The Uplifting Tweets to Michigan Punter Blake O’Neill You Probably Didn’t See

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Twitter logo

What if, on your worst day ever at work, hundreds of people took to social media to ridicule and shout you down? What if some of those posts were hateful, violent and disgusting?

Some say Saturday was University of Michigan punter Blake O’Neill’s worst day ever.

The fifth-year senior, rugby-style punter from Melbourne, Australia, fumbled a snap during the final seconds of the game against rival Michigan State.

The play astounded the college football world and lit up social media immediately. Astonishment, however, quickly turned much darker. So-called fans and others posted hateful vitriol on Twitter — which national news media quickly reported with sensational headlines. Some tweets included death threats.

This is the awful side of social media — the one you hear about from the media. The one that gets passed around the echo chamber that Twitter can often become when these seemingly unbelievable and equally emotionally-charged plays occur in sports. It’s the same one that makes people shake their collective heads and discourage student-athletes from using the platforms.

But an interesting thing happened in the hours since Mr. O’Neill’s fateful fumble. Twitter — it turns out — has a softer side. It’s one you won’t likely read about on your favorite sports news site.

Blake O’Neill is human, and — yes — he had a pretty awful day. But it’s just a game, and today is a new day. And some people — many more than you probably realize — are letting Blake O’Neill know that.

Twitter sentiment around Blake O'Neill's tweets was actually 75 percent (or more) positive.

Twitter sentiment around Blake O’Neill’s tweets was actually 75 percent (or more) positive. (Via Sentiment140)

In fact, sentiment around Mr. O’Neill’s Twitter mentions was trending 75 percent positive, as more and more tweets of encouragement began pouring in.

It’s quite remarkable when you begin to actually read some of the heartfelt and uplifting tweets — coming from Michigan fans, but also others who have no reason to tweet a student-athlete, other than to give him some encouragement following a pretty horrible day. So, here are a few more.

https://twitter.com/willydacoach/status/655748649889210368

It’s never OK to post death threats or other hateful messages — especially directed toward student-athletes. If you see these tweets, report the user to Twitter and encourage your followers to do the same.

But my point is — don’t throw the baby out with the bath water when it comes to sports and social media. Seek the good and you’ll be surprised how many others like you are out there. Social media has a definite dark side. But not all of us are drawn to it.

Thanks for being a fan.

#q1SFE15 in Review: There Is No Off-Season for Sports and Social Media

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The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is March 2-3 in Kansas City.

The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum was held March 2-3 in Kansas City.

I’ve caught up on my sleep and let my brain process the knowledge dropped at the second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum, held this week in Kansas City. Like last year, it was a chance to meet in real life people I admire — and have come to know thanks to social media.

#Q1SFE15 was also a chance to immerse myself in the sports fan’s experience, because after all, that’s what this blog is all about. Here’s what I learned — as a media partner, social media professional and fan — from a talented group of sports and social media leaders.

The Sports Fan is Boss

Whether it’s creating an incredible game-day experience or providing engaging social media content year-round, sports teams and leagues have the fan in mind with nearly everything they do. It begins with game day, but involves so much more. From tailgating, to in-stadium WiFi, to off-season social media content — and everything in-between: The sports fan craves what teams and leagues have.

At Nebraska, football game day is one of seven “state holidays,” according to Kelly Mosier, director of digital communications for the Huskers, who recently upgraded the team’s stadium to HD WiFi. This is tables stakes for teams now, even if it’s just satisfying a vocal minority of fans.

“Cell phones are this generation’s portable radio for fans,” Mr. Mosier said. “[Football] is more than us. It’s a community event. Even if it’s happening outside our stadium, we have ability to be part of that conversation.”

Mosier and his team monitor real-time social media feeds using sophisticated queries. The result is a plethora of engagement opportunities, and the ability to showcase the Husker product for fans unable to be in Lincoln on game day. This includes amplifying user-generated content and providing glimpses of fan activity that can produce authentic but also viral moments.

“We’re letting our fans across the country know it’s awesome to be at the game,” adds Mr. Mosier.

Create a Memorable Experience

The Indy Fuel are re-introducing professional hockey to Indianapolis, which presents much different challenges than an established sports brand like Nebraska football. “For us to be successful long term, we need to provide an experience that beings fans back,” says Lee Dicklitch, vice president of operations and fan experience for the Fuel. “We must share an experience that gets people to notice, and that ensures we don’t lose equity with our fans that we’ve worked hard to build up.”

