Sports Information Directors beginning to value social media over mainstream coverage

One of the primary goals of public relations is to have any actions and events that highlight the subject in a positive light be covered and publicized by the mainstream media. Say you work on the media relations staff of a university athletic department and your school's basketball team spent part of Christmas Eve at a food shelter helping feed those are less fortunate; you want that covered. Well, stories like this—and other 'harder' news—may soon be covered and spread much differently.

Mike Enright, UConn's Associate Athletic Director/Communications, believes social media could change everything.

He believes the day may come where UConn fans will pay to read uconnhuskies.com plus its Facebook and Twitter extensions to feed the appetite that sports sections used to fill. [...]

“Our athletic director (Jeffrey Hathaway) is emphasizing social media,’’ Enright said. “Forty percent of our budget is for development of social media. It’s where we’re going. It’s going to become more and more a focus of our job.’’

Social media presents a range of new opportunities and a complete increase in control of coverage for universities and professional sports teams but on the other side of the coin, this may present a whole new challenge for journalists.

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Social media very important in finding a job

Over the past decade we've gone from worrying about what people might find when they're searching your name on the internet to worrying about what they won't. Of course, no one wants random bits of embarrassment to come up when someone Googles their name but almost worse: finding nothing. How unimpressed are you when that happens? I'm usually stunned.

Over at Innovation in College Media they have a great post on utilizing social media to land a job, with some insight from David Spink of Scribnia.com.

A personal blog or portfolio site can serve as the corner stone to the online image that new journalists must shape, said Spinks.

"It's really important that you shape a that image of yourself -- that image that comes up when people seek you online," Spinks said. "It's up to you personally how you present yourself. Part of blogging and social networking is showing more of your personality and being more transparent. But then there's the saying that you shouldn't have anything online that you wouldn't show your mother."

In college, "what's your major?" is the ice-breaking line to beat all cliche ice-breaking lines. Whenever I used this and somone answered journalism, I advised them—almost on the verge of desperation—to start a blog. It's crucial. But as Spinks points out, there's a little more to it than that.

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Athlete blogging done right: Mark Titus' Club Trillion

When it comes to athletes and social media, the experts in the area preach about education. Athletes must be educated on what they should say and what they really shouldn't share. Often times—at least on blogs—their language is cleaned up to the point that it lacks any kind of distinguishable voice. So, what happens when you play things a little bit more loose? When the athlete actually writes and sometimes comes dangerously close to going a bit too far? Mark Titus of Club Trillion gives us an idea of how athlete blogging could be done, and its potential effect.

From Pete Thamel's great New York Times article (free subscription required; shorter registration-free blog post here):

He is so popular that student sections in opposing arenas hold up signs and chant his name, and the Ohio State star Evan Turner admits that Titus is the most popular player on the team.

And what's so appealing? The blog title itself hints at Titus' style and sense of humor:

trillion is basketball slang for a player entering the game and not recording any statistic other than minutes. That leaves the box score with 12 zeros, or a trillion, and Titus’s followers are known as the Trillion Man March. (People have actually booed him for getting a rebound and ruining his potential trillion.)

Athletes, teams and the marketers they work with could learn a great deal from Titus, who doesn't consider himself a journalist, but more an entertainer. His take: "Here, I have some stories and jokes to go with them."

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TMZ Sports will affect all levels of sports blogosphere

Anyone can question the journalistic ethics and subject matter of TMZ. They can do so quite easily. However, it's almost imposible to argue that TMZ hasn't done an exceptional job of thorougly covering the stories they do, almost to a fault. TMZ hustles in every sense of the word. And I don't mean that as a cliche, they bust their ass to get stories and at times beat out other outlets by digging into the deep pockets of Time Warner to pay sources more for images and information. That's a hustle.

I've seen a few posts arguing the impact this new venture by TMZ—a site operating the same as its gossip blog parent, but focused on sports—with some claiming it'll make a dent in ESPN's monopoly on sports coverage while others think it will have next to no impact at all. Dan Shanoff and Brooks Melchior fall on either side of this.

I agree with Brooks, this is big because of its impact on the sports blogosphere.

The sports media monopoly created by ESPN hath wrought a perfect storm for TMZSports.com to not only succeed, but to turn the industry upside down. Because not only will TMZSports.com itself quickly break into the mainstream, but its prominence will cause previously myopotic sports media consumers to suddenly consider a sports blogosphere that has been, to this point, largely ignored on an astonishing scale.

He goes on to state that the new publication could be an "industry game changer that could somewhat destabilize ESPN’s complete dominance over the field." Important, but let's look at the impact it'll have on the sports blogosphere.

