Upon further review, how the NFL mishandled the Monday Night Football controversy on social media.


I’ve been following the NFL for over 15 years now, ever since my dad took me to my first game in the fall of 1994. Along the way, I’ve seen my share of controversies and storylines, especially of late. It started with “Spygate,” followed by a sharp rise in the public’s awareness of player concussions, and the recent scandal known as “Bounty-gate.” For the most part, however, the drama surrounding the NFL has centered on off the field matters.

That changed this year when the NFL locked out the regular referees, choosing instead to use replacement referees for the beginning of the 2012 NFL season. The idea was, by all accounts, a failure, highlighted by the most recent Monday Night Football (MNF) game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. The final play of the game, a Hail Mary by the Seahawks, has been dissected by several angles, and has largely been credited with the recent deal between the NFL and the Referee’s Union that has put the regular referees back in action this week.

Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, NFL, Replacement Officials, Hail Mary

Largely ignored in the wake of the MNF controversy has been the NFL’s social media activity following the game. This has irked me all week, since I took exception to several moves made by the social media managers for the NFL that night.

Soon after the end of MNF, the NFL posted a status update on Facebook that read “Seattle wins on Hail Mary” accompanied by a photo of Golden Tate’s touchdown catch from earlier in the game.

The NFL's first Facebook status update following the Monday Night Football controversy

Within the hour, the NFL had changed the caption for the picture to read “FINAL SCORE: Seahawks 14, Packers 12.” The image, however, stayed the same.

Finally, the NFL decided to drop the entire status update, leaving fans to read the NFL’s previous official update from the game, which were video highlights of the Seahawks eight first half sacks.

So what are the problems here? Glad you asked.

First, the NFL’s social media managers greatly underestimated how big of a controversy this play and game result was. You might say that’s a fair mistake since the game had just ended, but anyone who watched the end of the game and any subsequent post-game show knew that the referee’s decision was going to blow up as a storyline. The NFL should have given the controversy the appropriate amount of attention online.

By posting a status update mentioning the Hail Mary without accompanying it with a picture of the play, the NFL seemingly assumed fans wouldn’t notice the difference or get angry at the misrepresentation. Guess what? Fans noticed, and they got angry.

The second mistake by the NFL was re-writing the update without any mention of the Hail Mary controversy. By doing so, the NFL looked as if it was trying to avoid the subject entirely, whether that was their intention or not. The problem with attempting to avoid the controversy (and really, any controversy) is that the subject was already too big to ignore. This is especially true in sports, where impassioned fans often overreact to plays and game outcomes that aren’t really that big of a deal. Did the NFL really think a game-altering call from a replacement referee wouldn’t result in outrage?

Finally, the NFL’s biggest mistake was deleting the post. Every time an organization deletes a controversial status update or tweet, numerous stories are published offering the reasoning for avoiding such a strategy. Yet somehow, organizations continue to delete entire posts on social networks. This includes, by the way, the NFL’s Twitter account, which tweeted “Touchdown or Interception? #GBvsSEA” and then later deleted the tweet. (Hat tip to Anthony De Rosa (@AntDeRosa) for catching that.)

The problem with deleting the post is two-fold: one, when controversy occurs, fans and customers want a soundboard on which to voice their opinion. This was clearly the case with the NFL, as their Facebook status update received nearly 10,000 comments in less than 45 minutes. That number is substantially higher than their other posts, which seem to average anywhere from a few hundred comments to a little over a thousand comments. By taking down the post, the NFL removed a vital soundboard, leaving angry fans to flock to other means to voice their opinions. Two, the deletion of the post furthers the perception that the NFL wanted to avoid the controversy entirely, an action that was neither smart nor even remotely possible at that point in time.

How should the NFL have handled the situation? They should have addressed the issue directly, acknowledging that Seattle defeated Green Bay on a controversial Hail Mary on the final play of the game, along with an image of the actual Hail Mary. Would fans have still written angry comments on the update? You bet. At least those comments would have been in one place though, making it easier for the NFL to manage information and respond if necessary. Additionally, they wouldn’t have been accused of masking the issue or avoiding it.

