I swear, I’m not lazy

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If you follow this blog, it would be easy to assume that I’ve been lazy lately. While I haven’t posted anything here for a while now, I have been busy writing at sporttechie.com. In case you’ve missed those posts, or if you haven’t given the site a look yet, I thought it worthwhile to post some links to my content there.

MLB recently intensified their partnership with YouTube. MLB has been a partner with YouTube since 2005, but until recently, that hasn’t meant much. You can learn more about the partnership at: http://www.sporttechie.com/2013/05/29/mlb-seeks-global-presence-with-expanded-youtube-partnership/

One of my favorite posts was with Callaway Golf, which has really stepped up their game on social media in the past year. I was able to talk with Callaway’s Senior Manager of Global Communications Scott Goryl and Social Media Manager Chad Coleman about their latest social media campaigns. The takeaways are definitely worth your time. http://www.sporttechie.com/2013/06/24/callaway-golf-interview-breaking-down-their-social-media-strategies/

Finally, in the lead up to UFC 162, I spoke with Marketing & Community Ambassador Brenden Sherratt of Cagerank.com. Cagerank.com uses a technology called Decision Engine to predict outcomes of MMA fights. The site correctly predicts 64% off fights using a pretty impressive database of previous fight data and outcomes. They are looking for suggestions on how to improve their accuracy, so give the article a read, the site a look, and send them any suggestions you have. http://www.sporttechie.com/2013/07/02/cagerank/

I’ll be continuing to write for sporttechie.com, and you can follow my feed there at sporttechie.com/author/stephenapp, but I’ll also have some stuff over here from time to time. I’m currently working on a few pieces about social media loyalty programs that have begun to crop up from sports franchises, and I’ll be posting here throughout the fall on fan identication, which will be the subject of my masters program capstone project.

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.

My Three Words for 2013

Let’s get a few things straightened out right away. I use this space to write about the intersection of sports and social media. This blog post has nothing to do with social media. It has nothing to do with sports. It has everything to do with getting better in 2013. If you aren’t interested in that, I won’t blame you for closing this page and spending your time elsewhere.

Still here? Excellent.

This may come as a shock to you, but sometime between the recent increase of Boflex TV infomercials and outdoor signage for discounted gym memberships, the idea of New Years resolutions came to my mind. When it comes to resolutions, most people likely fall into one of two camps: either they despise the idea of resolutions, or they set unrealistic resolutions that are difficult to stick with for a month, never mind a full year. Others, like myself, jump from one camp to the other.

This year, I was president of the unrealistic resolutions camp. I had a laundry list of things I wanted to do this year. I wanted to learn instruments and languages. I wanted to earn promotions and more money. I wanted to be physically fit and be a more fit husband. Basically, I wanted to be perfect.

Then I read Chris Brogan’s post titled “My Three Words for 2012.” The premise is simple: Chris picks three words every year that help him better focus his goals and efforts. If you want to learn more about the process, you can (and I recommend that you do) read his entire post here.

Inspired by Chris, I scrapped my long list of resolutions, and in their place, have thought up three words that I want to guide me in 2013.

1) Confidence: Do you know what my first thought was when I originally created my laundry list of resolutions? “I won’t be able to do this.” You don’t have to be a genius to know that’s a bad attitude to have when starting something. For years, I’ve suffered from low self-esteem and a belief that all others are better than myself. But do you know what happens when you believe that? It becomes true. That’s a bad outcome, and it doesn’t have to be that way. In 2013, it won’t. In 2013, I resolve to believe in myself. Believe in my opinions, my efforts, my abilities, and my intelligence. In 2013, I’m going to be confident.

2) Focus: Do you know who multi-tasks? Everyone. Do you know who isn’t very good at multi-tasking? Everyone. Like a lot of people, I think I’m pretty good at multi-tasking, and like a lot of people, I’m wrong. I used to multi-task because I felt inefficient if I didn’t. If you’re not putting 100% of your energy into something though, you’re worse than inefficient; you’re wasting your time. So in 2013, I’m going to focus. I’m not going to answer emails while I write blog posts. I’m not going to check my company’s Facebook or Twitter feeds when someone walks into my office to ask me a question. On the other hand, will I check Twitter while watching sports on TV? Absolutely. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

3) Tebow: TWIST! I bet you didn’t see that word coming. Look, I know Tim Tebow hasn’t played a meaningful role in a football game in over a year, and I know he’s talked about too much by the national media. I also know that’s he’s always handled himself professionally in front of the media, has always seen his larger role in life, and has always been positive when faced with adversity. We could use a little more of that in this world. So this year, I want to be a little more like Tebow. I want to stay above the low level gossip that makes its way into the office on a day-to-day basis. I want to take the high road when faced with a conflict and realize that in the grand scheme of things, it likely isn’t that important. Am I striving to be a saint? No. Even Tim Tebow has his breaking point. I just want to be a better person, with a more positive outlook on life and a bigger vision.