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In sports, engagement marketing is crucial

Marketing in sports has always been about buzz. It's about building a passionate fan base. Sports marketers must stir that passion, find those who are fervent when others are frustrated and spread that positive attitude. Before moving onto the cause of this of the buzz and passion, it's best to define it.

Sean Corcoran of Forrester has a great blog post on the three types of media marketers utilize. The one most relevant to this post: earned media.

"Earned media" is an old PR term that essentially meant getting your brand into free media rather than having to pay for it through advertising. However the term has evolved into the transparent and permanent word-of-mouth that is being created through social media. You need to learn how to listen and respond to both the good (positive organic) and bad (spurned) as well as consider when to try and stimulate earned media through word-of-mouth marketing.

Sure, this relates to everything from consumer electronics to travel to shoes, but nothing more than sports. Wins and losses are determined within the field of play but opinions on those outcomes, and any moves causing them, are everywhere. Newspapers, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, bars, offices and dinner tables.

Now, how does one influence that earned media?

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The NBA's policy on social media is pointless

It was announced today that Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings will be fined $7,500 by the NBA for violating the league's social media policy. Jennings updated his Twitter feed immediately following a win over the Portland Trailblazers. The NBA's policy states that players, their representatives, and team personnel are banned from social media activity during games as well as 45 minutes before and after.

Here's the tweet that got Brandon in trouble:

Really. That's it. Jennings was excited his young team was off to a great start and wanted to publicly congratulate them. From a fan's perspective, it's very cool to see. We get the vibe of the locker room and hear in his own words how thrilled he is. How does the NBA react to this positive PR? They fine him half a Honda Civic.

This is ridiculous. An NBA policy on social media, and Twitter especially, is unnecessary. As most know, updating Twitter isn't complicated. It's sending a text. I assume most coaches and teams have policies in place on when athletes are allowed to use their phone. Limiting players from using social media has zero impact on their play, attitude, anything. They're already texting. Unless the NBA is doing this purely for selfish reasons—which would be wrong in the first place—then there's no reason at all.

NBA: Let the players Tweet, you're only hurting yourself by not doing so.

Coverage of Chris Henry tragedy highlights need for responsibility in online journalism

I am not an old school journalist. I'm not one who believes blogs and Twitter should never be trusted. Blogs and Twitter aren't people, one cannot cast everyone using the medium under one light. It'd similar to saying "the phone should never be trusted" or "anyone who emails you isn't a credible source." That's absurd. Online sources pulled from Twitter and blogs should be treated the same as any other source, with a bit of skepticism.

While it's been debated for some time, this issue was framed in my mind by the coverage of the Notre Dame hiring process and further highlighted last night by the premature reports of Chris Henry's death.

Going back, Twitter and blogs should be treated the same as any other source. For some reason, people have skipped the process of evaluating potential sources. Things to consider:

  • Do I know this person?
  • Are they hiding behind anonymity?
  • Have they provided trustworthy information in the past?
  • Are they a firsthand source or is the information being relayed through someone else?

With many online media outlets, questions like these have been ignored and any accountability is passed from the journalist to the source.

For example, last night a fake Twitter account claiming to be someone from the Dallas Morning News prematurely announced the passing of Chris Henry, despite the fact that he was still on life support. Michael Rand of the Star Tribune has a great post on how this played out via Twitter and he does highlight the point I'm trying to make, this has less to do with the viral nature of Twitter and more to do with online news outlets taking some users' word as gospel.

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Twitter 'Contributors' could be valuable tool for newspapers, sportswriters, sports blogs

Twitter is really starting to press with the new features and services. Some seem cool (Lists) while others can be frustrating (the new re-tweet function), but it's interesting nonetheless to watch them attempt to expand their offering. Twitter is focusing especially hard on appealing to businesses and their new 'Contributors' feature is aimed directly at them. A bit of background on the service, which could be great tool for sportswriters and sports bloggers, from the Twitter Blog:

The feature we are beta testing is called 'Contributors' – it enables users to engage in more authentic conversations with businesses by allowing those organizations to manage multiple contributors to their account. The feature appends the contributor's username to the tweet byline, making the business to consumer communication more personal; e.g. if @Twitter invites @Biz to tweet on its behalf, then a tweet from @Twitter would include @Biz in the byline so that users know more about the real people behind organizations.

The service could answer a lot of questions for users, such as "Should my Twitter name be my blog/business?", "Should I have a personal account and blog account?" and "Who should I have readers follow, myself or my blog?"

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Seattle Times: Twitter a 'big player' in Major League Baseball

Over the weekend, The Seattle Times ran a story on Twitter's rising prominence in Major League Baseball and how noticeable it was at the winter meetings. Now, I realize it's every couple days that a major media outlet runs a story on Twitter's rising popularity but every now and then they contain an interesting nugget of information like this:

GMs have long been known to exploit the rumor mill, attempting to make people believe there is plenty of trade interest in a certain player when there might not be any. It's the same with player agents who will whisper about interest in their clients by a specific team before they even contact that club's general manager.

