Front Office Sports Opens Doors for Aspiring Sports Business Pros

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Front Office Sports logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adam White photo

Adam White is the founder of Front Office Sports.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn’t agree more, Adam.

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

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

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Twitter logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Australian Football League on Twitter

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

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

Chargers Twitter header

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

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

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

St. Louis Rams Twitter header

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

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

Rams Twitter header - web

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

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

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

Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header - mobile

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

Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header - desktop

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

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

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

Thanks for being a fan.

Twitter done right: Dallas Stars keep fans, public updated on Rich Peverley’s condition

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Dallas Stars logo

In the scary minutes and hours following Rich Peverley’s collapse, the Dallas Stars used Twitter the way it was intended: To be a trusted source during a breaking news event.

The NHL’s Dallas Stars didn’t have to do this.

A tweet or two would have sufficed. But realizing the value — and the power — of social media, the team used Twitter in one of the better ways I’ve seen a professional sports team do so in awhile.

Maybe you heard about it on Twitter, too?

The Stars forward, Rich Peverley, collapsed on the bench in the first period of Monday’s (March 10) game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Immediately, the team turned to Twitter to keep fans updated.

Even early on, the Stars were in the dark as to what exactly happened.

According to later reports, doctors treated Peverley for a cardiac event, using oxygen, chest compressions and a defibillator.

This was not your typical night at the rink for Peverley, his teammates — or the Stars’ social media team.

But the Stars used this emotional and downright scary situation to calmly keep fans in the loop. And they did so in a timely, professional — and accurate manner.

As the team — and fans in the arena — knelt in collective prayer, the decision to continue the game was still undecided. Eventually, the game was postponed, and that’s when the Stars could have easily ended their night on Twitter.

Instead, the team turned its Twitter account into a live news source for fans, the media — and the nation — interested in Peverley’s condition. In a time when Twitter gets panned for its inaccuracies during breaking news, the Stars shined and shared timely and trustworthy information.

This was not your typical night for the Stars — or anyone who followed along via social media. Word quickly spread, and a virtual prayer chain began moving through Twitter. And #PrayersForPeverley quickly brought people together.

https://twitter.com/HkyWives/status/443202994956296193

And the nation turned to the Stars, who continued to use Twitter to update fans and the media. Fortunately, news was encouraging about its star forward, and the team shared insight from Peverley’s doctor and Coach Lindy Ruff.

It was an opportunity to reassure fans Peverley was in good hands and show a real human side to the team — not only from Coach Ruff, but from Peverley himself.

No one could have had this kind of access — media, fans in the stands, even fellow players. And the Stars should be applauded for using Twitter so well, during such a difficult and emotional time.

It’s one of the best uses of Twitter during breaking sports news I’ve seen in awhile. Maybe ever.

Bravo, Dallas Stars. And get well soon, Rich Peverley. 

Thanks for being a fan.

#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.

Enhanced Fan Experiences: The Sports Strategy of the Second Screen

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The Second Screen

Where will the second screen take sports fans in 2014? It’s imperative fans find value, whether they’re watching online, on their couches or in the bleachers.

The second screen. It’s an overused buzz term for the exploding use of mobile devices during television broadcasts. Tired or not, use of tablets and smart phones is big business and a big deal for today’s connected sports fans.

Consider this: 83% of fans say they use social media during games. Sixty-nine percent prefer phones as second-screen alternatives; 48 percent check scores and 20 percent watch highlights via mobile, according to data from March 2013.

Social media has been and still is the virtual hangout, digital man cave or online neighborhood bar we visit to talk about what’s happening with our favorite teams, even more so during epic, live events (like the NFL playoffs, Super Bowl, Olympics, March Madness, etc.). 

Live sports is Twitter. And Twitter is live sports.

“Sports events comprise somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of TV programming in any given month but generate close to 50 percent of the Twitter activity [on TV],” Sean Casey, a senior vice president at Nielsen, told The New York Times in October 2013.