So there you go. Confidence. Focus. Tebow. Three words I plan on using in 2013 to become a better person. Like Chris asked in his original blog post, I’d love to know what three words you could come up with to focus your goals in 2013. If you feel like sharing, I welcome your comments below.

Here’s to a more confident, focused, and Tebowy 2013.

A Social Media Reminder from Tony Hawk

Like a lot of you reading this post, I follow brands, athletes and celebrities on social media. I pay attention to tweets, Facebook status updates and Instagram posts. I occasionally comment, retweet or repost on Instagram, and I like statuses that make me laugh. Lately though, I’ve found myself bored with those I follow. The more I think about it, the more I realize why; brands aren’t engaging on social media, they’re broadcasting.

I see the same tactics used across various social media platforms. Promotions and announcements on Twitter, cheesy “like this status if you’re excited for Friday” style Facebook updates, and shots of coffee cups with vintage filters on Instagram. This isn’t engaging. This isn’t social. This is boring.

So when I saw a giant donut with the words “Randy’s Donuts” in my Instagram feed last week, I didn’t think anything of it. When I saw it was posted by Tony Hawk, I didn’t think anything of it. When I read the caption, “Just hid a signed skateboard under the white dumpster here,” I became interested.

Roughly 30 minutes later, Hawk posted another image of an Instagram user holding a skateboard with the caption, “Congrats to @easyuno! That worked quite well. To all future seekers, UNDER the dumpster doesn’t mean IN the dumpster. Ew.”

The posts did well by Hawk’s Instagram standards. Hawk’s first post generated 441 comments, much higher than his normal updates, which fluctuate between 80-200 comments. The two posts also averaged 1200 likes, higher than the average of the previous five posts, which was roughly 970 likes. These numbers say something, although the sample size is small.

I include the numbers, because people will ask about them, but this story isn’t about numbers. I can guarantee you Tony Hawk isn’t worried about the numbers. Businesses and brands, however, are worried about the numbers, and that’s part of the problem. Lately, social media professionals have become increasingly obsessed with ROI and measurement. Marketers have become so concerned with numbers that in some cases, they’ve forgotten that social media primarily exists so people can be…well, social.

I understand the obsession with numbers. If you run a business, numbers matter. Sometimes though, the numbers get in the way of what social media was created for in the first place. Have some fun on social media. You might make an impression on a few hundred fans. You might only make an impression on one fan. The number doesn’t matter.

Only one fan won a skateboard from Tony Hawk, but I guarantee you that fan is a fan for life now. For those followers who didn’t win, no doubt they can’t wait for another giveaway, and I’m sure they’ll be paying closer attention to Hawk’s updates than they did before.

Don’t lose sight of what makes social media so much fun. Engage with your fans. Have fun with your fans. Stop broadcasting. Stop talking at them. Start talking with them. Be social. It’s what these platforms were made for.

We can thank Tony for reminding us of that.

What sports stadiums and European restaurants have in common

This past May, my wife and I spent a few weeks traveling in Europe, where we toured Paris, France for a few days before venturing down to Florence, Italy. As an American in Europe, I had very minimal awareness of the restaurant scene in either city apart from a bit of research on Trip Advisor and Yelp before flying across the pond. This seemed to be fairly common. On our first night or two in Paris, my wife and I saw tourists from all countries wandering the streets aimlessly at dinner time looking perplexed at menus written in a foreign language as restaurant employees stood in doorways making sales pitches in broken English.

People Love Us On YelpWhen we arrived in Florence, we were confronted by a different sales pitch. Restaurant upon restaurant with signs in the windows boasting about social network ratings. Signs that read “Check us out on Trip Advisor” or “People love us on Yelp.” In principle, I found this to be a much better sales pitch. The restaurants were allowing their customers, past and present, to do the selling for them.

The problem? Finding these reviews and ratings required an Internet connection, and as a tourist traveling on the budget, I had zero 3G coverage, and thus no access to the Internet outside of my apartment building. The result? Unable to check on recent reviews, my wife and I typically moved on from the restaurant.

At the restaurants we did walk into, we typically had great experiences. This was, after all, Italy. Again though, we were unable to take part in the social conversation about the restaurant by boasting about the restaurant on Yelp or posting pictures of our dishes to Trip Advisor.

