Did you know Ron Howard is the narrator in Arrested Development? It was one of those facts I thought I knew at one time, then found out again, and was just as blown away the second time I "learned" it. What does it have to do with this post? Relatively little. But Ron Howard is a brilliant guy, so I took note of something I recently read and watched in regards to what he thinks is wrong with ESPN.
This is, oddly, plucked from a Grantland article on fixing the dunk contest:
Just take that first part again:
It gets back to Vin Scully...Vin is constantly explaining to you who these people are and where they come from. And I think that the more we understand what's going on with the players, what makes them tick, and what could be motivating some of the decisions that they might make, on or off the field, the more engrossing the programming would be.
What does this have to do with social media? This may be obvious, but let me run you through part of one such powerful narrative I've seen play out with the help of social media. I use Seattle-area examples, and particularly Mariners ones, because that's what I know and that's what I've felt.
The biggest Seattle Mariners headline of the season was Felix Hernandez's new contract, for seven years and $175 million. Felix gave quite the emotional heartfelt press conference, one unlike any I've ever seen, but even before that you could see this meant a lot. Of course, there was the Vine I mentioned in a previous post, but here's a video from Seattle Times columnist Larry Stone's blog showing how emotional Felix was as he entered Safeco Field:
Passionate Mariners/Felix fans are familiar with the fact that his family means everything to him. He kisses each of his wrists after games because one bears a tattoo of his daughter's name, and the other his son's. That family-oriented identity was on full display the day he signed, as Felix tweeted a picture he loved. You could tell this was an enormous moment not just for him, but his family well.
About this pic.... Awesome twitter.com/RealKingFelix/…— Felix Hernandez (@RealKingFelix) February 14, 2013
But let's get more recent. What does a 26-year-old do with that kind of money? Oh, of course.
I read someplace, probably Twitter, that Felix—before the new contract—drove a used Ferrari. With the new deal, he decided he could afford a new one.
So naturally he's going to spend chunks of money on himself, after signing what was the richest contract for a pitcher in the history of baseball. But what you expect slightly less, though it isn't surprising from him, is something like this:
The lunch likely cost less than $1,000—not much of an expense, especially compared to a Ferrari—but as with most things, it's the gesture that's most important. Every young player in the Mariners organization looks up to Felix, especially the pitchers, so it's something to see him seemingly look out for them. There's a reason what he does elicits reactions like this:
What's the takeaway?
So much of team's social media marketing efforts today focus on pseudo fan engagement—things like Instagram hashtags and random Twitter contests. Teams try to market on social media despite the fact that organic social media use, by itself, is strong marketing and teams should incentivize their athletes to partake. The perception likely exists that social media education—like media training—falls much on an athlete's representation, but teams have so much to gain from this, as much or more than the athlete itself. Or, even more likely, teams just don't have the resources to take up such a cause, especially when the evidence of its effectiveness isn't as quantifiable.
Other than training, and strongly urging athletes to partake in genuine social media use, teams and organizations should do everything they can to unearth those narratives, to show fans who these players are and what they go through. I wrote on the power of in-house media content previously, and that holds true here. Take, for example, this video put together by Wake Forest on a day in the life of a student athlete:
Reiterating what Ron Howard said in the video at the top, the more fans know about these athletes, what they go through and why they do the things they do, the more invested they're going to be in those actions, in those games, in those highlights and headlines. And ultimately, it can lead to a much more connected and passionate fan-base.