Can you make your Twitter account private to gain publicity? MLB proves you can.

Yesterday was a fun day for Major League Baseball (MLB) on Twitter.

Yesterday morning, MLB announced that they were going to make their Twitter account (@MLB) private for six hours between 12-6pm ET, during which time they would be performing exclusive giveaways only viewable to those who followed the account before it went private. In the hours leading up to the promotion, MLB sent numerous tweets with the hashtag #MLBMembersOnly to raise awareness and get additional fans to follow the account so as to be eligible for the giveaways.

Sure enough, at noon ET, @MLB went private, complete with a new profile picture and background image explaining the promotion. Giveaways during MLB’s private hours included 2013 MLB.tv subscriptions, tickets to 2013 Opening Day, and tickets to the 2012 World Series. Twitter followers became eligible to win prizes by retweeting phrases tweeted by MLB, like “Opening Day tix? Yes please @MLB! #MLBMembersOnly”

MLB’s promotion was meant to reward current Twitter followers and add new followers in the hours leading up to the privatization. By MLB’s account, the promotion was a success. Josh Lukin (@coffeeon3rd), MLB’s Director of Advanced Media, cited a sizable increase in Twitter followers, rewarded loyal followers, a trending topic on Twitter (#MLBMembersOnly), and the #1 question on the weekly Thursday Twitter chat #smsportschat. A look at MLB’s twitter stats on TwitterCounter.com backs up Lukin’s follower claims. @MLB gained 12,078 fans on September 20th, a sizable increase compared to the four days prior. They gained 973, 689, 1,466, and 1,727 followers on those days respectively.

MLB on Twitter Counter.com

While the statistics indicate MLB’s promotion was a success, there were some valid concerns brought up on Twitter by established minds in sports and social media. Peter Stringer (@peterstringer), who serves as the Boston Celtics Senior Director of Interactive Media, questioned the move, citing the limitedness of viral promotion (the sweepstakes tweets were private and therefore could not be retweeted), and the policy of what Stringer called “like-gating” overall.

Russell Scibetti (@rscibetti), founder of theBusinessofSports.com, also raised a few concerns in an excellent blog post. Scibetti noticed that the number of @MLB followers was still rising during the time the account was private, leading him to believe (and confirm) that new followers were being approved by hand. Scibetti noted that the practice of manually adding followers after going private damaged the promotion’s reputation of being exclusive and made the promotion more similar to a typical Twitter giveaway. Scibetti’s post is worth a read and is viewable here.

AwfulAnnouncing.com also weighed in on the topic. They identified the promotion’s timing as potentially troublesome, as there were several baseball games that started during the time-period MLB’s account was private, with a large majority of those games involving potential playoff teams. Had something important occurred during any of the games, MLB’s tweets would not have reached the audience size they typically do.

We know how those mentioned above feel. How do you feel about Major League Baseball’s Twitter promotion? Was the promotion a hit? Would you have done anything differently? Weigh in in the comments section below.

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.