I recently had the honor to join Frank Gruber, Shashi Bellamkonda, Mike Tunison, Gayle Weiswasser, and several other social media and microtargeting professionals (sorry I didn’t get everyone’s Twitter names!) to meet with Stan Kasten, President of the Washington Nationals, and several other team executives to discuss how sports teams can better use social media to increase awareness of the team’s activities both on and off the field, better engage with their existing fans and potential fans, create more fans, generate more positive media coverage, and ultimately, help sell more tickets and build a better baseball team. We were all brought together to brainstorm what the Nationals were doing well, what they could be doing better, and what they hadn’t thought of yet. If you aren’t familiar with my background, this was a dream come true for me – bringing together my love for social media and communications and my love of sports. I’ve always been a huge sports fan and used to work in public relations for a minor league hockey team, so I was extremely excited for this opportunity.
However, despite sitting in a conference room at one of the nicest ballparks in the Majors talking with some of the league’s most powerful baseball people, I couldn’t help but feel like I was again sitting in a nondescript cubicle in some office park talking with the Branch Director for a government agency. From the opening introduction – “you have to understand, we’re dealing with a very unique situation that’s different from your typical organization,” to the challenges they face, “we have to work under Major League Baseball’s strict communications policies so we’re really limited in what we can just go and do,” – the similarities between sports teams’ use of social media and the government’s use of social media really struck a chord with me.
- Both are trying to reach a very broad and very diverse group of people that crosses all demographics
- Both operate under a broader entity that creates and enforces the policies and guidelines for communications, including the use of social media
- Both are primarily operated by conservative and traditional leaders who rely on the command and control communications model
- Both deal with VERY passionate and very partisan (both positively and negatively) stakeholders
- Both typically have relatively small communications budgets
- Both are usually so concerned with the overall mission that communications doesn’t receive the attention or commitment it requires
- Both deal with media who crave all the information they can possibly get
- Both operate in a system where they should communicate with other organizations with a similar mission, but instead find themselves in competition with each other
- Both are determining the best way to educate employees (or players) outside of the traditional communications function who are actively using social media to communicate directly with the public
While there are most definitely some differences, when it comes to social media, the fact remains that we had the exact same conversation the other night with the Nationals that I’ve had dozens of other times with government agencies. Neither the challenges nor the solutions are all that different. During the meeting, I mentioned some of these similarities – if the government can use social media to do share classified information across Agency firewalls using Intellipedia and the Air Force can allow their airmen to engage directly with the public via social media, there’s no reason similar strategies and tactics can’t be applied to a sports franchise. Sports teams have too much gain from social media and too much to lose by not engaging – it’s a no-brainer to me.
The sports community is a very insulated community – teams and leagues generally look inside the sports industry to hire their communications and marketing professionals, but maybe they should take a look at the Government 2.0 industry to find that next pool of communications talent and innovation. After all, we’re dealing with many of the same issues they are.