Tweetups Can Bring Fans Back to Major League Baseball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for being a fan.

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.

Twitter Bonuses Are Bad for UFC Fans and Fighters

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Ultimate Fighting Championship athletes battle for Twitter supremacy, but risk losing reputations and authenticity in the process.

I’m not an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fan, and, admittedly, I haven’t watched much any mixed martial arts (MMA) action. That doesn’t mean UFC fighters aren’t incredible athletes with huge fan followings – or that the league is not relevant in today’s sports landscape.

In fact, UFC management made waves and headlines recently when it dangled a $5,000 carrot to boost the efforts of its athletes on Twitter. It was the first time any professional sport, team or league incentivized social media activity.

That’s impressive, but troubling at the same time.

The bonus structure breaks down like this: Beginning in June, UFC and Strikeforce fighters will be placed into four categories based on current Twitter follower counts. At the end of each quarter, three fighters from each category can earn a $5,000 bonus, based on:

  • Who gained the most followers since the start of the quarter.
  • Who gained the highest percentage of new followers, and
  • Who wrote the most creative tweets.

UFC president Dana White, who boasts nearly 1.5 million Twitter followers himself, will judge that last, very subjective category. In a sport with high testosterone and high drama, it has the makings for some interesting results. When the dust settles and blood dries on the mat, the UFC will end up paying $240,000 a year to fighters for battling it out on Twitter.

I was intrigued, but not exactly excited for MMA and UFC fans. Here’s why:

Pay-To-Tweet is Not Authentic
While it’s a sign Twitter has arrived as a more mainstream marketing channel for professional sports, it strikes a blow at the authenticity of social media as a whole.

Nothing brings out the phoneys on Twitter more than money – or the promise of a payday based on what and how frequently you tweet. Just ask anyone who’s been spammed with @ mention offers of free stuff after in “iPad” in a tweet.

Twitter is Risky Business
As athletes in just about every sport have learned, you tweet at your own risk. Or as pro golfer Paul Azinger tweeted this week, “We are all only one tweet away from brilliant, clever, insightful or stupid!” (I think my previous blog post on the subject made an impact on Zinger.)

Simply put, reputations can be ruined or damaged quickly, even at 140 characters (or less). Athletes put hefty endorsements and fan love on the line by sharing their innermost thoughts in this public and very viral space. It’s the reason other, more mainstream leagues and teams are headed in the opposite direction of UFC, placing a heavier hand on social media usage.

Social Media is More Than a Numbers Game
Success on Twitter also shouldn’t be measured by sheer numbers. To his credit, UFC’s White will factor in “creativity” to the bonus decision. But placing so much on the final follower count makes the journey to that number questionable. Will fighters follow me back? Will some spend money to buy followers (you can do that)? I suppose all’s fair in love, war and Twitter.

Twitter is Not for Everyone
Being successful at anything takes time, practice and dedication. The same is true for Twitter. Anyone who’s tried to find their niche on Twitter knows how much work it takes to build a following, to find a voice, and to become comfortable talking in 140 characters or less. Learning social media will be harder than UFC fighters might think.

The UFC does get high marks in my book for offering social media training to its fighters, which will help get them started. They’ve also generated good PR related to this incentive program. For a niche sports, it’s a great way to get buzz – especially in the middle of an NFL work stoppage and languishing MLB season. It’s also a nice for athletes in this amazingly dangerous sport have additional earning potential (even if it might be more work than they think).

Will we see other leagues follow suit? I doubt it, especially with so many athletes making mistakes with their Twitter feeds, and teams and leagues getting more jittery about their athletes. What Twitter and Facebook can bring pro athletes are additional opportunities to market their personal brand and any products or services they might endorse.

That’s the less interesting, safer route for athletes wondering about the benefits of social media. But as Zinger said, you’re only one tweet away from trouble. And that will always be the case with Twitter.

Thanks for being a fan.

There Is No Clarification Button on Twitter

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Rashard Mendenhall learned a tough lesson on Twitter this week. It's hard to make your point in 140 characters.

Shocking news into FourthAnd140.com: A professional athlete is in trouble for a tweet.

In other news, the sky is blue.

If you hadn’t heard, Pittsburgh Steelers star running back Rashard Mendenhall stuck his finger in the country’s celebratory cake following the death of Osama bin Laden earlier this week.

