I’m not sure what brought it to my attention. Maybe with the late start of the West Coast games I was following Twitter more than I usually do during a game. Maybe it was the fact that the game was another outing where the offense wasn’t doing much and some frustration was directed elsewhere. Perhaps it’s a normal thing and I’m just late to the party. That’s not unheard of. What I saw was that a lot of people, a LOT of people, were taking issue with the Cardinals’ official Twitter account.
This was Friday night, but it has seemed to be something of an ongoing annoyance or issue for some in the fanbase. If you search “Cardinals twitter” on Twitter, the results aren’t necessarily flattering. Since one of the benefits of being a part of the United Cardinal Bloggers is knowing how to reach some people in the social media section of the organization, I reached out to see if they’d like a chance to answer some questions that might help folks understand their philosophy, giving some rationale behind the account.
Ron Watermon, Vice-President of Communications, was extremely gracious to take a few moments and answer some questions I sent his way. Below is our conversation and afterwards, I’ve got a few thoughts. Here’s what Ron had to say:
C70: First off, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions. Let’s start with the basics. How many folks are involved with the social media aspect of the Cardinals, either via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or your Cardinal Insider blog?
RW: Everyone within the eight member Cardinals Communications department has some level of social media posting responsibility. Like every club in baseball, we work in coordination with MLBAM on managing our various accounts. During games, we have one person from our team assigned to provide game coverage in tandem with MLBAM. We take advantage of MLBAM’s Real Time Correspondent program to enhance our road staffing of social to allow us to have eyes & ears outside the press box.
C70: There’s no doubt that the Cardinals have done some great things in their short time on social media. I don’t think anyone will soon forget the power of the #StandForStan campaign and the results that came out of that, with Stan Musial receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Besides that, what other campaigns or interactions are you most proud of from the past?
RW: Stand for Stan showed us that the real power of social media is not digital technology, it is people. A paper doll & passionate fans of all ages from all over the world help us develop this important insight that remains our compass today in managing our social accounts.
While it is easy to focus on the Presidential MOF as the big accomplishment, that campaign was a lesson in how we can channel technology in a way to build community…bringing people together…linking generations of fans in fellowship with one another for something bigger than any one of us individually (a team).
We have tried to apply the lesson in other efforts – use the technology to bring fans together. Facebook Friday with Fredbird is a great success with hundreds of fans showing up to locations all around our community…promoting good old fashion engagement and human to bird contact.
We have tried to be creative in our engagement efforts…from Like Mike…to #FreesePlease…to #VineTheVote. Even our #Nestflix brand entertainment silliness was designed to show the organization (and at least one UCB member) in a different light while connecting with fans.
Our #CardsFanFlix initiative is something we are proud to be pioneering this year. Our hope is to be one of the first MLB teams to develop an effective strategy to engage fans using video. We are off to a very good start. We had 52 submissions to the Cardinals Ultimate Fan Contest in March. We had 38 videos submitted to the Take Me Out To the Ballgame Music Video talent contest. The #LoveRed2 campaign is designed to encourage fans to submit congratulatory messages to Red. Look for more from us on this and more promotions designed to get fans behind & in front of the video camera (mobile phone). I encourage fans to Video the Vote by doing a campaign commercial for their favorite Cardinals Player to go to the All-Star game. Share your video via Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #VoteSTL for a chance to win 2 tickets to the ASG in Cincinnati.
C70: To reach into a different area for a moment, the Marvel movies have one guy (Kevin Feige) in charge of the vision and the overall plan of the movies, even while there are various directors and producers. Is there someone like that in the organization that oversees all the various social media aspects, even if they aren’t the ones actually doing the Tweeting, etc.? If so, who and if not, why not?
RW: Interesting idea. We have more of “a wisdom of the crowd” approach with everyone within our department helping shape ideas. We also have a Communications Committee internally put together to make sure we have as many ideas as possible to continue to push us to maximize the potential of the medium (this is following the model we put together for the Stand for Stan campaign – a full committee of people made that campaign a success).
