Bubba Watson Wins the Masters, Celebrates by Thanking Fans on Twitter

Bubba Watson with the General LeeHe has never taken a golf lesson. He owns the General Lee, the classic Dodge Charger from the Dukes of Hazzard. He’s the southern boy wearing overalls with no shirt in the parody boy band The Golf Boys. He’s considering serving In-N-Out Burgers at the Masters Champions Dinner next year. It appears, on the surface, that Bubba Watson, the latest, and maybe most improbable Masters champion, does not take himself too seriously.

Look a little deeper though. There is another side to Watson. The side with a newly adopted son; a baby boy that Watson referred to as a “gamechanger” on Twitter late in March. There is the devout Christian side of Watson; the side that Watson displayed a few hours before his memorable final round at Augusta National when he tweeted, “Thessalonians 5:16-18 Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” There’s the emotional side; the side on display for all the world to see when Watson won golf’s most prestigious tournament on Sunday afternoon.

Look even further. There is a humble side. A gracious side. A grounded side. By now you know the name Bubba Watson. He who won the 76th Masters Tournament Sunday afternoon after a miraculous shot out of the woods on the 2nd sudden death playoff hole. He who bawled uncontrollably, first with his caddie, and then with his mother, after sinking his final putt. Both were impressive and heartwarming to see. Yet it was what Watson did on Monday morning that really stuck with me.

Bubba Watson Thanks Fans on TwitterYou see, Bubba Watson, like many other professional athletes, is on Twitter. In the moments first during, and then after, his victory at Augusta, his Twitter handle, @bubbawatson, was flooded with mentions. It would be easy for any professional athlete to write a generic “thank you” tweet to all those who said congratulations, and Watson did just that, tweeting, “Thanks to all my tweeter Friends for the support!! #loveyall.” Yet Watson went a step further. He went through his timeline and wrote an individual message of “thanks” to 32 Twitter followers.

That may not seem like much. After all, Watson has almost 450,000 followers on Twitter. However, while so many social media commentators talk about athletes using Twitter as a way to converse directly with fans, very few athletes actually use it as anything more than a digital billboard. Athletes often cite the ability to communicate directly with fans as a primary reason for their using of Twitter. Yet many still take advantage of this feature by sending mass messages to large fan bases. What makes Watson’s situation unique is that he sent 32 individual messages to various well-wishers.

Watson has shown that he understands the way Twitter is used. He frequently uses Twitter to converse with other PGA tour members, professional athletes, and sports reporters. Just in the past 24 hours, Watson has talked golf with Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, exchanged diaper stories with ESPN reporter Dana Jacobson, and set a golfing date with Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick.

Watson’s win at the Master’s has made him the number four golfer in the world golf rankings. He currently sits at number three on TweetStarGame.com, a web-site that seeks to measure and rank professional athletes on Twitter, with a 74 Klout score. It’s par saves and long drives that can push Watson to the top of the world golf rankings in due time. It’s engagement with fans and other TweetStars alike that will set Watson apart from his fellow PGAers on the TweetStarGame leaderboard.

Do you follow Bubba Watson on Twitter? Has a professional athlete ever responded directly to a tweet of yours? How did it make you feel? Let us know in the comments section below!

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In the Sports World, Verified Accounts are Key

“It’s been a great journey down here in #Beantown my agent just confirmed im heading to Tampa to play with the Rays. miss you #Soxnation.” – @MikeAviles3

That’s how Red Sox shortstop Mike Aviles broke the news of his being traded to the Tampa Bay Rays this past month. The problem? He wasn’t traded to the Rays. In fact, he wasn’t traded anywhere. Another problem? Mike Aviles wasn’t on Twitter.

Check out influential athletes’ Twitter profiles, and you’ll notice an icon next to their Twitter username; a small ribbon with a checkmark on it. The icon signifies that a particular account has been verified by Twitter. Verified accounts are those that Twitter has claimed are authentic and are created by the actual person whose name is on the account. For example, that CJ Wilson’s account @str8edgeracer is really CJ Wilson, and not just a fan that created the account as a way to pay homage.

