Posts Tagged ‘ communication ’

Look Before You Tweet. Lessons From a Hockey Player

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Do you know Dan Ellis?  You should.  He’s a hockey player who’s trouble on Twitter can teach the rest of us some important lessons about social media and the importance of understanding your audience.

More than a sports story

Ellis is a goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose tweets have been much discussed in the sports world, but they should be just as interesting to folks who care about communication strategy.

It all started when he tweeted about the way the NHL’s labor agreement holds a large part of players’ salaries in escrow.  It’s a complicated issue that was guaranteed to come across poorly in 140 characters.  And it did.

I didn’t take long before he was called a whiny millionaire.  And as word spread online, he quickly became the new poster child for ungrateful athletes who shouldn’t complain when they’re getting paid to play a kids’ game.  DanEllisProblems even became one of Twitter’s trending topics.

The ensuing tweetathon set off passionate debates about the NHL’s labor situation, the fairness of the escrow deal, athletes as ingrates, transparency in online communication, and cyberbullying.  All are worth discussing, but I’d like to focus on something that’s simple and universal, the importance of understanding your audience.

Should have know better

I realize celebrities get ridiculous amounts of positive feedback from their starry-eyed fans, but those fans have no interest in hearing about players’ money woes.  Never have, never will.  I’ve been covering sports for more than 25 years, and fans almost always side with owners against players, and mock any player who thinks he should be getting paid more – no matter how reasonable the concern, no matter how well it’s explained.

I often talk about The Golden Rule of Communication – that the most important part of any message is the receiver – and in this case, the reaction of these receivers was remarkably predictable.  In fact, Ellis’ audience was not only guaranteed to disagree with his statements, it was highly likely to mock him, argue with him, and trash his reputation.

So, why didn’t he see it coming?  How could he tweet “Kind of bored today … what can I stir the pot about today?” without realizing the consequences?  Either he was totally disarmed by the positive echo chamber of athlete-fan communications, or he wasn’t properly trained.  Probably both.

Tools are not strategy

Ellis was actually  considered a pioneer among jocks on Twitter.  He had 12,000 followers, and was known for open interaction with his fans.  But knowing how to tweet is far different than knowing what to tweet – or why.  Just ask any company that’s trusted its social media to a cool kid who seems to know what he’s doing.  Or ask Kevin Love, who had his own brush with Twitter immortality when he tweeted about Timberwolves coach Kevin McHale getting fired – before the team announced the move.  It became a cautionary tale for athletes in all sports, and drove Love off Twitter altogether.  The same scenario – the cautionary tale and the exit from Twitter – is playing out with Ellis.

Like many businesses, most teams are run by people who don’t quite understand social media.  They realize there are opportunities available on these new channels, but they’re concerned about the impact of open communication.  As a result, they provide little , if any, social media training for their athletes.  Agents also see the potential of social media, so they’re also encouraging their players to “get social,” but since they’re also new to the game, most of the training still comes from college friends and personal experience.

Send everybody to training camp

Players get plenty of media training, because teams realize their public comments are key components of their brand.  Why not include social media? Those comments are just as public, and just as important.  I got great reaction at the Social Media Breakfast when I said that “in TV we treat all microphones like they’re open, and I do the same thing with Twitter.”  At the very least, teams should use that rule.

Social networks provide plenty of wonderful opportunities for players and teams to interact with their fans, but like all businesses, they must remember that information going out over these informal channels is just as official as anything else going out under their brand name.  At least that’s how the audience is likely to see it.  So, while transparency is a wonderful goal, it should always be balanced with common sense.  We shouldn’t expect companies to air their dirty laundry, reveal key business strategies, or badmouth competitors online – unless it fits into some kind of well-thought strategy.  We shouldn’t expect it from teams or athletes, either.

