Bird in farmland bush, May 1972
U.S. National Archive

Today I was driving back to work from lunch with some of the members of the new NMPRSA board and listening to ESPN radio. The host of the show was talking about athletes who are on Twitter, and the potential of these athletes to “leak” confidential team information. (firings, new players, etc.) SEC fans found out the dangers of Twitter earlier this year when Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin tweeted the name of a recruit who had might signed with a team – a violation of NCAA rules.

One of the points the host (whose name I can’t remember right now) talked about the problems he saw with athletes preempting team announcements about fired personnel, cut players (especially before the players found out) and the like – and asked how long it would be until players were accidentally – or staffers were purposefully – pulling a Kiffin and violating some kind of rules structure.

So I sent out a tweet mentioning the topic and got a couple of interesting responses back. First from Albuquerque PR firm owner Tom Garrity:

@desertronin , interesting tweet on ESPN and their percieved “danger”. Team owners should be embracing twitter, not fearing it.

And a follow up by blogger and online journalist Matt Reichbach:

@tg123 @desertronin but athletes should use common sense on what to tweet and what not to tweet. (e.g. things that haven’t been announced)

This reminded me of the recent cluster-tweets I’ve talked about before. Sometimes people don’t realize that Twitter is not just a communications tool between friends, but between you and (up to) hundreds of thousands of their closest “friends.” Any one of which can resend their tweet, or take one tweet out of context. (See above link)

Not to mention how many of them might be reporters, especially if you’re a celebrity. And then the story’ll take off. For fun, replace team with “your company” and athlete with “an employee.”

Now, stop hyperventilating at the thought, take a deep breath and go get a stiff Old Fashioned. Feel better? Great!

So what’s to be done?

The first inclination of many CEO’s and PR professionals is to shield up – shut down, don’t answer the press’s sudden incoming questions, possibly take the athlete – or employee in a company’s case – aside and berate/suspend/beat about the head and shoulders/fire them for leaking company info.

Do I really need to say “don’t do this?”

You should already be online, using these tools to communicate your own thoughts, in your own voice.  If you haven’t done this yet, then this would be the perfect time to jump in. (maybe with that employee you wanted to fire?) Come up with a plan and follow it.

And go full-throttle. Blog, get on Twitter and Facebook, fire up the Friendfeed, mug it up in front of the YouTube, start a podcast – even better, sit down with reporters and interview them and put it up online. You’ll make some mistakes, cross swords with your opponents (make sure you have your extra-thick skin on) and you might need someone to help guide you along the way (may I recommend someone like Chris Brogan, Peter Shankman, Seth Simonds, Todd Defren, or look inside your company at who’s tech savvy and might be involved in this already.)

My favorite example of this kind of owner/CEO is Mark Cuban, the rebellious owner of the Dallas Mavericks. He’s a boss who has embraced so many aspects of social media and knows the importance of engaging his fans and, more importantly, his detractors. Probably because of his interest in technology, he knows how these tools work and how to use them. He blogs, he tweets, he probably runs a secret podcast for himself and his CEO pals. Plus he runs the Mavs, HDNet, and other business ventures. (Where does he get the energy for all of this? I don’t know, but I have my Red Bull-fueled suspicions.)

If you are not a CEO, and are a mid-level employee instead, then think about taking it on yourself to engage your audience using social media tools. I’m not advocating breaking your company’s rules if they actually have rules against using social media (don’t laugh, I used to work at a company that retained the right to suspend you for writing for online-only outlets, blogs included). But it’s easier to go to your boss with a social media plan if you can show how these tools are already being used to engage with your customers.

(and if you don’t have a social media plan, I’m working on one to post on here that you can feel free to take parts from and give them to your boss).

2 thoughts on “It’s Twitterific! A lesson from ESPN

  1. Oh man, you aren’t kidding! Between Pete Hoekstra, Newt Gingrich and the rest of them trying to figure out this new-fangled “technology” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry…. yes I do know. Bwahahahaha! As soon as they get something out, they have to start retracting it. There are some people who just shouldn’t be given access to a blackberry, because the rest of us will just start dying of laughter.

    How are things in the mighty Northeast?

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