CJ Wilson Twitter Profile

Despite Twitter’s best efforts to verify as many accounts as possible, typically only influential athletes get verified accounts. Take a look at the starting lineup and bench for Major League Baseball on tweetstargame.com, and you’ll notice that every athlete’s Twitter account, sans Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, is verified. You’ll also notice that the lowest Klout score among the athletes is 59, much higher than the average Klout score of 20. This leaves many less influential athletes with unverified accounts. These accounts belong to lesser-known athletes like Aviles. Aviles, a 30 year-old shortstop for the Boston Red Sox, started his career with the small market Kansas City Royals, and has never hit more than 10 homeruns, stolen over 14 bases, or played in over 110 games in a season.

While Aviles may not be considered influential according to Klout, his account was influential enough that the Red Sox had to officially deny the report. Additionally, Aviles took to Twitter with an official account, @themikeaviles, to announce that he was in fact still a member of the Boston Red Sox. The event is another example of the current sports media landscape, where the invention of Twitter, and its ability to let anyone break news, has created an atmosphere where the race to be the first to break news has become paramount for journalists. That need involves occasionally running with unverified, and potentially false, information. We’ve recently seen this with matters involving Joe Paterno and Dwight Howard.

Mike Aviles Twitter Profile

I don’t know what the fix is to this situation. Verification doesn’t come easy. Despite his recent issue, Aviles’s new authentic Twitter account still hasn’t been verified by Twitter, and journalists aren’t likely to wait to write breaking news. Doing so would run the risk of the news being broken by a rival journalist. The more likely situation is that we continue to struggle with this environment. An environment in which athletes can break news directly via Twitter, fans can create short-term chaos by releasing fake news via the same platform, and journalists and fans can’t tell the difference.

Should Professional Franchises Express Opinions on Twitter?

This past February, the Calgary Flames found themselves in the midst of a Twitter crisis. As news spread that Edmonton Oilers forward Ales Hemsky would be receiving a new contract, a tweet went out from the Calgary Flames official Twitter feed that was less than professional.

The Flames quickly addressed the matter by removing the tweet and issuing an apology. Then, later that day, they addressed the problem directly on their website by explaining that the Social Media manager intended to tweet from his personal account, but accidentally sent the tweet from the Flames’ official account.

Accidental tweets aren’t a new phenomenon in the sports world. After all, when discussing sports, we’re often talking about emotionally charged individuals with the power to immediately reach millions of fans and journalists. In 2012 alone, we’ve seen accidental or controversial tweets from Sean Locklear of the Washington Redskins and Delonte West of the Dallas Mavericks, as well as former Cleveland Browns beat writer Tony Grossi, who tweeted “He is a pathetic figure, the most irrelevant billionaire in the world” regarding Browns owner Randy Lerner. The tweet, like so many others, was meant to be a direct message intended for a colleague rather than public consumption.

So when news spread yesterday of Tim Tebow’s trade to the New York Jets, causing a Twitter explosion of news and opinions on the trade, it should have been expected that we’d be subjected to an accidental tweet. It seemed that we got one too, when the Washington Redskins official Twitter account tweeted the following opinion yesterday afternoon:

Yet 15 minutes after the tweet, it became clear it was no accident. Not only did the Redskins not delete the tweet, they defended it, twice. While that means we can’t add the Redskins to the list of organizations delivering accidental tweets, we can examine them as a unique sports organization that shares opinions on Twitter.

The Redskins, like other organizations, rely on a single person to manage team social media channels, and that’s ok. Additionally, one can assume that any person managing social media for a professional sports organization is a sports fan, and thus has opinions about signings, transactions and other happenings; and that’s ok too. When those elements are added together incorrectly, however, a team can end up in danger.