What do you think about the NFL’s Facebook practices in the wake of the MNF controversy? Should they have deleted the post? What would you have done differently? Do you think I’m overreacting? Please let me know in the comments.

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.

Don’t Call it Social Media Night: How the Washington Nationals are using Twitter to put fans in the stands

Since moving to Washington in 2005, the Washington Nationals have struggled with wins on the field and attendance in the stadium. From RFK stadium in 2005-2007 to Nationals Park in 2008-2010, the Nationals have consistently drawn half-empty stadiums while finishing in last or next to last place in the NL East in 2005-2010.

Losing, however, has its benefits. Armed with a collection of highly drafted young talent, the Nationals are competing in 2012 after showing signs of life in 2011. Led by an impressive starting rotation and teen phenom Bryce Harper, the Nationals are 31-22 as of this post and in first place in the National League East Division. Unfortunately for the Nationals, the massive improvement in the team’s win-loss record from recent years hasn’t directly correlated to sell-out crowds. Despite having the third best record in baseball, the Nationals sit at 16th when looking at the average attendance numbers at home games, according to ESPN.

In looking for solutions to the attendance problems, the Nationals have turned to Twitter. Championing the “Natitude” cause, the @Nationals have come up with several different special events to raise attendance, using hashtags such as #ourpark and #natitude to increase fan pride, drive conversation online and sell tickets at a higher rate.

Their most recent promotion, set for July 3rd, is a tweet-up that the Nationals are calling the “Ignite your Natitude Tweet-up.” The event has several makings of what are commonly called social media nights at other stadiums around Major League Baseball. The Nationals will provide a space for Twitter followers to congregate at the game and talk amongst each other, tickets will be discounted, and fans will receive a commemorative poster exclusive for the event. In addition, the Nationals will be rewarding early arriving fans with prizes and pre-game interactive games and giveaways, according to the Nationals official blog, Curly W.

The twist on the event relates to where, exactly, Tweet-up fans will sit at the game. Borrowing on the strategy employed by sites like LivingSocial and Groupon, as well as MLB’s highly successful opening day Twitter promotion, the Nationals are improving the seat location for the game based on how many people RSVP to the Tweet-up using the official hashtag #IYNT (Ignite Your Nationals Tweet-up). Quite simply, the more people that sign up, the better the seats.

We won’t know how well the promotion works until June 22nd, when tickets officially go on sale, and July 3rd, when the Nationals have an official attendance number for the game. So far though, the promotion seems to be a success. Back on May 29th, the Nationals announced via Twitter they were only a few more RSVPs away from upgrading the seat location for fans. They’ve also been diligent about reminding fans to RSVP and responding to fan tweets.

No word on whether or not ticket prices will increase as the seat location improves, but that is something to consider with this promotion. No team wants to price out fans that are well connected on Twitter.

What do you think about this promotion? Would the opportunity for better seats make you more likely to RSVP? Can digital conversation on Twitter lead to more fan pride? Let me know in the comments field below.

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/

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.

For Sports Organizations, focus on your reserves

On Twitter, sports stars are king. Kaka, the star midfielder for Real Madrid, has 7,900,242 followers, according to tweeting-athletes.com. Stateside, Shaquille O’Neil leads the way with 4,757,533 Twitter followers. In the NFL, Chad Ochocinco is tops with 3,112,844 followers. If you look at tweetstargame.com, a site dedicated to measuring athlete Twitter influence, measured by Klout, you’ll find a list filled with household names such as LeBron James, Tim Tebow, Kevin Durant, Drew Brees and Dwyane Wade.