These European restaurants had the right idea. They encouraged tourists to use social networks to find out more about them or document their own experiences. They just didn’t consider the necessary steps to facilitate such sharing. The restaurants could have remedied the situation by offering free Wi-Fi for customers to access their ratings. By not doing so, they created missed opportunities and frustrating moments for the me and other customers who wanted to take part in the online conversation featured by the restaurant but was unable to.

What does this long-winded story have to do with sports? Much like food experiences, sports are inherently social. You’ve probably read that phrase countless times if you’re interested in this sports/social media subculture, but it’s only repeated so frequently because it’s true. There’s a reason roughly half of the top 15 most tweeted-per-second events are sports related, including the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, and FIFA soccer matches. There’s a reason Instagram photos posted by stadiums in Major League Baseball stadiums are up 400% from last season, according to VenueSeen. There’s a reason Perform sports media group found that twenty-six percept of sports fans were using social media to follow leagues, teams and players in 2012, a number up from 15% in 2011.

The 2nd Screen Viewing ExperienceWith all the social sharing and publishing happening during sporting events, it’s no longer satisfying for a fan to just watch the game. More and more, fans are consuming sporting events accompanied by a smartphone or tablet on which to join the online conversation on Twitter and Facebook or check a fantasy team to see how the latest touchdown or home run has impacted their weekly matchup.

So how does this relate to Wi-Fi? Fans want to watch the game and take advantage of the 2nd screen experience too. Too often though, stadiums are filled with tens of thousands of other fans wanting the same experience, which leads to congested 3G networks that get bogged down and offer unreliable service. As a New England Patriots fan, I can attest to this personally. I’ve attended multiple games at Gillette Stadium in the past year, and can specifically remember failed tweets, Facebook status updates, and Instagram postings that failed at every one of them. I know I’m not alone. Similar reports have surfaced from Citi Field in New York and Amway Arena in Orlando.

The effect of this is that, for the first time since I became a sports fan, the viewing experience is now arguably better for fans at home than at the stadium. This is obviously a problem for teams, who need fans in the stands to create a home-field advantage for the players. The stadiums, in effect, are like the European restaurants I encountered in May. They want patrons to be social and record their experiences, but lack the back-end support system to make it possible or reliable.

NFL Commissioner Roger GoodellSome leagues are jumping aboard the Wi-Fi bandwagon quicker than others. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell recently said he wanted wireless Internet for all mobile devices in every NFL stadium, saying “We want to make sure that our fans, when they come into our stadiums, don’t have to shut down.” One thing specifically not mentioned in his remarks? The price of that Wi-Fi.

As the sports social landscape continues to evolve, it’s up to professional teams to ensure their stadiums offer free access to reliable Internet service, enabling fans to publish their in-game experiences. If they don’t, word will spread, and fans will slowly stop attending games in person. After all, sports are inherently social, especially in a fan’s living room.

Quick Hits

Quick Hits

So much has happened in the sports Twitter-verse over the past few weeks. I’m hoping to find some time to write about a few of these topics in more detail, but in case that isn’t in the cards, here is a quick rundown of topics that have had my attention lately.

#Linsanity

This isn’t a small story, and as a result, I’m not going to give you much background on Jeremy Lin. He’s been mentioned on every medium imaginable, from ESPN to Sports Illustrated to CNN and NPR. Suffice to say, Twitter has not been an exception. At one point during his recent run, Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch noted in a tweet that the New York Knicks Twitter feed (@nyknicks) had mentioned Lin 29 times in a 24 hour span. The rest of Twitter has followed suit. His Twitter account, @JLin7, has skyrocketed to almost 400,000 followers, and he has become a trending topic in just about every game he’s played.

One thing with Jeremy Lin. I’m hearing a lot of comparisons to Tim Tebow, and I don’t agree with them. The stories just aren’t similar enough beyond the quick Twitter success. Also, the NFL is set up for long term trending figures. By only playing once a week, the media is given six days a week to obsess over a particular player, and audiences all over are always left wanting more. By contrast, NBA teams play a few times a week, which makes me think that sports media personalities and Twitter users alike will tire of the #Linsanity sooner rather than later.

Could a @KingJames jersey be coming to an arena near you?

