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

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)

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

Coming Soon to Twitter: A Social Media Sideline Reporter

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Phoenix Suns Twitter logo

The Phoenix Suns are hiring a social media sideline reporter. Here are 5 job qualifications the team most likely won't consider (but should).

Someone in the Phoenix Suns’ front office understands today’s sports fan. Not your average fan, but your more engaged, highly active one.

This week, the Suns posted a pretty crazy classified ad on the team website, looking for a “social media sideline reporter.”

The job description? According to the ad: “This unique position will play an exciting new role in the team’s home-game broadcasts on @FoxSportsAZ and @ArizonaSports620, as well as the experience at @USAirwaysCenter.”

It’s a bold move for an NBA franchise, and a good sign for the growth of social media in sports marketing. But let’s hope the Suns don’t fill the position with a predictable choice. With that in mind, here are 5 recommendations I’d give to Suns’ brass if I was choosing the perfect social media sideline reporter.

Choose authenticity over flash. No one spots a social media phony faster than sports fans. Yes, map out a game plan for what you want to accomplish with this position. But let this person be real. It may be bumpy at times, but fans will appreciate it more than a talking head.

Don’t just pick the hottest gal (or guy). Sure, I get it. There’s a certain profile that attracts followers and gains buzz from a large metropolitan community like Phoenix. I’m just saying there’s more to social media than a pretty face. Give those gritty (and less pretty) superfans a chance.

Pay this person a decent salary. Consider the reach of your Twitter audience. (For the Sun’s, it’s more than 72,000 when this was published.) This is not an intern’s job. Find someone with passion who also understands your brand. The first part is not as easy to find. You can teach the second part.

Give this position more than lip service. Social media is still a novelty to some industries – especially sports. But more fans today use Twitter to connect with their favorite teams (and other fans). They live vicariously through their teams in the real world and online. So, let your social media sideline reporter have a true voice in your team’s overall social media strategy.

Hire a writer. While the Suns appear to be going a different way based on the application process (via video submission), I see the job description calling for someone who can write. Providing “quick social media updates” and “giving fans a voice within the broadcasts” requires quick thinkers who also need to be quick, efficient writers.

Now, I doubt the Suns will give me a call when it’s time to hire this new social media sideline reporter. (And, no, I’m not interested in moving to Phoenix.) But I’d like to think some of these suggestions are already on Jeramie McPeek’s radar. He’s the vice president of digital for the Suns, who wants “to try something different,” according to the Sports Business Daily.

Let’s hope so. Because finding a passionate, connected and capable fan for “social media sideline reporter” should be easy. Finding the perfect one won’t be.

Thanks for being a fan.

Shaq Blazes Social Media Trails for Professional Athletes

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Happy retirement to a sports and social media legend.

Shaquille O’Neal retired from the NBA this week after an illustrious, 19-year career. He was a bigger-than-life figure on the court, but perhaps an even larger factor on sports business and social media.

It was fitting he used Twitter to announce his retirement, sharing a 16-second video and thanking his millions of fans.

Today’s professional athletes should thank Shaq for what he’s done for personal branding. I’m not talking endorsements, although Shaq has his share of those. In the not-too-distant-past, it was traditional endorsements using traditional media that enriched professional athletes beyond their player salaries. Shaq is a trail-blazer for athletes and other celebrities who today use their social media star power for financial gain.

Sure, Shaq has done a lot to get where he is today: Hollywood actor. Rapper. Product spokesperson. Humanitarian. He’s not Shaquille O’Neal anymore. His brand name is simply Shaq. In 2007, CNN/Money named him the seventh-best endorsement superstar. And that’s a product of intense, frequent – and often brilliant – personal branding.

He’s created a language all his own – mashing “Shaq” with other words to make them larger than life – or Shaq-worthy. As his Twitter profile boasts, he’s very “Quotatious,” and “performs random acts of Shaqness.”

There’s also that stellar stint in the NBA, where Shaq earned 15 trips to the all-star game, 4 rings and numerous statistical milestones. He was the last bridge to previous generation of NBA greats.

When he wasn’t on the court, Shaq seemed most comfortable in the social media space. It’s the one place he could – and can – truly be himself. The authentic nature of this medium translates perfectly to Shaq’s large, unencumbered personality. It’s no surprise he’s the “most-followed athlete and first verified celebrity on Twitter”, according to his social media rep, Amy Jo Martin of Digital Royalty.

Shaq burst onto the social media scene when it was in its infancy. At nearly 4 million Twitter followers and more than 2 million Facebook fans, Shaq’s following is large for an aging athlete who has spent more time injured than playing the past few seasons.

In early 2009, Shaq shunned so-called traditional media to pimp his latest endorsement deal at the time with Enlyten, a maker of mouth strips that provide athletes with electrolytes. At the time, he had just 500,000 or so followers, but no one had done such a thing using social media. Now it’s becoming commonplace.

Shaq’s retirement announcement on Twitter was, of course, how he wanted to go out. As Martin told ESPN:

Shaquille is the media. He didn’t need a press release so the media could tell the world he’s retiring in their words. He told his millions of friends directly, in his own words. The social influence he has built has given him the freedom to leapfrog the middleman.

Shaq’s using his Twitter following to determine a new, post-retirement nickname. “The Big 401k” currently leads the way, but you can still tweet up Shaq with your idea.

Regardless of what you call him, Shaq remains a social media force in the sports world. Or, in Shaq terms, he’s Shaq-tastic.

Thanks for being a fan.

NBA Makes All-Star Weekend Social with Facebook and Twitter Tools

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NBA All-Star Weekend goes social with new fan features. Now if the game was only a little more interesting...

The NBA has a sixth man for this year’s All-Star Weekend – social media.

Arguably one of the league’s biggest weekends of the season, All-Star 2011 festivities get an added boost this year from heavy social media integration. Already, Twitter’s Trending Topics are dotted with NBA-related comments around the game and its accompanying side-show events.

The high-dollar attraction this year is the NBA.com’s “All Star Pulse”, a real-time look at the social  buzz from the weekend. It’s sort of Trending Topics built for Facebook. Fans can visualize the social conversations or hone in on specific chatter based on topics, people and events from the All-Star weekend.

The NBA is reportedly using Facebook’s open graph technology to capture all the public banter. But not forgotten is Twitter, which is key not only from the aforementioned Trending Topics, but because of its prominence on NBA.com’s live Twitter feed, featuring tweets from players, writers and others.

Nice work by the NBA to integrate so well with social media. It’s a good way to pump up fan participation in a sport that’s seen declining ratings, attendence along with a growing lack of interest and player controversies, to  name a few.

It’s still a pro sport, and on a weekend with few marquis matchups in college basketball, it’s arguably the most interesting of sporting events this time of year.

Personally, these new social tools do make for a more engaging way to follow along with the action – even if I’m not all that interested in a meaningless professional all-star game. Like most fans, the dunks and three-pointing shooting end up catching my attention – as well as generating buzz and Sports Center highlights.  

The NBA needs a shot in the arm, and hitting Facebook and Twitter users with these interactive tools – right on the NBA’s main internet property – is a good move.

My only question – can they create the technology to make Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson each 20 years younger? Until then, the NBA remains pretty far down my list of sports worth watching.

Thanks for being a fan.