A Beginners Guide to Sports Social Media

THE SUPERBOWL OF HYPERBOLE

A Beginners Guide to Sports Social Media

 In July of 2016, the Hartford Yard Goats issued a press release citing every Minor League Baseball team not following the Yard Goats on Twitter from their team account.  The release, titled “Yard Goats to Butt Heads with MiLB Teams over Twitter Follows” included the following paragraph:

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“It’s not our intent to start a feud with our brothers and sisters in Minor League Baseball, but to merely advance our already historically large Twitter follower base.  We follow these teams’ accounts on Twitter, and are merely asking for the same professional courtesy.”

You might be asking yourself why a professional sports team would embark on a battle of such epic nonsense, and you’d be correct in doing so.  In truth, we didn’t.  Not really.  There was no release to the media, merely a press release written, turned into a photograph, and uploaded to Twitter.  The PERCEPTION of a press release, if you will.  The point being to stir the pot, make people laugh, and continue to get the lion’s share of social media attention we were receiving at that point.  Seeking the kind of attention a middle child seeks when they throw pudding across the dinner table.  In my home, we call it the WRONG kind of attention. And yet, is there a WRONG kind of attention on social media? 

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning (A Very Good Place to Start)

When we launched the Yard Goats brand and social media in March of 2015 we did not have a ballpark, a team, uniforms, a water cooler, or any of the normal stuff a team has.  We’d moved into a new office in downtown Hartford Connecticut, in preparation for the move into our brand new ballpark the following year (more on that later).  At the time, we were entering our final season as the New Britain Rock Cats, and as such were still marketing the season through our Rock Cats social media channels.  We did not have the benefit of simply changing the names on the Rock Cats accounts to read “Yard Goats”, nor did we have the luxury of maintaining those followers.  Which was ok.  New ballpark, new brand, new voice, new us.  So we did the least complicated thing, which was probably the most complicated thing: we ran our social media accounts in parallel.  Each knowing seemingly nothing of the other.  I took on the task of launching the Yard Goats’ Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts, later adding Snapchat.  I didn’t use social media personally at the time, and didn’t have a grand vision for creating a brand voice, so divine intervention was in order.

Deus ex Machina (Whereby an Unsolvable Problem is Abruptly Resolved)

When people talk about a sports team’s social media being great, good, or even fire (as represented by fire emojis), they’re most often referring to Twitter.  To some degree Instagram, a lesser degree Snapchat, and really never Facebook. Ever.  Twitter is where a brand’s voice is most clearly defined, has the greatest opportunity to improvise, and the largest platform to be, well, clever.  Wendy’s is a great example.  If you ask anyone with a vested interest in social media who has the best account, most everyone will cite Wendy’s.  Wendy’s Twitter is fun, snarky, clever, loves to snap back at haters, pulls at the heartstrings.  Wendy’s flavor is not in its square beef patties, it’s in the Twitter.

When we launched the @GoYardGoats Twitter account, someone simultaneously launched @YardGoats.  Though we WERE the official account of the Yard Goats (and still are), @YardGoats also purported to be the official account.  And while we posted ballpark construction updates, ticket sales timelines, and general baseball information, @YardGoats captured the hearts & imaginations of hundreds of early Yard Goats fans (HUNDREDS, take that Wendy’s).  With clever puns, snark, hyperbole… the good stuff.  The more our follower count remained the same, the more their count grew.  And while the account didn’t last long (thanks @Jack), the impression did.  Suddenly, ballpark updates and ticket timelines seemed, well, boring. And mundane. And safe.  So I adopted the @YardGoats approach. 

Instead of Tweeting:

“Season Tickets are now on sale, get ‘em while they last!”

I Tweeted:

“Taco Tuesdays: Yard Goats players to deliver tacos to fans in stands with ungloved hands”. 

I interacted, I snarked, I made friends & frenemies, started feuds, and occasionally tugged at heart strings.  I found a marriage between the voice I was mimicking, and my own voice.  And I thought about how that voice fit with the brand we’d created: clever, tough, unapologetic, gritty.  I also needed to run an Instagram account, and Snapchat, so I asked followers on Twitter to come to our office and teach me.  And they did.  And we documented it.  On Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.  And yes, on Facebook too.  What the kids would call “Meta”.  And over time, that thing we built to be like something, became its own something, and in some ways our something has changed sports social media.  At least that’s what I tell people, on Twitter.

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Yes, YOU can work in Sports Social Media!

If you want to go to work in sports social media (and you do, because everyone does), there are some things you need to know:

  1. It’s OK to post about things that have absolutely nothing to do with your team or your business goals. It’s ENCOURAGED.  If you want to be great, you need to be out there in the world being GREAT, not just waiting to say what you want to say.  Be a good listener, and a better responder.  If you represent a Minor League Baseball team and find out Justin & Selena are getting back together, don’t ask yourself whether it makes sense to Tweet about it.  JUST DO IT.
  2. Sports social media is a 24-hour per day job. You don’t punch in, you don’t punch out.  The success of your channel is tied to the immediacy and relevancy of what’s happening in the world, and it WILL happen while you’re at the beach.  If Kanye goes sideways on Twitter, and you’re not there to Tweet about it, did Kanye really go sideways?  Yes, because the other people who do your job better were Tweeting about it.
  3. Social media is a dialogue, not a monologue. Don’t just post things and leave them to die on the vine.  Respond, interact, repost with comments.  The value is in the CONVERSATION, not the post itself.  That is the place you have the best opportunity to be INTERESTING.
  4. Nobody wants to “talk” to a corporation, so be a person. Post in the first person using “I”, instead of “we”, “me”, instead of “us”.  BE HUMAN (on your machine).
  5. You don’t need to monetize your social media, because IT’S FREE PEOPLE. Despite what your boss tells you, you don’t have to figure out how to make money with your tweets.  It’s marketing, branding, an opportunity to talk to your people.  Don’t try to sell them stuff, because they’ll see through it.  And if you must, make sure it’s something they want.
  6. Hyperbole is king. DELETE YOUR ACCOUNT is a perfect example.  It’s the furthest extreme of “I don’t like what you’re saying”. 
  7. Find someone who’s doing it better than you, and figure out why. Try to understand the timing, the nuance, the visual or media, the wording.  What is the message, and how is it being conveyed? 

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In the Spring of 2017 we finally did open our ballpark, albeit a year late.  And we did put a team on the field, fresh off a season long road trip.  And when the gates open, thousands of people came into the ballpark for the first time already knowing who we were, what we were about, because of our social media.  And while we now have those traditional pieces of, you know, SPORTS in place… it doesn’t change our social approach.  We’re still irreverent, and still silly, we now just mix in a little bit of baseball.  Because, at the end of the day, you actually ARE promoting a business.  Just don’t tell anyone.

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Mike Abramson is the General Manager for the Hartford Yard Goats MiLB team, Double-A Affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.  You can follow him on Twitter at @YardGoatsGM.

 

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