Mr. Mendenhall’s argument started off sound but quickly drifted to strange:

What kind of person celebrates death? It’s amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We’ve only heard one side…

Later, in another tweet, Mendenhall curiously suggested a potential 9/11 conspiracy. (The tweet has since been deleted):

I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.

Perhaps Mr. Mendenhall wanted to be known for something other than one of the more costly fumbles in Super Bowl history. OK, that was a cheap shot from a bitter Steelers fan, but what’s the upside to stirring such a steaming pot of trouble just days after Navy SEALS killed the FBI’s most wanted man?

The Conversationalist
To his credit, Mr. Mendenhall advocates using social media tools – like Twitter – to start conversations with people. His profile even boasts “Conversationalist and professional athlete.” It’s refreshing to see given the self-promotion, self-centeredness and other baloney pro athletes consider good social content.

The problem for Mr. Mendenhall, however, is Twitter is not the place to share lengthy, complicated viewpoints. You pretty much get 140 characters, and that’s it. Conversations are short, succinct and rarely deep. Timelines change by the second.

The Clarification
Mr. Mendenhall’s follow-up was much better, even if far fewer people saw it. Using his personal blog, he wrote a longer, aptly titled post called “Clarification.” In it, he used no less than 510 words and 2,800 characters to apologize (which was necessary due to the odd 9/11 comments) and clarify his faith-based viewpoint. “This controversial statement was something I said in response to the amount of joy I saw in the event of a murder,” he wrote. “I don’t believe that this is an issue of politics or American pride; but one of religion, morality, and human ethics.”

I saw similarly themed tweets and Facebook posts shouting down the giddiness behind the killing of another person (even if that individual is responsible for horrific acts of terrorism). I had similar conversations with my children, as I tried to use our own faith to explain to them why so many people were happy someone had been killed. Many of my friends referenced Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote:

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

I commend Mr. Mendenhall on the passion in his blog post, and for offering it up to his fans and followers. Most athletes would have deleted the tweet, apologized and moved on. Mr. Mendenhall thoughtfully quoted scripture and backed up his beliefs with reasoning and passion. He just did everything in reverse, taking advantage of Twitter’s ease and speed to make a complicated point about violence and his opposition to it.

In today’s break-neck speed of social media, it’s usually the original tweet that sticks with people. They seldom remember the follow-up tweets. Or the apology. Or the clarification. They’re not as quotable or controversial. 

The Lesson
It’s been a costly week for Mr. Mendenhall. But as a Steeler fan, I’ll still root for him on Sundays and follow him on Twitter the rest of the time. He just needs some coaching up on Twitter (DM me, Rashard!), not to mention the high-and-tight rule for running backs.

The social media lesson here is simple. If you have to clarify a controversial position on Twitter, you’re better off using a blog or other longer-form vehicle to make your point.

Unfortunately for Mr. Mendenhall, there is no Clarification Button on Twitter.

Thanks for being a fan.

Seattle Mariners Beer Vendor Delivers Fabulous Fan Experiences Through Twitter

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Meet @Msbeervendor

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

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

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

Oh, and beer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The @Msbeervendor logo on Twitter. Nicely done.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cold Beer! Get Your Stephen Colbert!

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

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

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

Un-Follow the So-Called Leader

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Pro and collegiate teams should focus less on the social media trophies of "likes" and followers, and more on what their fans want.

I’ve been pondering the horse-race mentality of Facebook and Twitter  pages lately. In college and pro sports – as in the corporate world – the “like” is champ. 

So-called social media gurus measure a brand’s social capital around a number (followers, likes, etc.). They stack that figure up against the competition in the industry – or league – in the case of professional and collegiate athletics.

That’s crap.

Here’s why: NBA fans are not the same as NFL fans, who are not the same as NHL fans, who are not the same as MLB fans. Yankee fans watch, read about, shop and interact with other Yankee fans in a much different way than, say, Seattle Mariner fans. Media budgets are also not the equal, which makes comparisons futile. See the Yankees vs. Mariners example above.

You can say the same about college athletics. Do Florida fans really care what’s on the official LSU football Facebook page? Unless it’s Gator smack talk, I would argue no. And as an Iowa Hawkeye fan, I could care less what the Iowa State Cyclones say on Twitter.

