Four Fan-Friendly Ideas for Making the Super Bowl More Social (and Fun)

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Super Bowl XLVI logo

If you can't watch the Super Bowl with the people you want, social media can help.

Super Bowl. The game doesn’t need an introduction or added fanfare. It’s called “The Big Game” for a reason.

We eat more food watching it than any other time – except Thanksgiving. That includes 14,500 tons of chips. It’s the only time advertising is part of the experience (and why 30 seconds of airtime costs $3.5 million this year). Heck, the average Super Bowl party has a whopping 17 attendees. But why stop there? The Super Bowl can be better, if you’re willing to share the experience with others on Twitter and Facebook. Talk about a party.

By no means am I suggesting you get lost in your phone or iPad during the game. I will argue, however,  social media can enrich the experience – if you’re willing to learn some technology, spend a little time and break out of your shell.

How? Start with these four fan-friendly ideas for making the Super Bowl more social (and fun):

1. Connect with  your favorite players and teams
Better than a static team website, social media offers a chance to join a conversation, to interact directly with teams, players and those who cover them in the media. Getting started is pretty easy. Use the search features on Facebook and Twitter and connect with them. (If you can’t do that, the rest of this post might not be worth your time.)

Pro tip: Start with your team’s list of who it follows on Twitter and other pages it “likes” on Facebook. Many teams, including the New York Giants (see graphic below), have Twitter lists of official player handles and even super-fans.

The New York Giants Twitter lists

The New York Giants have customized lists of official player Twitter handles. The team even includes a directory of its most die-hard fans.

2. Follow Twitter search terms and hash tags
Use a social media dashboard to follow trends, news and activity on Twitter. Tools like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck help isolate topics and people associated with your team. For example, you can use Hootsuite to track just the tweets from your favorite team or player. Another column (or two) could have your team’s most-used hash tags. Hootsuite offers simple how-to information to get you started. So does Tweetdeck.

Pro tip: Not sure what terms to follow? Do a little digging on Twitter. It won’t take long, especially if you start by following your team, its players and a few die-hard fans.

The Green Bay Packers official mobile app

The Green Bay Packers are one of many NFL teams offering a mobile app. The Packers' selling point for theirs? "Use it to find official Packers bars on your iPhone or Android device." Only in Wisconsin.

3. Download team or league apps
Check your team’s website or social profiles for downloadable apps. Most provide cool stuff you can access anytime, like photos, videos and breaking news. It’s a sweet time killer during that endless pregame show. The NFL and its teams have made great strides this season with mobile. This is something every good fan with a smart phone can do.

Pro tip: If you like email, sign up for a team newsletter. Get news delivered to your inbox directly from your team. Or import a team blog via RSS and catch up at your own leisure.

4. Engage
It’s a social network, folks. Don’t be shy about replying to tweets or adding your voice to a Facebook conversation – event to complete strangers. These communities are filled with good stuff that will get you excited about the game. You might even learn something new about your team and its players. The followers and friends you gain will be there through the NFL draft, the off-season and next fall – ready to talk football whenever you are.

Pro tip: Not all communities are friendly 100 percent of the time. You will encounter spammers, trolls, haters and bullies, so be prepared to unfollow, disconnect or block using tools available on each social network. Get a handle on your privacy settings first. Then know how to deal with social bullies. Here’s what Twitter has to say on the topic. Here are Facebook’s suggestions. There’s also the “ignore” feature, which is not anything you’ll click but can be the most powerful device in your social media toolbox.

Who’s got more ideas? Share them in the comments below.

Thanks for being a fan.

Being A Fan Has Limits

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Marcus Grant

Marcus Grant did not deserve the treatment he received from so-called fans on Twitter following his decision to leave the Iowa Hawkeye football program. (Image credit: The Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Twitter can be a real cesspool. It’s still my go-to social network, but its anonymity churns out vitriol beyond comprehension. Its trending topics lower the site’s collective IQ.

Sports fans contribute to the nonsense. Last night was the most recent example, and I’m sad to say it involved those who claim to support my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes (which is a big reason why I became aware of it).

Marcus Grant, a freshman wide receiver and highly touted athlete from Groton, Mass., announced to his Twitter followers he was leaving the Iowa Hawkeye football program for personal reasons.