Probably not; the NBA is too big and possesses too many moving parts to make it work, at least in the near future. The idea is out there though, thanks to the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League (NLL). On February 12th, the Wings made history by becoming the first professional sports team to stitch Twitter usernames on the back of player jerseys where last names are typically found. Steve Olenski has a great write-up of the event on socialmediatoday.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @steveolenski. Olenski thinks we’ll see other professional sports leagues take a wait and see approach to the idea, and I tend to agree. I’m not sure we’ll ever see such a gimmick in the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL, but I could see the idea catch on in leagues such as NASCAR or MLS, where organizations and teams are more willing to get creative to foster fan engagement and generate national publicity.

#Hashtags starting to make it big

Business to customer (B2C) organizations have been using sponsored hashtags for a while now as a way to create buzz about new products or services, with mixed results. Lately, the same could be said for sports organizations. Sports Illustrated just debuted a sponsored hashtag on their latest cover of Jeremy Lin, with the hashtag #SILinsanity written across the magazine’s headline. The action was met with a large amount of scrutiny, with criticism largely centering around the idea that putting a sponsored hash tag on the SI cover goes against the reputation SI has built throughout their history. I can’t say I agree with the sentiment. As times change, businesses should be commended for changing with them. Sports Illustrated saw an opportunity to capitalize on a growing trend, and took advantage of it.

The PGA Tour, another traditional organization, also recently allowed for hashtags to be featured. Equipment maker TaylorMade recently placed the hashtag #driverlove on the side of baseball hats worn by sponsored players. The hashtag is part of a larger campaign from TaylorMade centering on the feeling golfers feel towards their new TaylorMade drivers. In an interview with social media site Mashable.com, TaylorMade’s chief marketing officer Bob Maggiore said the brand is looking to try new ways of engaging with customers using social media. Maggiore also told the site the hashtag already has a modest “cult following” among golfers and fans after two rounds of practice at the Northern Trust.

Why I’m starting this blog

A few thoughts for anyone that stumbles upon this blog before it’s officially launched. I’m starting this blog because as a sports and social media follower, I found there wasn’t a whole lot out in the blogosphere about how the two subjects interact. I’m hoping to fill that gap. I’ve written a little bit about me in the “about” section of this blog. Feel free to check it out.

“I’ve been a sports fan since I was eight years old. That year, while visiting my grandparents, I sat next to my grandfather while he watched the Philadelphia Phillies on TV. I had no idea who they were playing or what the rules of the game were, but it didn’t matter. I know that he cared an awful lot about what was happening on that screen, and I know I cared an awful lot soon after. That fall, I experienced my first heartbreak when Philadelphia Phillies reliever Mitch Williams gave up a World Series winning home  run to Joe Carter. I vividly remember crying myself to sleep that night.  A year after that, my father bought season tickets for the New England Patriots. A new owner, Robert Kraft, had bought the team, and on the same day he did so, thousands of others had bought season tickets as well. As a sports fan, my life would never be the same after I experienced my first professional football game in person that fall.

Over the course of the next decade, I became an obsessed fan, first with the only two teams I had ever really rooted for, and eventually with sports as a culture. I read boxscores for the whole league in the paper each morning, watched Sportscenter while making breakfast, and listened to the local sports radio station on my commute to school, and later, work. I prided myself on being the first fan to know breaking news, or being the fan other friends came to when they had a question about a player on a roster, a trade rumor, or a coaching change.

That all changed when I discovered Twitter. Since being founded in 2006, Twitter has changed the sports landscape by redefining breaking news. Transactions, rumors, and injury news used to break on TV for some, the morning paper for most. Now, news spreads instantly from media members, agents, or even the athletes themselves. For fans, Twitter has made it possible to connect with fans on a global level.

The results have been overwhelmingly positive. Athletes such as Lance Armstrong, Shaquille O’Neal, and Chad Ochocinco have used the service to enhance their personal brand by directly engaging with fans. Ochocinco once treated fans of an opposing team to dinner, while Shaq used the mico-blogging service to announce his retirement from professional basketball. There have been a few hiccups along the way. Larry Johnson was released from the Kansas City Chiefs for a negative tweet about his coach, and Antonio Cromartie saw his time in San Diego end partially due to his Twitter use. For the most part though, athletes are getting it.

For organizations, governing bodies, and leagues, the curve has been slower. Historically, a large amount of time has been spent creating social media policies for employees and athletes. We’ve only just recently arrived to the point where sport teams themselves are expected to have a social media presence. For those that do, a large percentage of them seem to use Twitter as a bulletin board, posting game results, player transactions, or team news only. Engagement has been slow to evolve.

Make no mistake though, we are entering that phase. Twitter is here to stay, and it will continue to shape the way sporting news is shared. While that relationship grows, I’ll be here to cover it. I hope you’ll join me.”