Social media managers need to remember that they aren’t just voicing their own opinion when using a platform like Twitter. Rather, they represent the entire organization or brand. In the case of the Redskins, that means players, coaches and front office personnel. Does head coach Mike Shanahan think Tebow and the Jets is an awkward fit? What about team owner Daniel Snyder? Maybe they do and maybe they don’t, I don’t know. What I do know is that the Redskins social media manager didn’t either. I also know that even if Snyder and Shanahan did believe the Tebow trade didn’t make a lot of sense for the New York Jets, they certainly wouldn’t publish that information on any public platform.

Tweeting opinions, especially negative, about a competing organization is never a good thing. It’s irresponsible, unprofessional, and uncalled for. Athletes are frequently reprimanded for their inappropriate tweets. When they are, they often talk about their need to realize that they represent an entire organization when they vocalize their opinions. Why aren’t Social Media managers given the same treatment? If anything, the punishment should be more severe. These are professionals who supposedly know better.

Alas, Twitter is a notoriously fast moving medium, and the masses will quickly forget about the Redskins much in the same way they did the Calgary Flames. Regardless of the attention they get, the Redskins should do the right thing. They should pull the tweet and issue an apology.

What do you think? Do you agree that the Redskins made a mistake here, or do you believe opinions demonstrate the human element of otherwise boring organizational Twitter feeds? Let your voice be heard in the comments section.

Twitter Handles: Coming Soon to a Uniform Near You

It first happened on the PGA tour in early February. TaylorMade, one of golf’s biggest equipment vendors, stitched the sponsored Twitter hashtag, #driverlove, on the side of hats worn by golfers endorsed by the company. The tag was in reference to TaylorMade’s marketing campaign, which looks to characterize the feeling golfers have with TaylorMade drivers.

Philadelphia Wings Twitter Jerseys

It happened again a few days later, when the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League became the first professional sports team in America to wear jerseys with their Twitter handles on the back in place of their last names. The switch, which was the result of a campaign that sought to increase the awareness of the Wings’ Twitter presence, only lasted one game. The team raffled off the jerseys after the game for charity.

Then it happened again this past week, when Dexter Fowler of the Colorado Rockies tweeted a picture of teammate Eric Young Jr.’s cleats, which featured Young’s Twitter handle, @EYjr, on the heal of the cleat.

If once is an event, and twice is a coincidence, then three times is a pattern; and in this case, the pattern is clear: Twitter is infiltrating sports uniforms.

The reasoning behind the trend isn’t hard to figure out. Athletes are learning how helpful Twitter can be, when used correctly, in becoming more marketable and popular. Influential Twitter accounts can lead to new sponsorship deals, as Kevin Durant can attest to. Durant, one of the more influential NBA players on Twitter, recently partnered up with Nike for their newest product, the Nike+ FuelBand. Durant wore the band at the NBA All-Star festivities, and continues to wear the band today. During the day, he tweets about the amount of fuel he has earned, challenges fans to keep up with him, and on occasion, tweets back to those who have. The result is a powerful brand ambassador for Nike, new fans and followers for Kevin Durant, and a higher level of exposure for everyone.

Moving forward, more athletes and companies will look to create similar bonds as Twitter becomes a recognized platform to endorse products. When they do, companies will look for athletes with Twitter influence. Engaging with fans is the key component to building that influence, but the first step in the process is building a large following to engage with. To accomplish that, athletes need to promote their Twitter handle, and for an athlete, there is no better place to gain visibility then on the field. Hence, the growing trend of Twitter handles on uniforms.

For athletes then, the required task is finding an area on a uniform on which to put a Twitter handle. Sounds simple, right? Wrong. Standing in every athlete’s way are league policies that state what can and can’t appear on a player’s uniform. Not surprisingly, for several leagues, the list of what can’t appear on a uniform is much longer and more detailed than what can. These policies force athletes to get creative, as Eric Young Jr. did when he put his Twitter handle on the heel of his cleat. Where else can we expect to see Twitter handles pop up?

