I may waste about 93% of my day cracking wise on Twitter, but I’m no social media expert. I can’t say, therefore, what an aggressive social media initiative can do for a business. I understand how buzz can make people click YouTube videos and low transaction cost things like that, but I’m pretty ignorant when it comes to figuring out whether one’s efforts to translate buzz into cash on the barrel head are truly working. I do know this, though: the Cleveland Indians are going to figure it out before any other baseball team does.
The Indians took a big step into social media last year, getting active on Twitter and Facebook and doing fun things like launching the Tribe Social Deck, which was a dedicated and decked-out space in the left field seats for bloggers and tweeters and stuff. I was invited to the Social Deck a couple of times last season. It was great fun and led to some connections between some plugged-in Indians fans and me. This year, however, the Indians are ramping things up in a major way. There’s a video press release of it here, but here are the relevant details:
For starters, they have moved the Social Deck from left field to an actual suite, and have renamed it the Indians Social Suite. The team will continue to invite social media mavens to the space this year on a game-by-game basis (you can apply for an invite here). I’ll be in the Social Suite on Opening Day as the Indians take on the White Sox next Friday and I’ll be tweeting and blogging and stuff from there.
And yes, I’d be blogging about all of this even if I hadn’t been invited. There is certainly a public relations aspect to all of this, but the Indians have made a point to invite bloggers who are critical of the team. Heck, I’ve been critical of the team and will continue to be as criticism is warranted, and they’ve continued to be swell to me. Not that I’ll name any names, but a lot of other clubs could take a hint. Some ballparks won’t let you bring an iPad in. Others have media relations people who seek out bloggers and try to intimidate them when they write negative stuff. Get a clue fellas.
Beyond the Social Suite, the Indians are introducing discounted tickets for followers of the team’s social media outlets (i.e. Facebook and Twitter feeds). They’re also going to be using the MLB.com At Bat 11 application in the the ballpark during games, allowing fans to receive discounts on various things. I presume this means concessions and refreshments and whatnot.
Finally, they’ve released a really comprehensive list of the team’s active Twitter accounts, including Mark Shapiro (@MarkShapiro), Chris Antonetti (@IndiansGM), Manny Acta (@mactriber_11) and the Indians radio guys (@IndiansRadio). Their PR department has long been active on Twitter (@tribetalk). A handful of Indians players are also on Twitter, most notably Shelley Duncan (@shelldunc). Well, notable for my daughter’s purposes anyway.
Like I said: I don’t know what this could mean to the Indians bottom line. Social media is a world where, I suspect, more people are making money by selling their services as so-called social media experts than by actually using social media to sell products. In this, it’s akin to the California Gold Rush and any number of other times in history where those working on the periphery selling dry goods and the like do better than those actually mining for gold.
But the Indians are a team in a competitive funk in a financially-challenged city with a declining population. They have nothing to lose here, and they should be credited for trying something new to drum up interest. Good for them for being creative.