Twitter insanity ensued. Below are just a couple of examples of the hate directed at Marcus, who was merely sharing his reasoning behind a no doubt difficult decision.

One example of the hate thrown at Marcus Grant immediately following his announcement to leave the Iowa Hawkeye football program.

This tweet has since been deleted by the user.

Let’s just get this out of the way now. Student-athletes are off limits when it comes to this type of reaction. So-called fans can hide behind anonymous Twitter handles and spew snark 24×7, but they aren’t allowed to personally attack a young person who’s putting himself or herself out there for fans.

It’s simply unacceptable.

For #HawkeyeNation and most other fan bases, Twitter creates unique communities where news about teams and players breaks faster than anywhere else. Many join Twitter just to connect with like-minded fans.

So, first and foremost, let’s agree fans should not engage in the type of behavior exhibited during the Marcus Grant affair – or in other situations when a student athlete has, for instance, had a bad game, dropped a pass, fumbled a punt return, or any number of things.

So-called fans can hide behind anonymous Twitter handles and spew snark 24×7, but they aren’t allowed to personally attack a young person who’s putting himself or herself out there for fans.

Let’s go a few steps further, though, shall we? It’s time for the grownups in the room to come together. Here are some things we all can do to prevent this type of behavior from happening again, or at least minimize its effects:

  • Tweet your support to student-athletes. Often. These are young kids, and at stressful times, they could use all the encouragement you can provide. It’s 140 characters, folks. One tweet. Think what good you could do.
  • Let’s not feed the trolls. It’s a worn-out statement, but attacking the attackers doesn’t usually advance the conversation and could potentially put you at risk.
  • Instead, rally your fellow fans to report those who attack student-athletes. How? Get them banned from Twitter – even if it’s just for a brief time. Learn more about the safe ways to report haters at Twitter’s Help Center.
  • Coaches and administrators: Make Twitter safe for your athletes. Teach them how to use social media, and provide them with the tools to keep the haters at bay.
  • NCAA officials: Create a real social media policy. Provide basic ground rules and training for your member schools and their student-athletes. Understand the medium and how it’s changing sports – hopefully for the better.

What else can we do? Add your ideas to the comments below.

Thanks for being a fan.

Stephen Cleary Takes His Case for a Sports Management Internship to Twitter

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Stephen Cleary

University of Ulster Masters student Stephen Cleary wants your help getting an internship in the sports industry.

Sometimes all it takes is a little push.

I needed an outlet to write about two topics that factor into almost every aspect of my life: Sports. And social media. So, Fourth And 140 was born in January 2011. Since then, I’ve tried to bring interesting stories to you about the characters who fill this medium, and the trends affecting the ever-changing fan experience in social media.

Stephen Cleary felt that push, too. Fresh off graduation from Northern Ireland’s University of Ulster, Stephen saw potential in the sports industry – specifically this collision of sports and social media. He also needed an internship by summer 2012 to complement his Masters course in Sports Management.

“In a fiercely competitive industry, I needed to stand out from the crowd,” Stephen told me recently. “Building websites is something I will always be glad to have in my skill set, but I decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do for a career.”

Push led to shove when Stephen – already blogging about sports and social media – tweeted a recent post to the web content manager of his beloved Liverpool FC, an English Premier soccer team. He added a second request.

“I took a chance by asking for an internship,” says Stephen, whose post was re-tweeted. “Then I thought, if someone was able to share my desire for an internship, I could get others to do the same.”

The wheels were quickly turning, and Stephen embarked on a social media-based campaign to land that coveted sports management internship. His resume includes a website, a YouTube channel, an active presence on Twitter, and, of course, his very own hash tag – #StevesJob. It’s a creative, innovative campaign that’s garnered attention in the small, but growing, world of sports and social media.

“Steve Jobs had recently passed away. The name must have been on my mind, and the campaign name #StevesJob was born,” says Stephen, who believes social media, design and communication skills are valuable assets for a position in this industry.

“Using Twitter, I aim to get as many people as possible to tweet, ‘I back the #StevesJob campaign’,” Stephen says. “I record a weekly YouTube video, bringing the latest sports/social media news, as well as my views on the topics.” He’s also an active blogger in sports and social media, contributing to a site he shares with three friends.

Stephen definitely has the drive, determination and creativity to make it in digital marketing, but that push keeps him reaching for something higher.