Major League Baseball’s policy specifically violates patches and designs relating to commercial advertisements on any part of the uniform. However, one could argue that a player isn’t promoting a commercial entity if it is their personal Twitter handle. MLB also states, “any player other than the pitcher may have numbers, letters, insignia attached to the sleeve of the undershirt.” That would seem to indicate undershirt sleeves are fair game. Also, don’t be surprised if you see a Twitter handle appear on a player’s baseball glove at some point this season.

In the National Basketball Association, players will have to take a page out of Eric Young’s playbook and look to their feet. NBA’s uniform policy specifically states what is allowed in terms of writing on all pieces of NBA equipment, including headbands, wristbands, calf sleeves and arm sleeves. It also states that, “no unauthorized commercial, promotional or charitable name, mark, logo or other identification can be displayed on player’s body, hair or otherwise.” However, the sneaker section stipulates only that the sneakers must be white, black and the colors of the team identify only, and that the left and right sneaker must match. Adornments are also prohibited, so if an athlete wants their Twitter handle on their sneaker, they’ll need to have it built into the shoe design.

In the National Hockey League, the uniform policy doesn’t mention goalie masks or tape on sticks. Goalie masks can get pretty detailed, but I would bet that an artist could find space on there to include a Twitter handle above the facemask, where it would get plenty of exposure. Another area where a player could get their Twitter handle noticed would be on the stick’s blade. A player is allowed to tape the blade of the stick, and could easily write a Twitter handle using a permanent marker on the tape.

No league, however, is tougher to crack than the National Football League.

Steve Johnson Happy New Year undershirt

When it comes to uniform policies, the NFL is as detailed and restrictive as they come. This is, after all, the league that fined Buffalo Bills receiver Stevie Johnson for wishing fans a happy new year on his undershirt this past season. The NFL includes “every visible item of apparel” in their definition of a uniform, meaning everything from shoelaces to athletic tape to sideline hats is covered. For athletes in the NFL, I suggest you get extra creative and shave your Twitter handle into the side of your head.

Other sports seem more willing to bend on uniform matters. One would think the PGA tour would be open to the idea of Twitter after the success of #driverlove. Nascar is a sport filled with decals, and is fresh off a Daytona 500 that made a significant impact on Twitter. Might they allow a driver to convert their name above the driver-side window to a Twitter Handle?

However and wherever it happens, Twitter handles will continue to make appearances on professional sports uniforms. For players who seek to use the platform as a marketing tool, visibility is imperative, and uniforms offer the perfect platform. Where do you think we’ll see Twitter handles next in sports? Do you think leagues will change their policies to become more accepting of athletes promoting personal Twitter accounts on the field? Let me know in the comments section below.

Facebook Cover Photos: Brought to you by the Philadelphia Phillies

When Facebook timeline was announced for brands earlier this year, bloggers and social media web sites correctly pointed out that the switch would enable brands to push content to fans in a more aesthetically pleasing and interactive way. And indeed, since the switch was made on February 29th, we’ve seen a large number of brands lead the way with innovative and creative timeline pages and cover photos, one of the most noticeable differences between timeline and the old profile page layout. Redbull, Starbucks, Coca-Cola and Manchester United were among the first to take advantage of the change in layout. Yet one thing organizations haven’t done is release branded cover photos that fans can upload to their personal Facebook profile page. That is, until now.

Major League Baseball isn’t typically considered to be one of the more groundbreaking organizations when it comes to social media. That being said, the Philadelphia Phillies have recently released what I believe to be the first instance of an organizational branded cover photo specifically meant for a fan’s Facebook profile. The Phillies announced the available photos via Twitter and Facebook, and are marketing the images by telling fans, “The Phillies have you covered.” The collection of images include a panoramic picture of their home stadium as well as images of current star players.

