Let’s Focus on the Conversation

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Conversation

Help FourthAnd140.com find the characters who make the intersection of sports and social media more interesting.

When you’re at a party, who gets your attention? I look for good conversation. I look for people who want to talk with me, are interested in what I’m saying, and who say interesting things.

The same is true in social media – and even more so when you toss sports into the equation. But the louder voices tend to drown out the smaller ones, and it becomes a numbers game. When people stop engaging, the conversation becomes less interesting.

I’ve been absent from this blog for a few months now. Why? So many others began covering this space – the intersection of sports and social media – and I couldn’t keep up. I lacked the vital resources to do so: time (I do social media full time for a Fortune 300 brand) and energy (I have two kids who keep me going from dawn to dusk).

I can’t compete with so many others out there who are now covering this space for a living. I can’t keep up with the Mashables and ESPNs of the world – and I never will.

When people stop listening, the conversation becomes less interesting.

However, I can still share a perspective they don’t offer – one part fan, one part social media/PR/communications professional. I can (and occasionally will) write about the latest and greatest happenings hitting sports and social media. Mostly, I want to focus on the conversation.

That’s the essence of social media + sports for me. It works best when everyone’s involved and engaged. The channel shouldn’t matter, though I’ll keep tabs on Twitter and Facebook, the two loudest parties. But we’re starting to hear music coming from other places – like Tumblr and Pinterest – and my new favorite, Instagram. And conversations worth joining. And people worth meeting.

So FourthAnd140 is back, but our focus turns to the people making this intersection of sports and social media interesting: The characters behind the 140 characters.

We’ve met a few in doing this for nearly two years, but there are many more we want to meet. And we want to share their stories here. If you know someone who lights up your sports + social media feeds – who understands the conversation – tell us. Send us a tweet, post on our Facebook page, or leave a comment. We want to invite them to the party and introduce them to our friends.

Let’s make this conversation even better.

Thanks for being a fan.

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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.  

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.

Twitter As Real Life: How the NASA Tweetup Levels the Social Media Playing Field

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I can't hide behind my computer for the whole NASA Tweetup.

I’m sitting in my local coffee shop, What’s Brew’n, about to be interviewed by my local TV station about the upcoming NASA Tweetup. It got me thinking how much more real this experience will be for me than anything else I’ve blogged or tweeted about.

Bear with me for a minute.

You see, when I blog and tweet about social media (whether it’s sport-related or not), it’s normally just me behind a computer, TV screen, or, at best, at a stadium or arena. I’m usually just sharing my experiences, thoughts and ideas that highlight this small corner of the cyber-sports world. Most of what I write or tweet about happens online. It’s observations about athletes, teams, organizations or fans and their social media interactions.

While some sporting events are historic in nature, nothing comes close to what I’ll be doing a week from today at Kennedy Space Center. Maybe you’ve heard of it? As we draw closer to launch, the guest list gets more impressive. Rep. Gabbrielle Giffords (D-AZ), the President and First Family and a host of other dignitaries are planning to attend (to heck with the Royal Wedding!). Then there’s the 150 lucky NASA tweetup participants who will be there, too.

Lucky indeed.

As I plan to tell Barclay Pollak, the NBC 15 reporter who’s interviewing me, I feel like I hit the lottery. It’s been a whirlwind experience for me, as I know it has been for the 149 other NASA Tweetup crew. Why? Sports or not, this is an experience of a lifetime. Not to mention the great people I get to meet who have come from literally all over the planet to witness history. To be a part of the NASA experience. To share their thoughts and ideas with their following – each different from the next.

Social media levels the playing field, whether it’s in sport, business or space travel.

That’s the beauty of Twitter, and social media as a whole, and one of the things most people take for granted. Social media levels the playing field for this humble, Midwestern guy who just started blogging about sports and social media – and others like me. It brings together people from incredibly diverse backgrounds to this amazing, significant event in space travel history. And American history. It’s a way for me and others like me to witness history, 140 characters at a time.

As I will tell Barclay – and as I’ve told others – I’m not worthy. But I’ll do my best to give my readers and followers something worthwhile and different. I’m not trying to do this for personal gain, though I’m already expanding my horizons as a blogger and micro-blogger. I’m doing this because I was fortunate, lucky, blessed – you name it. There’s a certain responsibility to this duty, and I hope I deliver.

See you at Cape Canaveral. And thanks for being a fan.

I’m Not Worthy: Launching Twitter Dreams at the STS-134 NASA TweetUp

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A little bird told me I was going to Kennedy Space Center.

Pardon this interruption from your normal FourthAnd140.com viewing for a few messages about … space travel.