“I would love to work on projects for a professional sports team, giving them a competitive advantage over their rivals, and, most of all, enhancing the sports fan experience,” he says. “With soccer being my favorite sport, I would love to work in the MLS, and my absolute dream would be to work for Liverpool FC.”

Drive and determination will take you a long way. This is still a niche area of social media that has plenty of room for growth – and new faces. I like Stephen’s chances, which is why I decided to feature him here on Fourth And 140. Something tells me I might be hitting him up someday.

“The sports community on social networks has been really welcoming,” he says. “I would recommend all aspiring sports industry professionals to start networking now.”

In the meantime, Stephen continues to feel that push to keep his Twitter campaign going. Maybe you can help with a tweet of confidence? Just remember to post, ‘I back #StevesJob campaign’.

Thanks for being a fan.

Taking the #StevesJob campaign to YouTube

Stephen Cleary’s campaign is on YouTube, too, and has included some sports and social media news, commentary and even a little dancing.

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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ML FanCav logo

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.

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.

The NCAA Needs Social Media Guidelines

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NCAA's logo

The NCAA needs to be clearer with its member schools on how to monitor social media activity of student-athletes.

How can you punish someone for doing something that’s not against the rules?

Just ask Dick Baddour. He’s the athletic director at the University of North Carolina.

This week, Baddour released the university’s response to a long list of NCAA violations that have ensnared the Tarheel football program for more than a year. In its self-imposed sanctions, UNC voluntarily vacated 16 wins and gave up nine scholarships during a three-year period. The university will also fork over $50,000 in fines and spend two years on probation.

It’s all deserved. Well, almost all of it.

In its report, the NCAA dinged the university’s football program for failure to “adequately and consistently monitor social networking activity that visibly illustrated potential amateurism violations within the football program” that delayed the discovery of the improper benefits received by players, according to the FayObserver.

Small problem. The NCAA doesn’t have member guidelines for monitoring “social networking activity.” It does vaguely cover the topic of social networking as it relates to recruiting, but is silent on how schools should keep tabs on NCAA student-athletes who choose to use Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

Silent. Zip. Nothing.

I don’t get it. Like I said, how can you get in trouble for something that’s not against the rules? Baddour agrees, and rightfully disputed that charge in UNC’s response.

“We accept responsibility for what we have done,” Baddour told the news media. “But we debated that, and decided we had done what was expected of us, or what could be expected of us. We didn’t feel like we could give in on that point.”

Good for him. And good for the university.

It’s time for the NCAA to bring to light not just what’s expected – but what’s required – of its member schools and their athletes as it relates to social media. It’s time for a real social media policy.

I argued this point recently as it relates to colleges and universities. The schools should be training their student-athletes on how to use social media properly. But it’s hard to do so when the NCAA has not weighed in on the subject fully.

It’s time. Heck, it’s past due. The NCAA needs well-defined social guidelines. Only then will student-athletes understand what’s expected of them, and only then will colleges and universities be able to properly monitor those student-athletes.

What social media guidelines do you think the NCAA should adopt? Leave a comment below. I’ll include them in a future blog post here at FourthAnd140.com.

Thanks for being a fan.

Turn Foursquare Check-ins Into Something Tangible for Sports Fans

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Sports teams and stadiums have the power to turn lame Foursquare check-ins into something valuable for fans.

How do you make location-based services (LBS) real for the average sports fan? Free stuff helps. And I’m not talking about any stinkin’ badges either.

What I am talking about is how teams can reward fan attendance, loyalty and engagement via LBS with actual rewards. More in a minute.

First, some background on why check-in services like Foursquare mean more to sports fans than the average person. According to recent research from Tariq Ahmad, checking in at your favorite sports venue is a status symbol fans find valuable, fun and engaging. In the deepest dive of this topic to date, he surveyed 245 active sports fans who use LBS. Ahmad found sports venues and stadiums are the No. 2 most checked-in places on services like Foursquare and Facebook Places (trailing only airports).

“You are at Madison Square Garden to watch the Knicks host Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, and you want everyone to know,”  Ahmad wrote in his white paper, Sports and Location-Based Services: How Sports Fans Use LBS to Connect. “So you check-in and post to various social media sites to let your friends know you are at the game (and they are not).”