As leagues and teams jostle for this real estate, they must keep fans in mind. (Remember, it should be about them, not you.) Here are four ways I’d like to see sports approach the second screen.

Make engagement lightweight and simple. 
Hashtags are one of the most effective methods for driving social conversations. They’re portable (across platforms and other fan-facing media/creative) and can be measured. They provide fans with few barriers to join larger discussions about players, teams or leagues — and the games they’re playing.

The Missouri Valley Conference will incorporate fan tweets into basketball broadcasts around the #MVCHoops hashtag.

The Missouri Valley Conference will incorporate fan tweets into basketball broadcasts around the #MVCHoops hashtag.

Take the Missouri Valley Conference. Ahead of selected basketball telecasts this January and February, fans can tweet questions and comments with selected tweets featured during the broadcasts. Before the featured games, @ValleyHoops will tweet questions and comments from fans about the game or a specific topic. The league will feature select tweets on mvc-sports.com during it broadcasts.

Using #MVCHoops is an easy way for fans to participate and can be executed quickly and efficiently by the league. It can enhance online conversations and on-air broadcasts.

Drive deeper connections with fans.
Not enough is said or written about the engagement teams are having with fans in social. I feel conversations are not genuine enough and too many teams and leagues have built a barrier, not engaging fully with those who appreciate them most.

Some are getting there. Take the Boston Bruins. The team uses replies to many fan tweets, even personalizing each response with the initials of those behind the scenes.

Game time is go time in social media, and it can be chaotic. But teams should dedicate resources to connect one-to-one with fans more. Share their content. Have conversations. Build stronger bonds. This will only drive further engagement during the off-season and help fulfill social media’s true value — breaking down barriers and connecting people in authentic ways.  

Make off-platform activity worthwhile. 
Fans have lots of choices, especially during games. If they have to leave the platforms they love — whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or others — it must be an amazing experience.

Off-social tools like Tagboard, Wayin and others are getting there, using new technology and creative display to collect conversations and drive deeper engagement. But there must be extreme value in moving away from in-the-moment conversations happening on native platforms.

Desmond Trufant draft hub info

The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons used a social media hub during the 2013 NFL Draft broadcast to add value to the existing online conversations.

Take the Atlanta Falcons NFL Draft hub. The team created real-time content during the 2013 draft broadcast, collecting stats and other info about each draft pick — on the fly, as they were shared in social — and aggregated it for fans to see in an interactive hub on the team’s website.

“As a high-profile, emotional brand, the Falcons are always looking for ways to harness the torrent of conversation surrounding major events and present it to our fans in meaningful, digestible ways,” says Dan Levak, Falcons director of digital media.

The team partnered with Wayin to provide fans something they wouldn’t find elsewhere — on Twitter or other native platforms. This week, the Denver-based social media start-up bought Comenta TV, presumably to strengthen its second-screen efforts.

ESPN used similar tactics during the 2013 NFL draft to enhance its broadcast. And look for NBC Universal to do the same in 2014 (especially the Olympics), after it recently partnered with Comcast and Twitter to create a second-screen experience.

Remember the in-game experience.
When fans attend events, they want second-screen engagement opportunities. Live action and in-stadium display (closed-circuit TV, JumboTron, etc.) are the first screens for fans here, but they’re also hungry to connect through mobile and social.

That starts with connectivity. Many fans (yours truly included) struggle with in-stadium service. Teams should boost cell service or provide WiFi to fans (at minimal cost or through sponsorships).

Then it’s about content. What will get fans in the stands to engage?

The Los Angeles Dodgers used #SocialSept to drive deeper engagement with fans in the stadium, while also connecting with them during road trips.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Dodgers used #SocialSept to drive deeper engagement with fans in the stadium.