C70: A recent Fangraphs study looked at the major league Twitter accounts from May and the Cardinal account was way down the list on fan engagement, at least the way that the study measured it with retweets, favorites, and replies. (Interestingly enough, the only team below the Cardinals was the Yankees, another team with a great history.) Does that concern you? Will there be more of an emphasis in these areas or is that not necessarily how you plan to engage with the fan base?
RW: Metrics are important. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. While quantitative metrics are one of the great things about social media, qualitative considerations are equally important. We are focused on quality of engagement as well as quantity. Managing social accounts is a process of continuous improvement building on what you are learning by doing every day. It is a dynamic environment, with change occurring at an amazingly rapid pace. When we launched the Stand for Stan campaign on twitter in 2010, we had just over 5,000 followers on twitter. Today is well over 600,000.
We can learn something from the Fangraphs analysis. Posts with media (graphics, photos and video) do better than plain text posts. We know that form our hands on experience. We post on the high side during games, offering more frequent game updates that do little to engage fans, but we think there are informative. This has been an intentional approach. We have strict code of conduct that we follow, such as not taunting other teams, cheerleading or doing things that might create more buzz. We will be looking at ways to continue to improve the fan experience and are always open to ideas.
C70: Besides the general team philosophy, are there directives or guidelines from MLB on how to handle your online presence? Obviously they would be fairly loose guidelines given the disparity in the Fangraphs study, but that doesn’t mean there still aren’t directions they encourage the team accounts to go.
RW: Yes. MLBAM gives good advice on how to manage our accounts, as well as amazing support to help us achieve things we couldn’t do on our own.
C70: This weekend, there seemed to be an uptick in folks on Twitter complaining or snarking at the official account. Now, as someone pointed out, when folks are down to the Twitter account to complain about, things are quite good in Cardinal Nation. That said, do you notice the comments in either real time or as a general report afterwards?
RW: We always pay attention to what our fans are saying. We also have a variety of analytics we use to measure our performance. Just ask Marybeth from our department about trackers and dashboards if you really want to see her smile.
C70: Has there been any thoughts of any more “takeover the Twitter account” events as we’ve seen from time to time? (A night of Adam Wainwright on the account would be incredible, BTW. Just a suggestion.)
RW: We love twitter takeovers. They can be a lot of fun for us and our fans. Waino would be a perfect choice too! We will follow up on that idea. Great suggestion.
I really have to thank Ron for his time to go through what happens behind the keyboards of these accounts, especially the Twitter one. As our friend Kevin Reynolds said during all the Friday night kerfluffle, there are some great people in the Cardinals’ communication department. They’ve never been anything but gracious and generous to myself and this UCB group (and Ron’s personal story is incredible). Honestly, from what he says above and looking at some back Tweets, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this weekend’s issues dealt with the Correspondent program that Ron mentioned above. The Tweets from the last home game seem to have more energy and are more engaging than the ones we saw this weekend. (Either that or the person in charge was worn down by the late nights!)
I understand where Ron and the organization are coming from in regards to social media. This is a conservative organization and that cautious and careful approach has led to this golden age of Cardinal baseball that we are seeing. Lots of us talked about a big splashy signing last offseason, but we knew it wasn’t going to happen and it really didn’t need to happen. Some teams would have done it anyway. Not this group and we should be thankful for that.
That said, I’m not sure I 100% agree with their approach. Before we get into that, though, I posed the question to my handful of Twitter followers (at least, the ones that respond) and asked what they’d change about the Cards’ account. Here were a couple of answers:
— JimR87 (@ImJimR87) June 8, 2015
— Matt (@HustlingYadi) June 8, 2015
@C70 They should really look at a Twitter accounts like the Dallas Stars and LA Kings. Not just ‘report the facts’ but interactive.
— Chris (@bluesfan1972) June 8, 2015
All reasonably good points. (Better than letting Dennis Lawson loose with it, I’ll tell you that.) I appreciate the Cardinals’ bent toward staying on message and not getting drawn into Twitter debates or apparently condoning/endorsing Twitter users or posts. Heaven knows there’s enough folks on Twitter that would try to draw them in or complain when they didn’t take the bait.