What else can we learn from athletes’ experiences in social media, and what business experiences are similar? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Is MLB.tv Striking Out? There’s An App For That

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Scott Litman, Magnet 360 Managing Partner

It’s well established that I’m interested in audiences, new media and sports.  And so is my brother.  Scott Litman is a leader in the marketing community, Managing Partner of Magnet 360, co-founder of the Minnesota Cup, and the best businessman I know.  He’s also a huge sports fan, which is why we are writing this post together.  Simply put, Major League Baseball needs our help.  MLB may be hitting home runs in technology, but in marketing and distribution, it’s definitely striking out.  So we’re stepping up to the plate to offer some solutions.

Major League Investment

Major League Baseball has made an impressive investment in new technology, but that investment will be wasted if MLB doesn’t learn to embrace its audience.

MLB.TV streams every game to fans around the world, offers DVR-like services for those that miss games, and is among the first to embrace new platforms like iPhone, iPad, and Android to put the baseball experience in the hands of its fans.  These investments have not been trivial, and MLB has been a trailblazer among the major sports.  And yet, dragged down by archaic contracts and an old world media mindset, MLB limits the potential of these investments to the detriment of the game, the teams, the fans, the advertisers, and their TV partners.

Blackout Blues

Key words: "where available"

Many local fans who routinely watch games on TV are not able to watch all games, because MLB blacks out local broadcasts on all of these new platforms.   Why not allow them to purchase the subscription to MLB.TV so they can watch online, on an iPhone or an iPad?  We realize MLB has contractual issues with local TV providers and they can’t just flip a switch.  But, the tools and technology are readily available that would allow MLB to give full advertising credit for every digital viewer of a home game within the broadcast area, actually enhancing the revenue of the local TV broadcasters.

Will their viewership cannibalize the number watching on traditional TV?  Doubtful.  People rarely choose smaller screens over big ones.  But they do choose small screens when they don’t have any other options, meaning local broadcasters will have access to many more total viewers if MLB just opens the doors.

Yes, a few fans will choose to watch online or on devices instead of subscribing to cable TV, but that’s only a problem for the cable company,  not the team or cable broadcaster – because as long as MLB runs the same ads on these other platforms, cable advertisers will still get the same (or even more) total viewers.  And since those viewers are using their screens just like TV’s – not computers – those viewers are just as valuable to advertisers.  CBS proved that during its very successful online broadcasts of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, getting the same per-viewer rates for commercials, whether they aired online or on TV.

Money Matters

What about charging separately for these online ads, rather than letting the local broadcasters reap the benefits?  That would be shortsighted, and could create the same concerns among broadcasters that led to the current setup.

Under our plan, though, MLB would still end up with just as many advertising opportunities as it currently has, because it could still run its own ads over the out-of-market feed (the only feed that’s available now, anyway, since the local feed is blacked out).  Meanwhile, the once lost viewer now becomes one that can watch more games, consume more ads, increase revenue through subscription to MLB, increase ad revenue to TV partners and be a happier and more loyal fan.

iPricing

For iPhone users MLB is a very popular App, albeit an expensive one at $14.99.  In fact, that’s a clear sign that fans will pay, even for an App that becomes obsolete at the end of the season.  Unlike most Apps, fans are required to buy a new one at the start of each season.  It’s aggressive from a pricing standpoint, but fans have accepted it.

Still, many fans were put over the top when they saw that just days after shelling out $14.99 for their iPhone Apps that they had to pay another $14.99 to get the same App on iPad.  Based on feedback on iTunes, many fans are irritated by this pricing policy.

These are loyal and passionate fans, and a modest $5 upgrade would have rewarded their loyalty, and would likely have been greeted warmly by most.  Instead, MLB proved that it’s tone deaf towards its audience.

In fact, attempting to share feedback with MLB is an exercise in futility.  A web form with a 500 character limit, and a one sentence response – both standardized and inappropriate – makes it clear that MLB has no interest in listening to fans.  That should change, for the good of the game, and baseball’s bottom lines.