Take the Los Angeles Dodgers. While it’s from 2011 (a generation ago in social media terms), the team’s #SocialSept campaign is a simple blueprint for keeping fans engaged via a second screen that’s relevant in 2014.

The Dodgers answered Twitter questions on its TV broadcast, featured tweets with the #SocialSept hashtag on Dodger Stadium screens. And the team awarded prizes for social engagement, including on-field introductions before games.

“The goal,” Dodgers assistant director of public relations Joe Jareck told Lost Remote, “was really was to just give our fans more voice … another way to follow the Dodgers closely and be rewarded for it.”

The NFL is also emphasizing in-stadium experiences around the second screen, thanks in part to declining attendance (only accentuated by blackout threats during the 2013 NFL playoffs).

A sports fan’s second-screen options are endless. So are the ways teams and leagues can reach them during live events. It’s imperative fans find value in these experiences, whether they’re watching online, on their couches or in the bleachers. As it becomes ingrained into the sports experience, the second screen must be about the fan, providing deeper engagement, better access and increasing value.

Thanks for being a fan.

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

NCAA Fails To Lead (Again) on Social Media Policy

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The NCAA passes the buck on social media policy and monitoring. Again.

Let’s get this out of the way: Social media is here to stay. A recent Nielsen study shows we’re spending a quarter of our online time on social networks.

Will it change shape in the years ahead? Of course.

In society, people connect in new ways here. In business, companies reach new customers here. And in athletics, teams and athletes discover new ways to meet their fans here.

As I’ve noted previously on Fourth and 140, social media is a space ripe for opportunity – and disappointment. It needs leaders who take risks but do things the right way, with honor and authenticity. We’re seeing some professional athletes, teams and leagues exhibit leadership as social media matured in 2011. And I expect more leaders – and posers – to emerge in 2012.

Unfortunately, the NCAA remains behind the times – and continues to pass on the opportunity to make social media a safe, productive and learning place for its student-athletes and their teams.

Earlier this month, the Missoulian reported the NCAA’s plans – or lack of plans – “to pen an official policy that would punish student-athletes for the misuse of social media sites, like Twitter, anytime in the near future.”

Add this to the already growing pile of disappointing decisions and lack of action by the NCAA. The latest news came in the wake Lehigh wide receiver Ryan Spadola’s suspension for re-tweeting a message containing a racial slur.

The Missoulian’s reporting uncovered a two newsworthy items. First, the NCAA does not have the staff or budget to monitor student-athletes’ activities on Twitter, Facebook or other social sites. Second, and more importantly, the NCAA openly passes the buck on creating social media policies to its member institutions and leagues.

Disappointing. Again.

“Schools, institutions and conferences have their own guidelines in place for social media,” Schuh told the Missoulian. “The monitoring of social media is done on an institutional basis, on each campus. Some coaches say do whatever you want and some say don’t use it. That’s a school or a conference’s decision. They are the ones charged with overseeing those outlets.”

I’m OK with putting social media monitoring on schools. That makes sense. What’s irresponsible and a missed opportunity is failing to create guidelines and rules that govern these schools – and their athletes – in social media. I’ve argued before about the NCAA’s need for a social media policy, but it appears now the NCAA has no immediate plans to craft an official one.

The lack of leadership here is stunning, and allows the NCAA to cherry-pick schools and athletes who make very obvious and public missteps. In other words, it’s the easy way out.

What takes more work, courage and leadership would be establishing a committee of leaders – in athletics and in social media – to craft a credible set of guidelines for schools and student-athletes to follow. It would provide an ideal teaching moment for students to learn about social media.

Need a place to start, NCAA? Check out the NHL’s comprehensive social media policy. Read any of the hundreds of corporate social media policies available online. Ask your member colleges and universities or leagues. Start the conversation.

Until then, arbitrary action and lack of leadership will continue to make social media a confusing, dangerous and intimidating space for both NCAA teams and – more importantly – student-athletes.

Thanks for being a fan.