In a few days, I’m joining 149 other Twitter folk for the NASA Tweetup in Florida. I’ll play citizen journalist of sorts, covering the final launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour (STS-134), and the second-to-last shuttle launch ever. Yep. Ever.

Wow.

Since learning of the news last Friday, I’ve had some sleepless nights, distracted workdays, and general bewilderment as to why I was picked for this honor. In reality, it was luck. But deep down, I hope it’s because of what I can (and plan to) offer others who aren’t afforded the same experience.

Initially, I wasn’t sure about making the investment in time, money and effort to travel from Wisconsin to Florida. (NASA tweetup folks pay their own travel, lodging and other expenses.) So I did what any good tweep does when faced with a dilemma: I posed the question to the Twitterverse: Should I do this? I was amazed (and persuaded) by the response:

Hard to say no with that kind of response. So it didn’t take long before I was making airline reservations and getting to know the other amazing tweeple joining me at Kennedy Space Center.

What will I bring to the table? A couple things, I hope.

  • I’m a writer (and journalist at heart): I worked (lived, really) in a TV newsroom for most of my 20s, and I have tried not to forget the reporting skills honed during those years. Some of that is on display in previous FourthAnd140.com blog posts. I plan to lean on those skills (and a dedication to AP Style!) during my time at Kennedy Space Center.
  • (I think) I’ve got Twitter skills: I tweet on my own account but I also tweet for a Fortune 300 brand. I’ll bring that ability – and agility – to the NASA tweetup.
  • I’m not a space expert, but I’ll play one on Twitter: I don’t know a lot of the shuttle program, or NASA, or science. But I’m learning. And I hope to keep learning and share my new-found knowledge via Twitter, in 140-character bites of goodness. Promise.

By the way, here’s a map showing just the kind of access NASA tweetup participants are allowed (courtesy of a tweetup veteran):

A Google-eye view of what's in store for NASA tweetup participants. Oh, that's me!

Starting pretty much right now … I’ll provide updates on Twitter as quickly as I can craft them. I plan numerous blog posts here – some short, some long form. And lots and lots of pictures and (hopefully) video. If you want some different perspective, follow any of the other 149 NASA tweetup participants.

So follow along. Enjoy the ride. I plan to.

Thanks for being a fan, er, follower.

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.

NHL Goes Low-Tech, High Engagement on Facebook

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I'm short on hockey jargon... so let's just say the NHL knows how to do Facebook.

The National Hockey League’s official Facebook page is pure simplicity, and I love it.

Fancy apps, tabs, polls and widgets. Who needs ’em?

I’m barely a casual hockey fan – especially professional hockey. But you don’t have to know blue lines from red lines to see what the NHL does on Facebook works. Posts average hundreds – if not thousands – of fan interactions (likes and comments). And 1.3 million-plus “likes” is a good effort for a pro league, comparable to the NFL (2.6 million “likes”) and miles ahead of the fancier MLB site (280,000 “likes”).

My favorite feature on the NHL page has to be polling. These aren’t tricked-out, Flash-based polls requiring a lot of heavy lifting by visitors. No apps to install. Nope. Just a thumbs up/down image with a question: Like or dislike ________ (insert topic).

The NHL's polling feature is so simple, it's brilliant.

The simplicity is awesome, lightweight and easy to use. And that’s the way it should be.

Big brands spend big bucks trying way too hard to make fancy polling apps that fail to get the desired results: people answering the damn question. Facebook users end up spending so much time and effort installing an app or navigating through a tab, they forget the question. The NHL polling option cuts through all that clutter AND gets results.

Other quick hitters on the NHL’s Facebook page:  

  • Heavy use of its extensive video library of highlights and interviews.
  • Allowing fans to post directly to the Wall (although fan feeds are separate from the main NHL feed).
  • Alternating profile picture to promote its product.

That last tactic is something not too many brands implement. Most corporate-run Facebook pages are stuck with a logo or other boring image that doesn’t do anything to advance their social efforts. The NHL uses the available profile picture space well, promoting the day’s games with a call to watch the action on TV.

If you haven’t already, you’ll start seeing other brand pages doing the same. There’s a lot of real estate available in that profile picture, so why not put it to use? I’ve just started doing the same with the brand I manage on Facebook, and the results have been positive.

There is one downside to 1.3 million fans and an open attitude about who gets to post what: You get bombarded with a lot of junk. Thankfully, the NHL does differentiate its posts from those of its fans. However, if I was administering this page, the biggest area of concern would be the inappropriate pictures uploaded to the NHL site.

While they’re not readily visible to the everyday fan, they are still there. I’d suggest a little house-cleaning for the NHL admin at some point, to get rid of that off-brand, user-generated content.

Even if you’re not a huge hockey fan – take a minute to check out what the NHL is doing differently on Facebook.

Thanks for being a fan.