That said, I do feel the account would be better served with a little less formality and a little more spontaneity. While that Fangraphs study isn’t necessarily dogma, the difference between the Cards and even a lightly-engaged team like the Angels is large there. Favoriting or retweeting good Tweets helps the fanbase feel like you are paying attention, that you are glad they are talking about their favorite team. Answering questions (reasonable, decent ones that you can answer) helps get information out there in a less stilted way than a link to a story or a press release.
I think there’s wisdom in the committee approach, because obviously one person’s funny is another one’s dud, one person’s whimsy another one’s flighty, but I also think that too many cooks can spoil the broth, as it were. (What do I know–my cooking never rises much beyond a sandwich.) The reason I though of Marvel is that they’ve been able to tie in movies and TV to a single vision, a single storyline, while allowing different approaches and interpretations of that line.
Interaction–making people feel like you are in this with them to a degree–is so big these days. Few are following the Cardinals on Twitter for play-by-play of the game. I’m not saying they are wrong for doing that–every team that I can tell does roughly the same thing–but my guess is that 95% of those Tweeting during a game are doing so while watching or listening or following on line. So a dry recitation of game action doesn’t mean much to them. Even if you are telling the action, spicing it a bit (as they did here) will have people reacting better and more favorably, I think.
I’m also big (even as I said above about loosening formality) with using regular tags or gimmicks, for lack of a better word. If you read the blog, you know that if Tyler Lyons comes up (BTW, just announced he was Pitcher of the Week in the PCL, which is great), I’m going to refer to him as The Patron Pitcher. Matt Adams is Big Fill-In-The-Blank. Aramis Ramirez is the Sith Lord. Beyond that, we do Heroes and Goats every game.
How does this tie into their Twitter account? It’d be nice to look forward to #thatsawinner at the end of each game (and, to be fair, the Cards usually do use that phrase in their first Tweet after a win, if not as a hashtag). I know some would call it goofy, but if there was a hashtag for a Matt Holliday home run or a Carlos Martinez strikeout, the fans could get behind that. (Of course, I’m the wrong one to ask because I’d probably herald any Trevor Rosenthal appearance with #rosingtime. Yeah, there’s a reason no major corporation has hired me to do their social media.)
I also understand not wanting to taunt other teams, which is definitely a point the Cardinals should keep. I mean, we know how irritating it was when the Cubs virtually fist-bumped the Royals for winning a game against St. Louis. Even so, I like seeing the accounts of the various teams interact. There have been a number of times when teams like the Rockies and Giants playfully go back and forth with no animosity involved. Even the Royals/Cubs thing didn’t bother me too much (save the whole idea that it was so early in the season) because the Cubs account SHOULD want the Cardinals to lose, just like the Cards should be willing to acknowledge when someone takes out the Cubs, especially if the race were closer. (The problem with doing any of that now is the Cardinals are just so much better than everyone else, it looks petty. I’m kinda joking, kinda not.)
I’m not sure even how to go about it, but I think the brain trust really should take a look at how better to use this account to interact as well as inform. Embrace the memes and the trends. Post pictures of items in the Cardinal Hall of Fame for #tbt. (They may have done that occasionally, actually.) Have contests to have folks creatively embrace the #stlcards tag. Make the feed less this:
And more this:
Again, I want to reiterate, it’s a tough job they have and I don’t have the answers. These are just some suggestions from a guy that spends way too much time on the Internet. I have no doubt that the group is working even now on improving the experience. The video contests and campaigns that they are having are a great way to do that, I think. The #LoveRed2 videos and the upcoming Video the Vote bit would be a great way to share some of those that may or may not be winners but that stand out from the crowd. Retweeting them here and there would be a great first step to a better reputation for interaction, I think.
Of course, they also have to realize they aren’t going to please all the people all the time. Last year there were numerous comments on Instagram about the #BirdToTheFuture postings. “Too many,” folks said. “Too goofy,” they said. Perhaps that led to a little pullback, I don’t know. Most likely it didn’t. The Internet was made for complaining (go look it up) and that’s just what it’ll do. Continuing to try to engage and working on some witty repartee, though, will win more applause than boos, I believe.
And if Adam Wainwright does take over the Twitter account, it’s going on my resume.