The Fuel used an on-ice introduction video (see below) that puts an exclamation point on the need to amaze fans in-venue — because this might be the team’s only shot at creating a long-term fan of the franchise.

Sports is Always On: Embrace It

Game day is just part of the fan experience equation. Pre-game, post-game, off-season, training camp, free agency, signing day … you name it, fans want it.

TJ Ansley of the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers talks about ways to keep fans engaged in the off-season through social media.

TJ Ansley of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers talks about ways to keep fans engaged in the off-season through social media.

“There is no off-season anymore,” says TJ Ansley, director of digital media for NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. The team — under Ansley’s creative leadership — produces a crazy amount of content after the last buzzer sounds and before the pre-season tips off.

This can include re-purposing content from the previous season, or creating original photos essays, video recaps, highlight stats and team podcasts.

The Trail Blazers even played “hashtag games” as a fun and engaging way to generate conversation and collaborate with other NBA teams. The activity trending each time on Twitter — despite happening during a slow-called slow period.

But really, there is no down time for sports. No quiet period. No vacations. And that means there is no off-season for sports and social media. The demand has only increased from fans looking for ways to connect with their favorite players, teams and leagues — and with other fans.

It also stems from the growing role social media plays in our everyday lives. FOMO — or the fear of missing out what’s happening on social media — is something teams and leagues can capitalize on during slower times, to ensure fans stay connected and engaged through social.

What’s Next? Let the Fan Decide

Some believe social media will become a “profit center” and generate more revenue than any other channel. These opinions — and the activities behind them — were also part of #q1SFE15 discussions. However, I’m not sold on those speculations, and I’m not going into detail about them here. The ability to predict sports and social media trends is an act of folly. The fan will decide. [Click to tweet.]

What’s certain is social media — in whatever shape or form it becomes — has a place in sports and in the sports fan’s life. It’s up to the smart folks who attended #q1SFE15 — and their colleagues across the industry — to deliver what the fan wants.

Thanks for being a fan.

A post script: My thanks to Q1 Sports for including Fourth And 140 as a media partner for the 2015 Sports Fan Engagement Forum. One of my favorite things to do is meet people — in real life — that I’ve come to know through social media. And this event provided another one of those opportunities. 

A group of #q1SFE15 participants shared a meal together after the first day of the forum.

A group of #q1SFE15 participants shared a meal together after the first day of the forum. (Photo via @LisaMBregman)

 

#q1SFE15 Day 1: Fan Engagement Drives Sports Strategy

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The sports fan was at the center of nearly every discussion at day one of the second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum.

And why not?

Just like traditional business models put the customer at the center of everything they do, sports teams and leagues acknowledged that fans drive key decision-making and strategy in digital, social media, event activations, and more.

How do teams and leagues understand the fan? Data. Use information about fans — wherever it’s available — to drive decisions. That can be social media data — the richest coming from the platforms or third-party providers. It can come from traditional fan data — focus groups, customer relationship management tools, website personas — anywhere the fan interacts with the team or league is ripe for the picking.

The Seattle Seahawks use data to analyze average social media engagements per post and benchmark against averages from other sports teams. The goal? Post better content that fans like.

“It isn’t rocket science,” says Kenton Olson, director of digital media and emerging media for the Seahawks. “We can stop and reassess what we’re doing and make adjustments to what we’re posting.”

Social media plays a role in how sports can better understand what fans expect from in-game experiences, or how they consume content (mobile vs. desktop), to which sponsors and community partners fans want their teams to work with each season.

“Encourage the ability of sponsors to join your team in making the fan the hero,” says Darcy Raymond, vice president of marketing and entertainment for the Tampa Bay Rays. Mr. Raymond pointed to the #RaysUp program which provides fan-centric content that also delivers authentic partnerships and highlights community support.

Giving fans what they want is a key driver for social media content, and was a theme running through most of the day at #q1SFE15. The Portland Trail Blazers strive to create “snackable” pieces of content more easily consumed from mobile devices — something that plays well on social media, keeps fan attention, and provides valuable information and multiple engagement points for fans.