For these athletes, achieving a high number of Twitter fans isn’t difficult. Step one is to perform well on the field, ice or court. Step two is to create a Twitter account. However, with gaudy point totals and Twitter followers comes a responsibility to behave oneself online. The microscope is always closer on the “face of the franchise”. As such, rarely do you see these athletes rock the boat on Twitter. Rather, these athletes use Twitter to tweet casual messages to fans or post pictures from the weight room. For sports organizations, this lack of drama is a blessing, and should give them the necessary courage to take advantage of their stars’ Twitter influence by @ replying or re-tweeting athletes on the team.

Conversely, organizations need to be wary of their reserve players’ Twitter presence. Two recent events demonstrate this point. Last week, after the final game of the season, Washington Redskins backup offensive lineman Sean Locklear voiced his displeasure with the Redskins exit meeting after the season. Locklear tweeted “Worst exit meeting ever! No coaches, no front office, just physicals and goodbye to teammates! We did just spend 5 mos together, wow!” Locklear soon after deleted his tweet, presumably after some fan backlash, and tweeted an apology that read “Whoa, I apologize Redskins nation, didn’t mean to cause and stir! Gotta keep feelings out it! #business”

For Locklear, the deleted tweet and subsequent apology was too little too late. The following day, word of the tweet reached coach Mike Shanahan, who obviously was not pleased with the backup lineman’s words. As of now, Locklear is still on the roster, but you can bet the Redskins won’t be afraid to make an example of a player who only started four games, all losses, should he step out of line again.

So why did Locklear make such emotional feelings known on a public platform? Most likely, it was due to him being a backup offensive lineman, a mostly anonymous position, especially on a losing team. I’m sure Locklear didn’t think his tweets would be read and reacted to on such a large scale. It’s here that lies the problem. For organizations, this point must be stressed to all players: on the Internet, and Twitter especially, everything is reacted to on a large scale. Everything is public. Everything is instantaneously available. Star athletes get this. Do you think Rex Grossman or Santana Moss would have tweeted like Locklear? No chance. They have too much to lose. Yet most backup and fringe roster players have their guard a little lower. There are no sponsorships or jersey sales to lose. These players can be lured into thinking that nobody is paying attention.

More recently, Dallas Mavericks guard Delonte West took to Twitter in a late-night rant after it was discovered he would not be able to attend the White House for a visit with President Obama, as is customary for the champions of the NBA to do each year. West, a seven year NBA veteran of several teams, was arrested in 2009 on gun charges, when police found guns in a guitar case he was carrying during a traffic stop. Publicly, West was contrite when asked about the incident, telling the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram “That’s what happens when you make bad decisions in your life. You can’t go to the White House.” However, on Twitter, West ranted about the incident in a series of ten tweets, some with profanity included, that discussed everything from his gun charges to his sleeping in his car some nights to his salary reduction.

For West, the issues run a bit deeper than with most athletes. In 2009, he missed some time while playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers while he battled depression and bipolar disorder, according to bleacherreport.com.  For players with these types of issues, the issue of Twitter use is a more serious and delicate issue. Again, it’s up to organizations – in this case, the Dallas Mavericks – to have an open line of communication with West at all times about his candidness on Twitter and other media platforms. One could make the argument that for the Mavericks, it is of more importance that they monitor West’s Twitter use, despite his less than 17,000 followers, than someone like Lamar Odom, a more famous player with over 2.5 million followers. For Odom, the dangers of Twitter are known. For West, they either aren’t, or he isn’t stable enough to recognize or care about them.

The matter isn’t easy. Organizations must walk the fine line of letting athletes know the dangers of Twitter without scaring players away. If used correctly, Twitter can be a massively effective tool for an athlete to boost his or her popularity. However, when used incorrectly, it can lead to a bad reputation for organizations, and a loss in playing time, lower salaries, a loss in marketability, or even the unemployment line for athletes. Sean Locklear has avoided that pitfall. So has Delonte West. Others will not be so lucky. For organizations and reserve players alike, the reality is that there is a lot to lose.

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.”