The move is a clever one. By releasing branded cover photos, the Phillies can transform fans into brand ambassadors by having them publish the image as their Facebook cover photo. Rarely does a team, or any brand for that matter, give fans a reason to go back to their actual Facebook page after they like the page. However, Facebook users are much more likely to go to a friend’s Facebook profile page. When they do, the cover photo will likely be the first thing that draws their attention, according to Mashable. The popular social media site discovered in late December 2011 via eye tracking software that Facebook users looking at Facebook timeline profiles looked at a user’s cover photo first, and additionally, that it only took a user .5 seconds to look at it. For brands, that means that their brand photo can be the first object a Facebook user looks at, even when they’re looking at a friend’s Facebook page rather than the brand’s page.

Roy Halladay's Facebook Cover Photo

The Phillies may be the first organization to release branded Facebook cover photos, but they assuredly will not be the last. For sports organizations, athletes are an incredible selling point, and cover photos lend themselves well to dramatic images of athletes in action.

What do you think of the idea? Do you think more brands will use this tactic in the future? Most importantly, would you make your cover photo a branded image from an organization, sports or otherwise, that you support?

Voice your opinion in the comments section below, and check out all of the Phillies branded cover photos here.

Three Teams. Three Leagues. Three Social Media Lessons.

These days, every professional sports team has a social media presence. They have Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, blogs, and more. Lately, teams have even started finding roles on Instagram or Pinterest.  Unfortunately, it seems that most teams’ strategy ends with a presence. Look through Twitter feeds of organizations and you’ll find they’re all filled with links to game previews and recaps, video highlights and team transactions. On Facebook, a team might get fans to ‘like’ them, but rarely do they give them any real incentive to revisit the page. It isn’t that the desire isn’t there. More likely, it’s the result of not knowing where to start. Luckily, a few teams have gotten creative and created a path for other teams to follow. Today, we’re looking at three teams in three different leagues who have achieved success in social media.

The Cleveland Indians

The Network: Blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

The Strategy: Find opinion leaders, treat them well, and let them do the talking.

How they did it: In 2009, the Cleveland Indians were coming off two straight disappointing seasons in an economy that was also trending downward. So when the Indians looked in increase conversation and engagement in the community, they looked towards social media. They transformed a section of their stadium into what they called the

The Cleveland Indians Social Suite

‘Tribe Social Deck.’ The section came with free wireless internet and access to content previously available to members of the press only. The club then invited opinion leaders within the Cleveland Indians online community to invite to the suite. As awareness of the club spread, fans were able to submit applications to be invited. Fans were allowed to bring friends and were encouraged to blog and tweet about their experiences. After the season, the Indians enhanced the club by moving it to a private suite, complete with protection from the weather and an indoor living space designed to stimulate conversation between game attendees. They also renamed the club the ‘Indians Social Suite.’ In an attempt to get some ROI out of the campaign, they added discounts for fans who liked the team on Facebook or followed on Twitter.

The Payoff: Believable third-party endorsements and a more active community. A 214% increase in Facebook ‘likes’, a 699% increase in Twitter followers, and a 174% increase in revenue from social media efforts.

The Lesson: Any team can brag about their stadium or game day experience. It’s much more believable when it comes from another fan, especially if that fan is already considered a respected voice in the community.

The Boston Celtics

The Network: Facebook

The Strategy: Gain better demographic data from fans.

How they did it: When you’re the Boston Celtics, getting fans to like you isn’t a huge problem. That includes getting fans to ‘like’ you on Facebook. But what happens after that? How do you get fans to engage with you? What do you do with the information you’ve gained about those fans? For the Celtics, answering that question involved an initial

The Boston Celtics 3-Point Playfinancial investment, a partnership with an outside vendor and a lot of thought. The end result was the 3-Point Play, a Facebook application in which fans pick three Celtic players and predict a statistic for an upcoming game. Points are awarded based on accuracy and the risk level of a fan’s picks. After each game, the top-scoring fan wins tickets to an upcoming home game. The game is quick and easy to play, and fans only have to play once for the Celtics to gain access to their demographic information. That information gets added to the Celtics team database. Once they have that information, they are better likely to see how much fans are spending on tickets or merchandise, as well as how often they spend on those items.

