In sports and social media, there are no “winners”

A few months ago, I read a marketing agency blog post about Major League Baseball (MLB) teams on social media. The post looked at some of the major social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, and declared MLB team winners based on follower counts, fans, and pins. When I read it, I considered writing a reaction piece on the choice of metrics used to make these claims, but passed, choosing to spend my time on school and work instead.

Then, last week, Russell Scibetti (@rscibetti) posted an infographic on his excellent blog “thebusinessofsports.com” from a multi-channel marketing company titled, “Fandom in a Multichannel World.” The graphic looked at the most social teams in MLB. Again, I came away disappointed, as many of the barometers of success were follower counts. The infographic called the Yankees “MLB’s most social team” based on their 7,980,000 fans across Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram.

What the Yankees have accomplished on social media isn’t unimpressive. It also isn’t difficult. For sports teams at the collegiate and professional level, acquiring fans and followers is as easy as picking a social network and creating an official account. If you build it, they will come. The real challenge lies in taking social to the next level. The challenge is engagement. The challenge is activation. The challenge is revenue.

Many teams, both in MLB and elsewhere, have created innovative ways to address these challenges. The Boston Celtics, Cleveland Indians, Portland Trail Blazers, and LA Dodgers are just a few. Yet, whenever a piece of content is published about the most social teams in sports, it’s follower and fan counts serving as justification for the claim. Why is that? Is it easier to estimate? Simpler to substantiate? Maybe it’s laziness.

Those are plausible answers, but I think there’s a bigger issue at play. In sports, as in life, we’re a society hell-bent on identifying winners and losers. And when we do so, numbers are more concrete than subjective anecdotes. I can claim that the Cleveland Indians, with their Social Suite and Tribefest, are the most social team in MLB. You could claim it’s the San Francisco Giants with their clever content and wired fan base. Neither of us easily “wins” that argument. If you argue that the Giants are more social than the Indians based on their larger number of Twitter followers though, I have no argument. Like Shakira’s hips, the numbers don’t lie.

Instead of ranting about the method by which we identify winners and losers in social media though, I want to propose a new approach: let’s stop proclaiming social media winners entirely. Social media isn’t a dragon to be slayed. There is no finish line to cross or mountaintop to climb. And while competition is natural imperative in sports, we need to realize that every team benefits from the gains others make in social media.

So I plea to sports bloggers and agencies everywhere: stop using follower counts and pinning boards as KPI’s to declare champions of a game that doesn’t exist. Start focusing on the innovative teams using social media to do great things. Take lessons from their experiences and share them with others to create a better social community.

If we do this correctly, everybody wins.

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