Admittedly, it’s cooler to check in at your favorite team’s stadium, because, well, it just is.  I look forward to sharing my visits to Kinnick Stadium this fall with anyone who will listen. Besides the bragging factor of being at the big game, Ahmad says fans are somewhat constrained – unable to leave – another reason for higher rates of game-day check-ins. (What else you gonna do while you wait for the game to start?)

But let’s be real. Today, most Foursquare check-ins yield little. Some businesses offer specials, such as discounts or perks for being the “mayor”. And within Foursquare, you can earn daily points to see where you stack up with friends. For many,  Foursquare is just a competition among friends to see who has the most interesting life. It’s become another social game, like Mafia Wars or Farmville; a time suck that’s watering down our collective social media experience.

However, that’s not always the case for sports fans. Ahmad’s research paints a different picture, which creates an opportunity for teams to reach new fans in this social space. Why would teams do this? A tough economy and dwindling ticket sales are the two easiest answers. Ask the Florida Marlins how ticket sales are going these days? Perhaps a Foursquare strategy is worth a look.

And any successful LBS strategy begins and ends with offering fans tangible, valuable rewards. Ahmad’s findings reinforce this notion. In fact, he found 74 percent “would be more likely to check-in if they receive a tangible reward.”

As a social media marketer, I’d focus an LBS rewards strategy on a select group of super-fans first, perhaps through a Klout perk or some other special offer. Engaged fans are more likely to post updates about the team’s reward program, spreading the word to other fans through social media. Subsequent programs would reach a wider audience, because this should not be a one-time deal. It must have staying power, or it will not reach the more casual fans.

We saw one of the first examples this summer outside the MLB Fan Cave in New York. As part of campaign to promote “The Franchise” on Showtime, fans could check into the show via Foursquare, activating a storefront vending machine which released an official MLB baseball. Not a bad incentive: Gain foot traffic to the MLB fan cave and spread the word about a new show many sports fans would be interested to see anyway.

It’s a start. Fans are craving this kind of social media engagement with their favorite teams. It also makes marketing sense for non-sports brands (like Showtime) to partner with franchises, leagues and stadiums to reach new fans through LBS like Foursquare. It also makes sense for Foursquare to mainstream its service even more.

What’s your favorite team doing to engage you in this new digital space? What should they be doing differently? Leave your ideas in the comment section below.

Thanks for being a fan.

Editor’s note: Like what you saw in Tariq Ahmad’s ground-breaking research on location-based services in sports? Vote for his SXSW panel on this subject here: Sports and LBS: Gotta check-in.  

New NCAA Training Regimen: Social Media 101

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The NCAA and its member schools are missing an ideal opportunity to teach student-athletes the right way to use social media. Banning its use is not the answer.

The governing body of the nation’s largest and most talented collection of student-athletes has, in essence, started a war against social media. 

Rather than take advantage of an ideal teaching moment, the NCAA is spreading fear and loathing of Facebook and Twitter throughout its member schools.

It started with the recent ruling against the University of North Carolina, when the NCAA effectively made social media monitoring a requirement for all schools. Watch what your athletes post, document it, and be prepared to produce that content when requested.

Then there’s New Mexico basketball coach Steve Alford’s team-wide Twitter ban. Rather than worry what athletes might post, players are forbidden from sharing 140-character nuggets of wisdom. (Facebook is OK, but the team will be monitoring those pages.) Other schools are following this move, which also makes monitoring easier.

Finally, there’s this: a news release from a startup company called VarsityMonitor, promising athletic departments “monitoring and visual archiving of social media activities, ensuring proper recording of all social content.” This new service, borne from the ashes of these new NCAA requirements, will “offer solutions to help maintain institutional control of social media.”

Ugh. Because there’s nothing more fan-friendly, genuine, authentic and engaging than “institutional control.”
 
Rather than take advantage of this opportunity to educate young people about how to use social media properly, the NCAA and its member schools are choosing a more radical, conservative – and I would argue – less lucrative path.
 
Tim Joyce, from RealClearSports.com, put it best this week when he described the missed opportunity for colleges and universities related to social media:

This is where the NCAA, through no fault of its own, has stumbled on a truth: Colleges have quietly ignored warning signs and have not taken the time to monitor or educate their students – athletes or otherwise – about the pitfalls of expressing any and all thoughts in a public forum.

