Earlier this week, I noticed the retirement announcement of well-known Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan. The writer made it clear in an ESPN podcast quoted on its website that he is troubled by the changes in his business and that played into his decision.
“I really and truly believe that my time has come and gone, that the dynamics of the business, of what it takes to be involved in the business with all the tweeting and the blogging and that stuff, with an audience with a different taste … I’m not comfortable — it’s not me any more,” Ryan said.
I don’t know Ryan, having only read his work occasionally and seen him from time to time on television. At the age of 65, he certainly deserves the chance to enjoy his later years as he so chooses. However, Ryan provides another reminder that some elements of the new media world are not being embraced by all.
Speaking of new media, this week the Memphis Redbirds announced a new campaign, the likes of which I have never seen before. They are basically using follows on Twitter as an inducement to come to the ballpark.
While there are other elements to the April 26 Social Media Night promotion, this one really caught my eye. The first 500 fans to provide their Twitter handle to the Redbirds as they enter AutoZone Park that day will be followed by the team’s Twitter account.
I have seen countless inducements from businesses to encourage individuals to “Like” them via Facebook, but bartering follows on Twitter take the game to a whole new level.
For example, in a more traditional offer, the Cardinals Class-A affiliate, the Quad Cities River Bandits just awarded four tickets to the Midwest League club’s Opening Day to the 5,000th Facebook user to “Like” them.
Not unlike the number of Facebook “friends,” having a large follower count on Twitter is a status symbol to many people. Further, being followed by those considered to be important is considered important to them, if you get my drift.
I guess I might be more like Ryan than I would like to admit in some ways, as I look at the world a bit differently.
On Facebook, I have no problem “liking” a business, but I handle personal interaction differently. The only people I “friend” are individuals I actually know, as in have a real relationship of some kind. I realize my definition of the term is old-school, but I just don’t get putting my implicit friendship stamp of approval on a complete stranger. Further, why in the world would I want to sort through mounds of Facebook chit-chat among anonymous people? It is bad enough reading what comes from those I actually know – and they probably feel the same way about me!
With even higher volumes of instant commentary, Twitter could be even worse.
Some people expect that if they follow someone, that person is obliged to follow them back. I am sorry, but if you consistently tweet content worth reading, I will follow you. Otherwise, you just generate noise – the likes of which I strive to cut out.
Again, there is the status symbol effect. I see many – even national media figures at times – literally twitter-begging for more followers. Wouldn’t it be better for everyone if they earned that support by providing value to the reader?
Plenty of Cardinals-related news providers are doing just that as reporters from MLB.com, the Post-Dispatch, FOX Sports Midwest and many, many more entities are already providing instantaneous updates from spring training camp in Jupiter, Fla.
I do mean instantaneous. Consider this example from Cardinals Winter Warm-Up last month in St. Louis. As players spoke with the media, I watched as several writers standing among us were feverishly tweeting key player comments as soon as they had been spoken.
That brings me to athletes and their use of social media. On the positive side, it enables them to take their message directly to the masses. It can also pull them too close to the flame if they are not careful.
After embarrassing episodes, some colleges have banned their athletes from tweeting, especially during the season. MLB educates players about the potential pitfalls of social media each spring and so on. (Edit: In fact, the summary of the new labor agreement between MLB players and owners specifically says, “All Players will be subject to a policy governing the use of Social Media.” Details are TBD.)
Still, at least 10 of the Cardinals players on the 40-man roster are on Twitter along with well over 50 minor leaguers across the system. Though I typically don’t befriend them on Facebook, I do follow them all on Twitter.
Like most tweets from individuals, the vast amount of them are uninteresting to non-acquaintances. Just as with any cross-section of young men, some tweets are funny, some are strange and others are probably inside jokes among friends.
Looking to increase fan interest, some players are actively campaigning to increase their follower count. Always competitive, they compare their numbers with their peers as they apparently equate the quantity of followers to popularity. I’ve even encountered player agents very in tune with this subject.
Now and then, interesting and useful information is offered, which is why I participate. For example, last summer, Cardinals top prospect Shelby Miller was the first to disclose his promotion to Double-A Springfield – via his Twitter feed.
Especially in terms of information delivery, social media in sports as well as the role of the sports media itself will continue to evolve. Past participants will need to do the same or be left behind.