The Payoff: Since creating the 3-Point Play, the Celtics have added 85,000 Facebook fans to their marketing database. More importantly, they’ve sold almost $200,000 in tickets to those fans.

The Lesson: Give fans a reason to not only like your page but keep coming back. Then promote that reason on every platform you can to drive up awareness and interest. Know what demographic information you want from those fans, and more importantly, how to take advantage of that information.

The New Jersey Devils

The Network: Blogs, Twitter, and ‘offline’ viewing parties.

The Strategy:

1. Use influential fans to create engaging dialogue on game days and off-days alike.

2. Capitalize on that fan engagement by getting area partners to advertise.

How they did it: Despite a long track record of on-ice success, the New Jersey Devils were having a hard time creating a strong fan base in Newark, NJ, where they play less

The New Jersey Devils Mission Control

than 30 minutes from the more popular New York Rangers. So early in 2011, the Devils took a page from the Cleveland Indians social media strategy, and created a social media control center focused on influential fans. They called the center ‘Mission Control’, and gave a 25-person group, called the ‘Devils Army Generals,’ the room, assigned with the task of monitoring social media activity, blogging, arranging Tweet-ups, answering team questions and more. After accomplishing successful levels of fan engagement, the Devils took the strategy one step further. They used the Command Center as a lead in sales meetings, selling advertising opportunities to area vendors. Those partners sponsor online fantasy games and fan contests, rather than sponsored Tweets or posts, which keeps fans from getting force fed advertisements.

The Payoff:

1. Over 70,000 Facebook likes in the first month, and 1,000 new Twitter followers a week.

2. $500,000 in revenue from marketing partnerships in 2011.

The Lesson:

1. Your best fans will volunteer to work for you.

2. Engagement is great, but you can benefit financially as well without inundating fans with ads.

You can find more information on the above campaigns from the following links:

The Indians Social Suite: http://www.marketingsherpa.com/article.php?ident=32066#

The Celtics 3-Point Play: http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2012/02/27/Opinion/Peter-Stringer.aspx

The Devils Command Center: http://www.badrhinoblog.com/2012/02/how-the-devils-monetized-social-media/

Brad @Keselowski Finds Twitter Stardom

The NBA, NFL, and MLB don’t allow in-game tweeting by athletes. Luckily for Brad Keselowski, NASCAR doesn’t have such a policy. Keselowski set the Twitter-verse ablaze on Monday night during NASCAR’s Daytona 500 when he tweeted multiple pictures from his iPhone on the racetrack and answered fan questions while NASCAR fixed the track from a fire with 40 laps to go in the race. The tweets were the first of their kind, and shed light on several matters regarding in-game tweeting. So, what lessons can we take from Monday night?

Brad Keselowski's view from the track set the Twitter-verse ablaze Monday night.

Fans love a change in perspective: Fox Sports had a multitude of TV cameras recording every angle of the major moment in this year’s race, which occurred when Juan Pablo Montoya’s car broke and swerved into a service truck, which was pulling a jet engine used to clear and dry the race track. The result was a massive explosion, a flow of leaking fuel, and a fire that quick spread down the track. Fox, with nothing else to analyze, played back several angles of the crash. Yet, Keselowski’s image, a simple iPhone photo from the driver’s seat of his car, was retweeted over 5,000 times and quickly led to his being a worldwide trending topic on Twitter.