This is a teaching moment, and schools are foolish to not take the lead. Who’s job is it? Administrators? Coaches? The NCAA?

Nope. I believe sports marketing departments could champion social media training for their respective university athletes. Just as they train for competition on the field, athletes would get fit with Twitter.

It really doesn’t matter who leads it, but the training must include:

A better understanding of social media’s reach. Teach them words matter, and on places like Twitter and Facebook, what you say can move around the world in an instant, especially when presented to rabid and unsavory “fans”.

A review of privacy settings. This should include individual audits with athletes on what they’re sharing and who they’re sharing it with. Understanding these settings is an ongoing process for anyone truly devoted to knowing and understanding social media.

Basic dos and don’ts. Here’s where you get over the Twitter bans and after-the-fact apologies. Teach kids what’s OK to tweet about and what’s not. Give real-life examples. There are plenty out there.

A following/follower strategy. Big brands (like the one I’m managing) have a process for who to follow and who they’d like to have follow them. Give student-athletes the same understanding. Fill your follower list with advocates – family members, friends, fans – and be prepared to unfollow or block the haters and trouble-makers (including those overzealous boosters). 

A social media mentor. Offer instant feedback and guidance. Make these kids feel safe on Twitter and Facebook. If they have questions, give them someone to lean on.

Suggested content. This might be a bit radical to some, but it’s where I think sports marketing departments could shine. Schools already have social media posts going up daily, why not give athletes access to a version of their own to share? It’s a chance for them to promote their team through links to schedules, sports articles or ticket/merchandise offers.

It’s time for the NCAA and its colleges and universities to fulfill their mission: To “integrate intercollegiate athletics into higher education so that the educational experience of the student-athlete is paramount.”

Here’s your chance to teach kids the right way to use social media, to help them achieve excellence. What do you say, NCAA?

Thanks for being a fan.

Twitter Battles Between Athletes Only Push Fans Further Away

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Using Twitter and other social channels to battle is the ultimate #FAIL for athletes.

We really need the NFL lockout to end this weekend.

Football fans are looking at their calendars and counting the days left until the Hall of Fame Game. The gnashing of teeth has fans on edge, and they’re showing it in their News Feeds and Twitter Timelines.

Everyone is to blame from the owners to the players.

Oh, the players. Yeah, they’re doing all sorts of stupid stuff, and social media is only making it worse.

There’s the James Harrison-Ben Rothlisberger tiff that’s been played out on the internet for the past week. Did he really mean what he said about Ben? Was that a sincere apology? As a Steelers fan, it’s turned into Team Ben vs. Team James.

If they were playing football, we’d likely not be hearing about it. This fill-the-time-until-the-agreement-is-signed creates more opportunities for talk that has little to do with football and turns fans off to the game.

Worse than the Steelers infighting was Seattle receiver GoldenTate’s Twitter attack on NASCAR racers. Tate was apparently miffed at Jimmie Johnson’s ESPY nod for best male athlete. The offending tweet:

Jimmy Johnson up for best athlete???? Um nooo .. Driving a car does not show  athleticism.

And the quick back pedal:

I’m not arguing that the sport isn’t hard … If it was easy everyone would  do it, I’m Just saying he is not the most athletic.

Admittedly, it’s a valid question, but that’s not how Tate posed it. He poked the bear – a term my colleagues and I use when we post something aimed at an individual or group that might be considered controversial.

Tate could have posed the question to his (modest) 20,000 Twitter followers. An even better idea would have been to talk about football and not poke the NASCAR bear and, as a result, their vocal fans who have substantial influence on Twitter, Facebook and beyond.

I don’t agree with Donovan McNabb that athletes should stay away from Twitter. Like playing their sport, they simply need some coaching. As I’ve argued previously, social sites like Twitter and Facebook provide fans with unfettered access to athletes without the polish of agents, marketing departments or news releases.

That’s why athletes need to treat social media with respect. Tweet away. Engage with fans. Tell us about your charity, your kids, your workout. Let us in a little more than we get by just watching you on the playing field. But do so with care.

It’s a learning process, and athletes are beginning to better understand the power of social media. What you say carries weight, and it can quickly get you in trouble. That goes for football players who run fast, and racecar drivers who drive fast.

Thanks for being a fan.