By Mike Brandyberry
This year, the Cleveland Indians became “MLB’s most twitter-friendly team,” according to ESPN the Magazine. What the Indians have done in 2011 to communicate with their fans via social media has taken the experience to an entirely new level, for both the organization and its fans.
Looking to find new ways to communicate with fans, the Indians have created a social media presence as part of an over-arching social media strategy that has developed during the last two seasons. “Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter allow us the means to connect with our fans in ways never before possible,” said Rob Campbell, Coordinator of Digital Marketing for the Cleveland Indians.
A year ago, the Indians unveiled the first social location of its kind in the MLB, the Tribe Social Deck, an area near the left field bleachers where fans could meet to interact with one another and Tweet about the game. However, this season the Indians expanded its ideas by turning the Social Deck into a Social Suite. The Social Suite offers the ability for social media influencers to meet with front office representatives and enjoy an Indians game from a free, invitation-only suite.
“Perhaps the best example of this connectivity and engagement is the invitation-only, social media section of Progressive Field, the Indians Social Suite. The Social Suite has been universally lauded by attendees and the media alike as a ground-breaking innovation in sports and social media,” Campbell said. Invitations to the Indians Social Suite are distributed on a game-by-game basis and fans may apply online at www.indians.com/connect.
In addition to creating a social media environment at Progressive Field, the Indians have made members of their organization at all levels accessible to fans via Twitter. While other organizations have deterred their players from Twitter use, the Indians have encouraged their players, both at the minor and major league level to interact with fans. According to Campbell, “The organization offers comprehensive media training at our spring training facilities before each season in which social media topics are actively covered.”
Current Indians on Twitter include Chris Perez, who tweets a “Song of the Day,” Vinnie Pestano, Tony Sipp, Joe Smith, Jason Kipnis, Shelley Duncan and David Huff. Each member of the Bullpen Mafia has a Twitter account. Sipp has been known to Tweet with fans during rain delays, and Kipnis answered questions one evening while riding in a car from Cleveland to Chicago. When rain created a tough final six weeks of scheduling for the ball club, Pestano told fans via Twitter that he was not scared and that, “if you are scared, get a dog.”
Indians players are not the only organization members Tweeting, however. Team President Mark Shapiro often gives away tickets via Twitter, Chris Antonetti expresses his feelings about trades and Manny Acta discusses the team. The team now does its seat upgrade during the game via Twitter, and Katie Witham has a “Twitter Tuesday” segment with fans and players during pregame coverage on Sports Time Ohio. The organization also developed a social media ticket discount that is now the league standard; it rewards fans with an initial discount and offers an incremental discount for sharing the ticket offer.
All of the Indians’ Twitter efforts have created a Twitter fan base that no other team may be able to compete with. Campbell’s Twitter account, @tribetalk, has more than 18,000 followers and he follows more than 15,000 fans.
“We try to follow everyone who follows the @tribetalk account so that fans may always have a direct line of communication with the organization via social media. We try to provide fans with unique access, information, insight and offers and in turn that content and engagement generates a tremendous following,” he said.
Now most major media members covering the team on a regular basis also have Twitter accounts and communicate with fans and one another during games. MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian and WTAM’s Nick Camino tweet back and forth daily to each other and with fans. Paul Hoynes of The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer and Chris Assenheimer of The (Elyria) Chronicle-Telegram often tweet news and updates before and during games.
While the Indians have created an avenue for fans to communicate with the team and the media, they have also created the avenue for fans to begin following one another. Some even have developed their own following.
“I like that I can say whatever I want (but I try to be respectful) and can let my sarcastic side show, all while using my knowledge and love of sports to have insightful and fun conversations and debates,” he said. Isley often Tweets dry, sarcastic thoughts about the Indians and sports in general.
Isley found himself becoming part of the news because of Twitter on July 30. He headed to an Akron Aeros game to see Alex White and Drew Pomeranz pitch, only to arrive and find out they had each been scratched. After reading posts on Twitter, Isley learned of rumors that each were involved in a trade for Ubaldo Jimenez.
“Once Alex White and Drew Pomeranz were scratched, I made my way to the players’ parking lot and found White, who gave me the details of the deal that had not been reported yet,” Isley said. “I Tweeted them and all of a sudden my Twitter feed and cell phone started blowing up. People who I did not even know were re-Tweeting it, and local media outlets were calling me to find out everything I knew. That night I gained over 100 new followers.”
“As a new writer, Twitter provides me with everything I need from a social medium. People (fans, other writers and players) are all some form of accessible,” Dean said. “With the Indians at the forefront of social media approaches in sports, Twitter presents a wonderful opportunity for everyone involved to connect and progress.”
Certainly the Indians might find themselves trailing in the American League Central Division race, but they are the best team in baseball when it comes to the race to communicate via social media.
Here is a guide of who to follow, if you follow the Cleveland Indians. This certainly is an extensive list, but not the only handles of the people covering the Tribe. Also, be sure to follow our twitter handle, @didtribewin.
Video: Courtesy of Cleveland Indians