“We want to create awesome moments for our fans,” says Russell Houghtaling, director of digital media for the University of Oklahoma. With social content, Mr. Houghtaling says it’s important to “play the long game. Be consistent in who you are through your stories.” The payoff is a more consistent message — and experience — for the fan.

https://twitter.com/Q1Sports/status/572439535990128640

Even subtle things like gauging the mood of fans can be accomplished through social media. The Portland Timbers monitor the pulse of fans through the #RCTID hashtag — a fan-driven conversation about all things Timbers. The tone of tweets plays a role in the frequency and types of content the team will post.

The New Orleans Saints understand their fans and adjust the team’s Snapchat content calendar. “When we’re winning, our fans can’t get enough,” says Alex Restrepo, web/social media manager for the Saints. “When we’re losing, we take breaks.” It sounds simple enough, but in a must-post-every-day-no-matter-what world, being silent has its advantages.

It’s about knowing your fans. Let them set the pace for your social, digital and in-game strategy. These were just a few of the themes from day one of the Sports Fan Engagement Forum. Learn more by following the #q1SFE15 hashtag or by connecting with forum speakers and attendees.

And keep making it about them, not you.

Thanks for being a fan.

On Twitter, Community and the Passing of Tony Gwynn

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Twitter logo

Twitter is the gathering place for sports fans to break tweet records and support their favorite teams and players. But it’s also a place for solace — to distinguish men like Tony Gwynn.

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” — Hemingway

Sports fans took a pretty emotional ride today, fueled by sadness, grief, nostalgia … then anticipation, patriotism and sheer joy. Twitter was the engine, and the community its driver.

It’s days like today that make Twitter a unique space for sports fans of all types. It was a day where a Hall of Fame baseball player lost his battle with cancer, and was mourned by millions. It was also a day soccer fans anticipated for years — capped by an incredible moment in U.S. sports history.

Together, we shared these contrasting events in this community built on 140 characters. Each time I encounter days like today, I grow to appreciate many of the people I’m connected to through one way or another on Twitter. Through tragedy and triumph, we all learn a little about each other, one tweet at a time.

And our community grows closer.

We shared stories — about sixth-grade batting slumps.

We struggled — together — to comprehend death, especially of once-vibrant heroes we grew up watching, emulating, imitating.

We reminisced — with stories, photos and articles.

We also watched as a grieving son bravely shared his thoughts on the loss of his dad, just one day removed from Father’s Day.

As my friend, Sunny, eloquently wrote today, “In sports, we (fans and media) sometimes lose sight of the human element. In our passion, we forget that athletes and coaches, who are the ones in the public eye most, are dealing with the same issues we deal with on a daily basis.”

So we turn to Twitter, because it offers solace. It offers that human element to help us comprehend sad events — and celebrate joyous and historic ones. Yes, it is the gathering place for sports fans to break tweet records and support their favorite teams and players. But it’s also a place — as Hemingway noted — to distinguish men like Tony Gwynn.

Thanks for being a fan.

The Sports Strategy of Vine

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Vine logo

Vine’s rapid rise hasn’t caught the full attention of the sporting world. Lack of strategic thinking could be keeping teams, leagues and athletes from jumping on board.

It didn’t take long for 2013 to bust out its newest, must-have social network. Vine debuted in January, providing a new micro-video service for its partner and big brother, Twitter.

If you haven’t heard of Vine, here’s the six-second explanation: You use your iOS device to record six-second video snippets and share them on Twitter. (You can also post Vines to Facebook, though the in-stream experience is not optimal.)

Vine speaks to the ever-decreasing attention spans of Twitter users while also reaching the creative and artistic Instagram crowd. Vine is hot, especially among 18- to 24-year-old iPhone and iPad users who already share short video bursts with friends through services like Viddy and Snapchat. Though there is no official count for Vine users (and no API or admin panel to tap into yet), the app took off. Just this month, Vine topped the charts among Apple’s free apps. (Now Android users patiently await the app in the Google Play store.)

Sports teams, leagues and athletes began using Vine immediately, including major professional sports leagues (and teams) from Major League Baseball, the National Football and Hockey leagues, and more. It was the new thing, and seemingly everyone gave Vine a try.

Vine is not spreading
However, like many shiny new social media tools, Vine withered (sorry, I had to go there) even before some teams gave it much of a chance (right, Dallas Mavericks?). Still other teams with impressive social media followings across several networks took a complete pass on Vine (right, Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers?).