The difference is that, in the past, it might have taken weeks for rumors to circulate by word-of-mouth about a certain player or team. Now, a whisper from one team executive or player agent can be distributed across the country in a matter of seconds via Twitter.

"If I came to these meetings and had a client nobody cared about, of course I'd use this stuff to get his name out there," said one agent, who wanted to be anonymous. "One minute, there's zero market for his services and then, five minutes later, the perception is that you've got five teams banging down your door."

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Athletes should avoid ghost blogging when possible

Twitter and blogging have become an essential part of the marketing strategies for many of today's prominent athletes. With the rising popularity and apparent 'hipness' of blogging, one has to wonder how much of the content is actually produced by the athletes and how much is ghost written by their PR team and more an attempt at marketing than connecting with fans.

When it comes to ghostwriting, I have to side with Neville Hobson, who is Head of Social Media Europe for WeissComm Group. His take:

There’s nothing inherently wrong with ghost blogging when you disclose the fact that your blog posts are ghost-written by someone other than you, the named writer (or whoever in your company is the supposed blogger). If you really do believe in transparency, truthfulness and trust, that’s the extent of disclosure you would make – the fully Monty.

But let me further say that the very idea of someone writing your posts for you, even with disclosure, is a very bad idea and not worth doing at all. A blog is about the people you engage with through your writing getting some insight into you, the person, over time in addition to connecting with your thinking, views, opinions, etc, as expressed in your writing. So I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone, client or anyone else.

 

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Is live blogging sporting events dying?

Almost every sports blog has, at some point or another, ran a live blog on a particular game or event. This process of rapidly updating one blog post with short insight and commentary on a game was extremely popular a few years ago and almost expected of any blog covering a particular team.

As Shel Israel of Global Neighborhoods notes in his blog bost, In loving memory of live blogging, the practice was very popular in the coverage of technology conferences but has since faded with the advent of Twitter.

Then along came Twitter. Obviously, I considered this also important and revolutionary. I still do. But it has occurred to me that this, faster, easier, shorter way of reporting through "live tweets" has replaced the longer, deeper, more thoughtful social media form,at of live blogging. It has done so in a very short period of time and my sense is something is being lost.

Tweets by their nature are terse. An audience members usually says who is speaking & maybe the topic. A rave review is the that she or he "rocks." But the coverage of what is actually being said is reduced. So are the questions and comments coming from outside the room.

This is happening in the world of sports as well. But with sports, Twitter isn't the only thing tool being used as an alternative to true live blogging. A service called CoverItLive is used on several popular blogs. ESPN has also jumped in the live blogging game with their Section 140 and Virtual Pressbox, which operates very similarly to to the CoverItLive. While both are better than traditional live blogging, and each have their advantages, they aren't what I would use to cover a game.

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Brian Kelly first acknowledges being ND coach on Twitter

Notre Dame sent out a press release, notified the alumni and made the announcement on their website but no word yet from Brian Kelly until the presser tomorrow. Well, except for on Twitter. No status updates, but the language and design have changed. New bio:

Thrilled to be the coach of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Committed to stirring People with PASSION and PURPOSE.

Imagine someone telling you five years ago that a head football coach would acknowledge being hired at Notre Dame via a social network. Ridiculous. But five days ago? You'd almost expect it. It'll be interesting to see how Brian Kelly utilizes social media at Notre Dame. With this past week as an indication, he'll certainly be seeing a significant bump in his followers.

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In covering Tiger, newspapers should do as bloggers do, break 'fourth wall'

This Tiger Woods saga serves as an anecdote for the striking polarity between mainstream print media and less 'upright' online outlets. As days go on, this coverage becomes more and more ridiculous but, at least in the early stages, this is a story the populace wanted to know about.

As the story moved from "Tiger was in an accident and it may have been caused by a domestic dispute" to "Let's count the mistresses," newspapers obviously wanted out. There comes the separation between some online outlets and newspapers: covering what people want to hear about vs covering what they believe should be covered.

As long as the publication isn't going too far in either direction, neither is wrong, but if you're choosing to hold back on coverage, it should be communicated why.

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UStream gives iPhone first live video broadcasting app

UStream has already made significant of headway in the world of sports, what with it being the host of Stephon Marbury's ridiculous 24-hour webcast and a live sports/COPS mash-up featuring JR Smith and Eddy Curry getting pulled over. The service has given professional athletes an unprecedented ability to connect with their fans. As of today, they'll now have the same opportunity on their iPhones.