Don’t get me wrong. As the social voice for a Fortune 300 company’s Facebook and Twitter communities,  I keep an eye on my competition – and so should competing teams and leagues. But I’ve decided not to obsess about generating the same number of fans, likes and followers as my competition. Instead, I concentrate on my brand’s target customer – and what they want – in a Facebook page or Twitter stream.

Sports franchises and university athletic departments should do the same.

Here’s how: Use the market research at your disposal to zero in on your target customer, or do your own social listening sessions. You’ll be surprised how quickly the focus will shift from meaningless numbers to: 

  • Finding quality fans
  • Creating and sharing interesting and relevant content, apps and giveaways
  • Aasking questions, highlighting a superfan or posting fan photos.

Teams should stop trying to keep up with other teams in the league, division or sport. Create the features your fans like. Share the content they appreciate.

Heck, one day, it might not even be Facebook or Twitter. Something else could (and probably will) replace today’s social tools. But you know who will decide that? Yep, the sports fan.

“You need to understand how your customers are using social media, which tools they favor, and finally WHY and HOW they use these tools,” writes Mack Collier, a social media consultant and founder of #Blogchat. “This knowledge gives you great insights into how to connect with your customers in a way that’s beneficial to both them, and you.”

And fans, if you aren’t already, start sharing your feedback whenever and wherever possible. If your team is good at social media, it will listen. If it’s not, you’ll know right away. And no amount of “likes” will make your team’s Facebook page worth visiting.  

Thanks for being a fan.

This Masters Tradition (Like No Other) Should Not Be Broken

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After a long day at work, I came home today and turned on my old friend, ESPN. I was instantly drawn in – not by the overdone highlights or talking heads – but by a well-produced special on the 25th anniversary of Jack Nicklaus’ Masters gem.

Son Jackie, who was on the bag that memorable Sunday, narrated the well-produced piece. I was taken back to that warm, sunny day in 1986 when I watched the tournament with my Dad. Jack shocked the sports world – and hooked me on the Masters – and golf – forever.

I tweeted about the ESPN program, which got me thinking about the PGA’s recent effort to make the game more fan-friendly by allowing cell phones on the course and embracing social media. It was a good move and a bit overdue, especially since fans have been tuning out the game for a variety of reasons. TV ratings dropped by a third at golf’s most recent major championship – last year’s PGA Champisonship.

I also thought how amazing the experience would have been at Augusta National in 1986, with the ability to take photos on the course and share them with friends, family and the world. What a memory.

Then I realized how awful that would be, actually. And I was suddenly glad for old traditions and stuffy rules. I wouldn’t want the Masters experience spoiled by thousands of cell phones and millions of tweets from fans, when actually you’re not a fan when attending the Masters. You’re a Patron. And Patrons must live up to a certain standard. They should follow tradition.

Yep, this social media nut, who loves to harp on teams and leagues and players about how bad they are at embracing this new medium, is completely turned off by the thought of a social media-infused Augusta National.

Some traditions are meant to be kept, and the “tradition like no other” fits into this rare category of exception. As incredible as it would be to tweet to the world shots of Tiger or Phil teeing off from No. 16 (my favorite hole at Augusta), I’m glad it’s not possible today. I hope it stays this way for generations to come.

“The Masters is about a certain formality and rigidity that is missing in most of our lives,” famed Masters announcer Verne Lundquist told Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times. “People crave that sort of thing.”

Plaschke punctuated the thought with his own argument for tradition:

You might think that the sophisticated American sports fan would grow bored of this, but it’s quite the opposite. We embrace this. We hunger for this. The Masters remains one of America’s most beloved sporting events perhaps because it is everything we used to be, reflecting a simpler type of sporting culture that will never exist again.

You can get your fill of the Masters by watching TV (especially if you’re a DirecTV customer). Or try the Masters website. And socially, plug into some of the active tour players, who are already posting some great content from this Georgia gem.

But keep the Masters as it is today. As it was 25 years ago. And 50 years ago. Social media will survive. But the Masters wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for tradition.

Thanks for being a fan.

Become a Social Media SuperFan: 7 Twitter Tips to Get Your Sports Fix

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Show your Twitter followers how to be a real SuperFan with these tips.

I tweet for a Fortune 300 company by day, so you’d think I’d look for a social media escape when I’m away from work.

Problem is – I follow too many interesting people on Twitter to stay away. And I get most of my information from there. It’s faster, easier and more lightweight. And did I mention all those cool people I follow?