What are the barriers? Similar to longer-form videos, creating Vines (good ones, anyway) requires planning and creative execution — two traits not synonymous with fast-paced, in-the-moment sports marketing, which is often done on a shoestring budget along with 100 other digital marketing/social media tactics. Simply put, snapping a photo is easier than shooting a succession of video clips.

Vine speaks to the ever-decreasing attention spans of Twitter users while also reaching the creative and artistic Instagram crowd.

Vine requires a strategy
It’s unfortunate Vine isn’t catching on more in sports. Not because Vine is a new and fun thing in social media (though it is), but because Vine provides value to fans. Vine complements content in a way photos and traditional video can’t, and that’s how strategic-minded teams, leagues and athletes use it. Vine is a chance to do more with less. It’s a highly creative and super-portable way to tell your brand’s story in social media. From a variety of angles, Vines can highlight day-to-day activities in ways text and photos can’t.

So Vine can and should fit into an overall social media strategy, but for some reason, it’s not catching on. I imagine some teams look at it as just one more social media account to maintain. One more beast to feed in the daily content grind. One more activity among a litany of others. This tactical point of view is short-sighted because Vine is so entwined with Twitter, much the way Instagram is baked into Facebook. These new visual mediums are not so much social networks as they are engagement sources and content feeders for the larger, flagship accounts.

Who’s doing Vine well in sports? Check out SportTechie’s solid review. Which teams and players do you follow on Vine? Leave a comment (or better yet, tweet me a Vine).

Thanks for being a fan.

Twitter Is For Everyone – Even Crazy Sports Executives

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Colts owners and CEO Jim Irsay

Indianapolis Colts' owner and CEO Jim Irsay has taken heat for tweeting some pretty wacky stuff. But that doesn't mean he and other sports executives should abandon Twitter.

Sports executives say some weird stuff on Twitter.

With 150,000 followers and an active Twitter account, Indianapolis Colts  owner and CEO Jim Irsay is one of the more colorful professional sports executives on Twitter today. He’s tweeted some wacky stuff.

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson is pretty new to Twitter, but he’s already using it to joke about financial problems facing his franchise. OK.

Their behavior, and that of other sports execs, is risky business, according to some so-called pundits. Using Twitter is risky business for anyone, but executives have more to lose. Could Irsay and Alderson exercise more caution? Of course.

Let’s not blame the venue, though. While 140 characters limits what we share, it’s not an excuse to make this fast-moving, highly watched communications channel off-limits to executives – from any industry – especially one as highly charged as sports.

As Bleacher Report puts it: “What was once a place where things had to be ‘confirmed,’ Twitter has become a platform for announcing breaking news for writers, athletes, politicians, business owners, fans and everyone else you can think of.”

Twitter is relevant. Smart executives know this. As a social media administrator for a Fortune 300 brand, I work with leaders daily on what and how to share information on Twitter. It’s an approach I believe any executive could take – no matter the industry. Do execs tweet things that make you scratch your head? Yes. Does it show they’re more human? Absolutely. Is it risky? Getting out of bed is risky.

I believe Twitter can help sports execs – and their organization. But like any communication channel, there should be a strategy powering each tweet. These five principles guide my consultations with executives about Twitter. I think they could work for the Jim Irsays of the world looking for ways to effectively use Twitter.

Break team news. Top-down communication is valuable for any organization. Place your leader in the position to share important – and breaking – info via social media. It shows he or she is leading the decision-making process. It lends credibility to the individual and your organization. Should executives take the lead on sharing all breaking news via Twitter? No. But you can pick and choose what makes the most sense and position them favorably with followers.

Be a thought leader. Highlight issues facing the league and offer your stance. Authenticity is extremely important – and valuable – on Twitter. Talking about the challenges and issues facing your organization displays courage. You’ll likely get negative feedback, but the conversation and honest engagement create instant credibility for execs.

Promote charitable causes your organization supports. Social media’s sharing principle makes talking about your organization’s non-profit work a no-brainer. You’re already supporting a variety of worthy causes. Use Twitter to preach the gospel according to those charities. Earn good will, but do good things in the process by putting your followers behind you on a cause. You’ll bring new people into the fold – those who follow because of your good deeds.

