One of the opportunities and also one of the issues with social media is that the stream and the quest for information and access is never ending. The pipeline if you choose to use it, never really shuts off. So into that vacuum of information, especially for the consumer, comes the communications head in sport of teams, leagues, governing bodies, and broadcast entities. Like every new medium, some choose to embrace, some run and hide and others take a wait and see approach. Sport, on the team level at least, is a business of ritual which can sometimes be endless, and for some teams with long rituals and full press areas, those rituals are sometimes hard, if not impossible to change, even if there is benefit.
Some teams see the social media space as a way to reinforce the company line and that’s about it. Buy tickets here, here is tonight’s promotion, here are some facts about our players…much of it is not new or innovative, but it is effective to use social media to make sure that followers have some information, especially about the bottom line for the team. Often times these feeds are not personalized, they are generic, and can be generated as much by an intern as they would be by a senior staff member. They provide a service, but don’t really give the consumer much more insight or added value than they would get in other places. It’s access, but not access that enhances the experience or sheds light into what is going on with the team, or the athlete they passionately follow.
As a communications tool to the masses, for those teams that choose that path it works for them.
The tragedy of taking that path is that many times those communicators on the staff are great storytellers who often times can provide a very unique glimpse through their daily interactions. Little slice of life anecdotes which followers of the team, media, business partners, would find interesting. Because these men and women spend so much time inside the business of sport, and they are usually skilled communicators, they have both a different take on things and see the business from a side that is pretty unique. Can they mix in the obligatory shill for a giveaway day? Sure. Would they take shots at the team or officials in lean times, probably not. However using social media as a fun way to peer inside the glass tower is a way for those who do the communication to better communicate even humanize the team or the entity that they represent in sport.
Who does the mix well? Some, like Josh Rawitch at the Arizona Diamondbacks or Ron Colangelo at the Detroit Tigers or Jim Saccomano at the Denver Broncos, or Charles Bloom who was at the SEC for a long time and is now at the University of South Carolina, or Mike Kelly who went from the ACC to the BCS, do a great job of mixing in information and anecdotes from a long career. One of the first, and best, adopters of social media is New York Giants longtime communications head Pat Hanlon, who not only gives some solid insight into team goings-on but is not afraid to mix it up with fans and the media, usually in a good natured way. Most recently, the New York Mets longtime PR leader Jay Horwitz became a media story himself when he took to twitter like a fish to water, and provided amazing insight every day from a life dedicated to the orange and blue, telling tales of players past and present, mixed in with a lighthearted look at himself, in 140 character bursts. It is a fun and very unique peer into the inner workings of sport at its highest level. It is genuine, fun and very sincere.
Now that type of look, or the work that Hanlon and others do is not sanctioned by every organization. The Brooklyn Nets for example, recently cut off their lighthearted “Nets PR” twitter feed, which was providing some fun, some silly little slices of life inside the team. While no real reason was given, the feeling is similar to what other teams, colleges and leagues feel…social media should be a marketing tool to push product, not to entertain fans. It’s may not be the right approach for some, but it is the choice of the organization. Sure, sometimes the rat-tat of social can also burn those who get caught up. Several teams and colleges have had to recant statements when front office execs, even some in communications, have fired off shots at media members or fans too hastily. However all that can be avoided if you think before you hit send…the same advice, most communications executives give to their players and coaches.
So no it’s not for everyone…however for those who use the medium well, communicating with the top communicators can be fun and effective, and a strong tool to engage fans and even grow brand and media following. The folks who do it well don’t shill, they are good story tellers and communicators, with a gift to spin a tale efficiently and make the game and those who play very human.
They make social media fun and interesting to their followers with their genuine approach learned from a lifetime of being on the inside. After all, sport is big business, but it is supposed to be fun, and communicating that fun is what brings fans, brands, and even media, engaged and interested, in good times and bad.