervendor
Mr. Zelko, who’s been pouring suds for Seattle-area sports fans for five years, decided to give customers something different for the Mariners’ Opening Day game at Safeco Field. He would take beer orders on Twitter via @Msbeervendor.

“My friend, Gregor, and I were on our way to a Sounders game and were discussing how we use our various Twitter accounts and their different personalities,” Mr. Zelko tells FourthAnd140. “It just kind of struck us there was great potential connecting with fans via social media, the ease of an open-source order process, and the fun of the challenge in beer vending on demand.” 

What was once just a funny twitter account to make silly baseball comments, became a new way for fans to order at baseball games. 

Wait, there’s no tweeting in baseball. At least not for beers. Nobody’s done that before. But then again, this is Seattle, the fifth-most socially networked U.S. city. And it was Opening Day, complete with a tribute to Dave Niehaus, a beloved broadcaster for 34 seasons of M’s baseball.

“Opening day was chaos,” admits Zelko, who received more than 50 @ replies on Twitter from Mariners fans that first night. He delivered on 87 percent of those orders. “I never thought it would attract this much attention.”

The @Msbeervendor logo on Twitter. Nicely done.

Connecting with Fans
Even on less-crowded nights, there’s plenty of work juggling a full crate of icy beers and your smart phone.

“The customers I’ve serve really like it and are amazed it works as quickly as it has,” he says. “One guy got high fives from his friends who couldn’t believe he just pulled it off when I delivered beers to them.”  

Can there be any better reward than delivering cold brew to happy, high-fiving baseball fans? Well, a little extra cash doesn’t hurt.

“The key is connecting with the fans and building regulars who are interested in social media,” says Mr. Zelko, who donated most of his Opening Day tips to help earthquake victims in Japan. “This will, of course, build business and better sales.  The tips aspect is merely up to them.” 

An Experience for Every Fan
Mr. Zelko also points out his Twitter service is a perk any fan can enjoy, which is exactly what Twitter delivers every day – when used properly – to its millions of users. It’s fantastic at leveling the social – and sports – playing field, and connecting people from all over based on a common idea, cause, event or purpose.

“This idea makes it so any fan – in any seat – can enjoy ordering to your seat,” Zelko says. “It’s not just for those in the VIP seats in the Diamond Club.” 

Support From the Top
Like so many great ideas in social media, this one did not come from some ROI-driven marketing department or overpriced advertising agency. It was authentic, original and brilliant, and Mr. Zelko was thrilled when Centerplate, the vending company serving Safeco Field, green-lighted the idea.

“We discussed how to make this work where everyone wins,” he says. “I was impressed with their support. I think they see the potential here.” 

Not For Everyone
Does Zelko expect other beer vendors to follow in his tweet-steps? Maybe. But this is not an easy job to begin with, and adding work to an already labor-intensive occupation may not be everyone’s cup of beer.

“It’s pretty grueling carrying 60 beers and a tub of ice up stairs while trying to find your next sale,” Zelko says. “I just had ACL surgery, so I wasn’t so sure I was gonna be game ready. It’s working so far.”

Zelko appreciates even more what vendors provide to a fan’s game-day experience. 

“Some have been vending for 20 years and are still kicking,” he says. “They’ve experienced baseball when Rod Carew was playing. That’s something to be proud of.” 

As for other vendors thinking of using Twitter to connect with customers, Mr. Zelko’s advice is simple and authentic, much like his idea.

“Be innovative,” he says. “Get a good beer call that goes with it.  Be socially media connected. Have fun and work hard.”

Thanks for being a great beer man, @Msbeervendor. And thank you for being a fan.

Cold Beer! Get Your Stephen Colbert!

Ordering through Twitter is not Mr. Zelko’s only calling card at Mariners baseball games. He’s known to throw out some pretty classic beer calls. (My favorite vendor beer call was at Yankee Stadium in 1988, when I heard one beer man make his pitch with, “Hey alcoholics!”)

Zelko uses his own quirky humor when slinging suds. “My favorite is an ode to Stephen Colbert,” he says. “Cold Beer! Cold Beer! Stephen Colbert!

Here’s video of that exact beer call from @Msbeervendor, via YouTube.