Engage with fans, players and staff. Here’s another way to highlight those in your organization who are doing good things. Get everyone on Twitter and be sure to use the proper Twitter handles when calling them out for excellence. And when fans interact with you, answer their questions, address issues and talk to them by name. They’re people, too, and will appreciate your willingness to engage one-on-one.

Be real. You’re a human being. Use Twitter to prove it. Your life isn’t all about being an executive. You have family, friends, hobbies and more to talk about. Include them in your day-to-day tweets. Share pictures, stories and more about your personal life, so your followers understand you better. Keep everyone at a safe distance – but let them see a side most others won’t. They’ll appreciate you – and your organization – even more.

What can you add to the list? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Thanks for being a fan.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Bill Voth for sparking the ideas behind this post. Bill is one of many smart and talented people I’ve “met” on Twitter who is also interested in this curious intersection of sports and social media. I’m fortunate to have connected with Bill and others like him, and continually learn from them.

Twitter Powers Jeremy Lin’s Rise to NBA – and Social Media – Superstar

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Jeremy Lin is dominating the NBA - and discussions on Twitter.

By now you’ve probably heard of Jeremy Lin. The newest NBA star and point guard for the New York Knicks burst onto the scene this week, scoring a bucketload of points and helping his team win four straight games, including a 92-85 win over the Los Angeles Lakers Feb. 10.

Lin’s rise from bench warmer to burning-hot superstar is an amazing story. A week ago, he’d never started an NBA game, or scored more than 13 points. Lin is also an Asian-American, something unheard of in the NBA, but also inspirational to many with similar backgrounds. This is a guy who has been sleeping on his brother’s couch!

It’s an incredible story. And you know who likes a good story? People on Twitter.

Since taking the reigns at point guard for the Knicks less than a week ago, Lin’s playing prowess was matched only by his social media status. Want some proof? Just try to keep up with the numbers.

Let’s start with Lin’s Klout score. On Feb. 5, it was a flat-lined and pedestrian 58.77. It ballooned to 73.63 in just six days. During this same time, Lin’s True Reach was just 9,000 before ballooning to more than 89,000. His follower count traced a similar path above 150,000. It’s a number that will look silly at the end of the NBA season, because I suspect it will be six or seven times that come June.

Kloutastic: Jeremy Lin's rise from obscurity to social media stardom - in less than a week.

Lin’s story is not just about follower count, it’s also about the conversation. And Lin dominates the talk on Twitter every time he suits up. According to Trendistic, “Jeremy Lin” was included in as much as 1.69 percent of tweets worldwide on Friday, Feb. 10 (9 p.m. CST). In his previous three games, he garnered 0.12, 0.17 and 0.19 percent of the Twitter conversation, respectively.

Not to be outdone, Lin’s Facebook page swelled above 260,000 likes with off-the-chart engagement levels (107,000+ People Talking About This). Posts as recent as Feb. 4 received 23,000 likes and more than 3,000 comments.

Trend-LIN Topic: Jeremy Lin creates incredible buzz on Twitter every time he plays.

Lin’s rise captivates audiences outside of New York City, which is where Twitter and Facebook fan the flames of “Linsanity” – one of the many user-generated hash tags created to describe him. These variations – along with the regular spelling of his name – dominate Twitter’s trending topics before, during and after Knicks’ games.

Lin’s story has overwhelmed the social media landscape – in just six days. That is unbelievable.

Perhaps it’s also why some say Lin is already a polarizing sports figure, similar to Tim Tebow (who is Lin’s hero, incidentally). Too much Linsanity, too fast, could quickly turn off fans. Others say – like Tebow – Lin’s faith is an issue, and that you either love him or hate him.

I don’t see it that way. What I see is a kid getting his chance and taking full advantage of it. Unlike Tebow, Lin was not a highly-regarded pro prospect. He was undrafted, worked his way up through the NBA summer league but was cut by the Houston Rockets in December. He’s only getting a chance on the Knicks because of injuries.

Lin’s story is compelling and worth talking about, not only to Knicks’ and NBA fans, but people everywhere who just might have found the NBA interesting again.

Where does Jeremy Lin go from here? Follow along on Twitter, and you’ll get a front-row seat.

Thanks for being a fan.

Photo credit: Jeremy Lin’s Facebook page