Fans love inside information: Leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB don’t like in game tweeting for several reasons, one of which is the risk of the player leaking valuable, and confidential, information. Fans, on the other hand, crave such information. Keselowski’s photo wasn’t anything spectacular; the blaze that consumed part of the track was hardly visible beyond the race cars just in front of Keselowski. What made the image spectacular was that nobody else had access to that but the drivers. It made Twitter followers feel like they were part of the action.

Fans will always love an athlete who tweets back: Keselowski could have called it a successful night after tweeting his insider view of the crash. Instead, he continued to reply to fans @ replies from inside and car and outside on the track. Keselowski answered questions about everything from where he was tweeting to how much battery life he had left on his phone. Along the way, Keselowski racked up followers. At the start of the race, Keselowski had roughly 65,000 followers. His initial picture almost doubled his follower count. As he answered fan questions, he passed 125,000 and eventually 200,000. As of his posting, Keselowski stands at a little over 220,000 followers. That’s more than other, and more well known stars such as Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr, according to the New York Times.

Keselowski continues to engage fans using his Twitter account, @keselowski, and NASCAR has stated they have no plans to fine him for using his phone in the car. But next time NASCAR experiences a red flag, don’t expect Keselowski to be the only driver tweeting.

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.

Should Universities have access to a student-athlete’s Twitter account?

It turns out Yuri Wright was only the beginning of NCAA student-athlete related social media stories. A recent bill was introduced to the Maryland State legislature as Senate Bill 434 that seeks to prohibit institutions from “requiring a student or an applicant for admission to provide access to a personal account or service through an electronic communications device.” While the bill will apply to all students, its primary focus is student-athletes, particularly of schools with high profile athletic programs.

Brad Shear, a lawyer from Washington, DC, and big proponent of the bill, believes this bill protects free speech and privacy rights that student-athletes have under the constitution. According to Shear, these bills are actually a blessing for schools as well, since most schools with social media policies, like the University of North Carolina, are creating policies that are unconstitutional.  Says Shear, “Now is the time to rectify the situation before schools are left with tremendous legal bills defending unconstitutional policies and tort judgments for negligence.” Shear provides several other excellent examples of why institutions will benefit from this bill, but I won’t go into detail about those here. Rather, you should pay his blog a visit and read his post on the matter in its entirety.

I understand where schools are coming from when creating these policies. For schools with large, profitable athletic programs, they are looking to protect themselves as a brand against student-athletes that speak out of line on what has become a fast-moving public medium. In fact, if you read the UNC social media policy for student-athletes, you can see their stance.

From the official UNC student-athlete social media policy: “…playing and competing for The University of North Carolina is a privilege, not a right. As a student-athlete, you represent the University and you are expected to portray yourself, your team, and the University in a positive manner at all times.”

UNC also gives students warnings about: everything posted being public, followers becoming fans or friends for the wrong reasons, fans stalking athletes based on check-ins and future employers (like professional sports organizations) judging players on the content they post. These warnings are well intended, and praise should be given to North Carolina officials for forcing students to read and be responsible to the dangers of these platforms.

Where the University of North Carolina erred, and where Maryland Senate Bill 434 seeks to rectify the situation, is in this sentence, from the Monitoring and Consequences portion of the UNC policy: “Each team must identify at least one coach or administrator who is responsible for having access to (emphasis added) and regularly monitoring the content of team members’ social networking sites and postings…”

It is this policy, where a team official is required to have access to an athlete’s social media account, which breaks the privacy rights of the student. What is confusing about this policy, even more so than the blatant privacy rights issue, is why a school feels having access to an account gives them an advantage in keeping negative comments from reaching the public. To demonstrate, let’s look at Yuri Wright’s situation again. Wright removed the racist and sexually charged tweets after realizing they had caused a stir, but his actions were too late. The tweets were still obtainable to those who had Twitter open and could go back in their timeline to find the tweets.

Let’s say the University of North Carolina noticed, by following a student on Twitter, that a student-athlete had tweeted something negative or inappropriate. By having access to that student’s account, they could go into the account and delete the tweet, but it wouldn’t matter. That tweet would still be public, would still be saved, and would still become a story if the content of the tweet warranted it.