However, with all social media conversations – especially Twitter – you have to have a thick skin and be prepared to cut through the clutter to find your sweet spot around sports and Twitter. Live games move fast, and so does the fan conversation. Keep up, contribute or get left behind. Or worse – ignored.

Be patient, too. It takes time to find the fans you appreciate – and who appreciate you. There’s a wasteland of nonsense out there – from every team in every sport. Find your own sweet spot.

So I have some quick advice to help you get started with these five tips:

  • Create a follower list of your favorite sports teams: That includes fans, writers, coaches and players. Twitter lists are a great way to differentiate any other activities or passions you might share on Twitter.
  • Don’t overdo the RT. Once you’ve joined a team’s following – large or small – you don’t have to RT everything about your team. It becomes downright ridiculous to read the same tweet 25 times.
  • Don’t forget the @ reply. This is better when you’re just having a conversation with one or two people about a certain topic. It also gives you a little more space for your tweet. And for you Klout-watchers, it’s supposedly helps boost your engagement socre.
  • Use your team hashtags (#) when posting. This helps tell your followers – especially those who don’t follow your team – that this tweet is about the #Steelers or #SteelerNation.
  • Send a quick disclaimer if you’re going to be in-game tweeting. Your non-sports followers might cut you some slack if you warn them ahead of the big game.
  • Bring something new to the table. I thought about starting a blog about my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes, but I don’t have much more to add to the conversation. I can, however, provide some perspective on how social media affects sports – and my favorite teams.
  • Include a sentence about your team loyalty in your Twitter profile. This gives any potential follower the heads-up that, hey, you’re passionate about your team, and that your tweets will reflect that passion.

Got more suggestions? Add them in the comments below.

Thanks for being a fan.

Social Media Shrinks the Map for Fans of Division III Athletics

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For me, this weekend means March Madness of a different kind.

I’ve made the case before that sports and social media often meet at a perfect crossroads. But this weekend, it’s an ideal intersection for me.

You see, I’m a graduate of Wartburg College, a small, Division III college in northeast Iowa that happens to be damn good at wrestling. When I mean good, I’m talking 19 straight Iowa Conference championships, 7 Division III national titles since 1996, and first- or second-place national finishes in 15 of the last 19 years.

Not quite University of Iowa Dynasty, but we’re getting there.

While it might sound like it, I am not a superfan. If I was, I’d head up the road a few hours to LaCrosse and watch this weekend’s DIII wrestling tournament in person. Perhaps I’m spoiled by Wartburg’s success and only pay close attention when tourney time rolls around.

Another reason could be coverage. Even while living in Iowa, I didn’t get much Wartburg wrestling action in my local paper or TV sports segment. It’s even more difficult living in Wisconsin. In years past, I’d have to rely on a paragraph (at best) or box score to catch results.

More recently, I’ve signed up for fan text alerts and e-mail updates, but those are not very convenient or immediate. The internet has improved access for me and fans of DIII athletics, too. The NCAA even streams live video of select DIII tournament wrestling matches (and other sports), but until this year, it was only the finals. And while it’s exciting to actually watch some of the action live on the internet, Wartburg is not always the featured match, and the commentary is generic at best. 

Enter social media. Fast, easy, fan-specific and collaborative.  

Twitter and Facebook are my best sources for updates on Wartburg College athletics. This was not the case just a couple years ago.

I’ve added Wartburg’s sports news to my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Boom. Instant access to real-time updates from the DIII tournament – tailored to Wartburg fans. Knights’ sports information director, Mark Adkins, provides the bulk of the commentary. He’s a fast, efficient and solid writer, not to mention a passionate ambassador for the college. You have to be. (Side note: I worked with Mark during my brief stint as sports editor on Wartburg’s student newspaper, The Trumpet, some 20+ years ago.)

Other Wartburg fans – and those of DIII wrestling in general – add to the mix through a real-time feed of hash-tagged content. It’s just what I need to get my Wartburg wrestling fix this time of year. It’s also a way to find others with similar interests – alums, current students, parents, etc. For a simple follow, I get their perspective, too.

I’m not there, but I am – thanks to this cool collaboration we call social media.

So while most folks are watching March Madness of a different kind this weekend, I’m cheering hard that another DIII national wrestling title trophy will accompany the Wartburg College Knights back to Waverly.

Thanks for being a fan.