The service has been available on Nokia phones since March but having it on the iPhone opens new opportunities: the iPhone took overtook Nokia for the overall market share leadership in the worldwide smartphone segment this summer.

While the first athlete to undertake the task while likely get more attention than anyone else in the sports world using the service, mobile broadcasting has the opportunity to be a phenomenal tool for sportswriters.

Where it's allowed, sportswriters could live broadcast interviews immediately following a game. While press conferences for big games are already broadcast live by media outlets, escaping the formality of a press conference allows a sportswriter to air interviews with whatever player they choose to speak with (not just stars, coaches), air the complete interview and ask more questions than they'd normally be allowed to. I've seen some reporters—Lakers writer Mike Trudell comes to mind—using Twitvid and Twitpic to provide readers with quick updates but live video brings a whole new dimension.

 

Notre Dame coaching search + social media = cyclical chaos

Since Charlie Weis was let go and made more money in getting fired than I will ever make doing work, I've been following Notre Dame's coaching search with a furor. With the tools available today, this isn't that difficult. A colossal time-suck? Definitely. But all that laborious? Certainly not.

I can say that I've seen almost every rumor. How? As simple—and regrettable—as creating a search column on Tweetdeck. This one line, "'Notre Dame' OR 'Brian Kelly' OR Stoops" has thrown me all over the web and given me a little bit of insight on how the general populous tracks a news story, how it moves from outlet to outlet and most importantly, who to trust.

Notre Dame blog The Blue-Gray Sky has a phenomenal look—nay, social experiment—on how rumors started on the web can get out of hand very, very quickly. Paraphrasing their great blog post, here's how things went down:

  • Anonymous person emails supposedly credible site Footballscoop.com claiming "I used to work in the athletic department at Notre Dame (a lie), and I have heard that Jack Swarbrick is interested in Bret Bielema, the head coach at the University of Wisconsin. This was at 6:56pm last evening."
  • The site doesn't ask any follow-up questions and runs the rumor almost verbatim the following day.
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Is the NBA's jump in ratings caused by Twitter?

The NBA opened its schedule on TNT to its highest rated opening night in the last 26 years; the question now is why? Is it because of the NBA’s presence on Twitter and in other social media—unmatched by any other professional sports league—has brought in completely new fans? Close, but not exactly right.

While its been swirling in the consciences of many, I first saw this question asked by Nate Jones of Goodwin Sports. The specific question asked to his Twitter followers: “ do you guys think that the increased interaction on social media by NBA is helping with ratings?” From there, the responses varied, but one that jumped out at me was Chriss Littmann’s: “Unlikely. People who took the time to find NBA players/teams on social media were probably already fans.” Littman does work on blogs and other social media for sportingnews.com.

It would’ve been fun to embrace the notion that more people are watching the NBA simply because Shaq, Dwight Howard and others are keeping everyone up-to-date with their daily actions and occasionally interacting with their fans. While Jones does point out that Howard has received several comments indicating that there are those who wouldn’t be fans of his or basketball if it weren’t for his presence on Twitter. However, it isn’t reasonable to assume these people are going to sit down and watch a full basketball game or even enjoy what the league has to offer for an extended period of time.

In a post on his blog, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban comes close to hitting it exactly.

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Why freelance sportswriters should blog

Newspapers are laying people off like crazy. Who knew, right? Whether newspapers are headed for a tragic extinction or some form of miraculous resurgence, the reality right now is that reporters and other sportswriters are losing their jobs and looking for work. Some have turned to freelance writing as they look to get by.

For those who have reached this point, they’ve probably already heard that starting a blog is a worthwhile venture. However, this is shortly followed by the fear of writing for free. Get over it.

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Make your sports blog more personal

This shouldn’t even be an issue. As far as topics to cover on a blog, sports are as personal and emotional as they come. Anyone who’s sat down to write immediately following one of those losses that not only sucks all sense of joy or optimism from your body, but prevents you from watching SportsCenter for a week knows what I’m talking about. Still, you’ll see it, a sports blog spitting out quotes, some bland analysis and possibly even remaining anonymous. Definitely not a good approach.

Darren Rowse of ProBlogger had a couple posts (somewhat) recently on the prospect of making one’s blog more personal. He listed a few things he does on his own blog to assure readers that, yes, there’s actually a person behind this thing.

  • I use my real name

The days of anonymous sports blogs should be long gone. There’s no need for it now. If you’re looking to use your blog as a step towards anything in the future, it’s essential that you put your name on it. It builds credibility and trust. If you write under a pseudonym, no one has any more reason to trust in what you have to say than a commenter. You just happen to write the blog. You’re not just the blogger, you’re the author. Put your name out there and lend a sense of both credibility and accountability to your writing.

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