What has UNC really accomplished by logging into the student’s account? Sure, they’ve closed the window of publicity a bit, but they haven’t shut it completely. With Twitter, and most other social media networks, that window can never be completely shut.

Maryland Senate Bill 434 has a change to pass statewide and set a model for nationwide adoption. It will take a great step towards protecting student privacy rights, but will also protect universities from themselves.

For High School Student-Athletes, A Lesson on the Dangers of Twitter

These days, it’s no secret that college football recruiting is big business. Division I teams spend entire calendar years searching for and then recruiting the next big thing. Some high school student-athletes wait until signing day to declare where they plan to spend the next three or four years of their lives. Some give a verbal commitment before they’ve even fully reached puberty, like Delaware prep QB David Sills, who, at 13 years old, verbally committed to USC in 2010.

With all the national attention given to the process and the players, it’s easy to forget that these kids are, well, exactly that: kids. Gunner Kiel, for example, was recently criticized for verbally committing first to Indiana before changing his mind and committing to LSU, before changing his mind again and committing to Notre Dame. We expect these young men to act like grown adults, but try to think back to when you were 18 years old. Personally, I changed my mind multiple times in trying to decide what to eat for lunch, never mind trying to make a decision about what school was best for my future, both academically and athletically. Add on to that the national exposure and pressure put on these kids from family, friends, and coaching staffs, and it’s not surprising these kids occasionally experience indecision.

Yuri Wright (rivals.com)

Also not surprising? The latest trend in college football recruiting: the rescinding of football scholarships to athletes who misbehave on Twitter. This story recently gained national attention, especially among recruiting websites, when Yuri Wright, a senior from Bosco Prep High School in Ramsey, NJ, was expelled from his school over sexually explicit and racially charged tweets. Before the expulsion, Wright ranked 40th on ESPNU’s top 150 high school athletes and was recruited by schools in the Big Ten, Pac-12, ACC, SEC, and Big East before ultimately deciding on his dream school, the University of Michigan. After the expulsion, however, Wright lost his scholarship to Michigan, and several other big time programs as well. Wright isn’t the first athlete to lose a scholarship over his Twitter use, and he won’t be the last either. Last week, three-star athlete Marzett Geter from Pennsylvania lost his scholarship to Pittsburgh due to critical comments he made on Twitter. For Geter, the consequences were greater than for Wright. Wright’s talent on the field made up for his foolishness off the field, as he was still able to commit to the University of Colorado, a DI program. Geter’s talent was not as strong, and he recently committed to Division II program Slippery Rock, a far cry from the glamour of Division I NCAA football.

The recent examples should serve as a warning to high school student-athletes being recruited by top programs in the country. Universities are watching, and the NCAA is, so far, okay with that. The NCAA limits the number of phone calls a coach can make to a recruit, and text messages are banned altogether. Far less regulated though is Social Media, which includes the popular service Twitter. Universities are taking advantage, using social networks like Twitter and Facebook to follow athletes and send direct messages to them. They also get to see who athletes are friends with or what other programs they are following. In a recent story for ESPN, Florida coach Will Muschamp identified another benefit , telling the site that social media provides another glimpse into a player’s character. According to Muschamp, this means that, “kids need to understand that they have to be very careful about what they do on social media.”

That’s a message that often goes in one ear and out the other when talking about high school boys who typically possess an aura of invincibility. Wright certainly didn’t get the message, despite numerous warnings from coaches and school administrators to either change the content of his tweets or drop the popular micro-blogging service completely. Time will tell if other top recruits will use these recent examples as a lesson in their own use. Currently, seven of the top ten high school recruits are on Twitter, including the top five high school student-athletes.

There is one athlete who did erase his Twitter account: the aforementioned Yuri Wright. For some student-athletes, even 140 characters can be too much to handle.