Major League Opportunities

MLB is so close.  They have the assets, and they have the opportunity, but their policies fail to capitalize on this at their own expense.  A few modest changes in policy could go a long ways towards increasing MLB revenue, accessibility of the game to fans, advertiser revenue, and team loyalty.  It seems like such an easy proposition as there are no losers and only winners. It’s a matter of whether MLB wants to go a little bit into digital or change the game.  At the moment, like much of the media industry, it’s got one foot into the future and one foot stuck in the past.

What do you think?  Let us know.  Unlike MLB, we really are interested in your feedback.

The Golden Rule Of Communication

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Every once in a while, a tweet really gets my attention, proving that 140 characters really can convey a complex message.  That’s what happened when a friend retweeted this gem from Fred Cuellar:  “There is Always An Audience, Even If You Don’t See Them.”  So true, because without an audience, there is no communication.  And those 11 words work nicely with my own Golden Rule of Communication, that the most important part of any message is the receiver.

I work in a world where audience is everything.  TV ratings determine how my work is judged, and how much CBS gets paid.  But I believe focusing on audience is the key to success in all kinds of communication – and beyond that, I believe the communication model reaches far beyond the standard definition.

Many channels of communication

Like most writers, I spend a lot of time analyzing other writers’ messages, and over time, I’ve come to realize that just about everything falls under the broad umbrella of the communication model.  Sales, marketing, customer relations, coaching, teaching, managing people, running a website – even raising children – all require effective communication.

I’ve also noticed that the common bond between most successful people – whether they are coaches, politicians, salesmen or marketers – is that they are excellent communicators.  Their styles may differ, but they all understand how to connect with their audience – whether it’s one person or a million.  And I believe their secret is audience awareness.

Trump’s trouble

Still, some of the best make mistakes.  I’m sure Donald Trump is furious about this week’s episode of Celebrity Apprentice.  In fact, I bet he’s mad enough to fire somebody.

The show featured country star Trace Adkins and two emerging singers in a clear attempt to attract country music fans.  But the strategy failed, because the show ran against the Academy of Country Music Awards on CBS.  How could this happen?  An opportunity was lost, and a smart strategy was ruined, because somebody forgot about the audience in the middle of their planning process.

Audience awareness

Don’t worry, though, I’m not suggesting style over substance.  Far from it.  I’m simply suggesting that the best style, strategy and substance will all be wasted if you lose sight of your audience.  Create your strategy, choose your channel, and craft your message, but always remember the receiver.

For example, if you’re designing a website, prioritize the user experience, even if that means dialing back some of the bells and whistles.  On the other hand, if being on the leading edge of technology is your ultimate message, those bells and whistles may be the best way to convey it.  In other words, always look at your message through the eyes of the audience – throughout the process – because what the user understands on their end is what defines how much of your intended message actually gets through.

Learning from Zappos

This is very similar to the ICEE theory of Twitter, a popular concept created by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh. He says all Tweets should either Inspire, Connect, Educate or Entertain, which resonates for me, because it’s so similar to my own ideas about writing for TV.  For years, I’ve taught writers that they should use all of their writing and video production techniques to inform, interest and entertain our viewers.  Each theory is simple, focuses on the audience, and can be easily applied to other communication platforms.

In fact, Hsieh’s success showcases this communications cross-over. He’s successful in e-commerce because of an easy-to-use website, and customer-friendly policies.  In other words, his success is audience-based.  So, it’s no surprise that he’s also good at social media, and just about everything else.  He’s simply a great communicator, who realizes that focusing on the audience works across the spectrum.

Born communicators

In reality, most of us do this instinctively.  Even as kids, we knew which parent to ask for something special, when to ask for it, and how to word it.  As adults, we realize some people respond better to a phone call, others to an e-mail.

Yes, it’s just common sense, but that’s really what communication is, isn’t it? You’re simply creating a message to get past any interference and connect with the audience.  So, if you anticipate the interference, and adjust to avoid it, your results will be even more successful.

What do you think?  Do these theories apply to your business?  Or are there times when audience should be secondary to your point?  I’m always interested in my audience, so please let me know what you think.