Sports Radio Boston – Tweet & Greet – Twitter PR & Twitter Team Communications

Terrell Owens broke the news about Aaron Maybin signing with the Bills on Twitter.

By Amy Moritz – NEWS SPORTS REPORTER

It might be the ego.

It might be for fun.

It might be the best way to disseminate information, or attract and retain fans or launch a new marketing campaign in the brave new digital world.

But if you’ve been around any type of media outlet — traditional types of newspapers, television and radio or ones in the cyberworld — you’ve heard about the growing phenomenon of Twitter among professional athletes.

Terrell Owens - Sports Radio BostonLike it or not, the new mode of communication looks like it’s going to be here for a while.

Twitter is the latest big hit in the world of online social media. Twitter.com, which is free to users and followers, is referred to as a microblogging platform, limiting users to a maximum of 140 characters per post, or “tweet.”

Athletes, teams and leagues are setting up Twitter accounts faster than you can type 140 characters.

“I think Twitter is probably more popular these days than having a Web site or a Facebook page,” said Chad Walter, founder of twitter-athletes.com, which offers verified lists of athletes on Twitter. “The sheer number of athletes on Twitter pretty much makes that case. I think the reason is that it is so easy to get set up and started and so easy to use. They can start interacting with fans in less than five minutes. Web sites and Facebook pages take much longer to get set up if done correctly.”

The players

Back at the dorms. Bout to lay it down. early mornin workout, short 7 on 7 prac. and a nite prac. 2morrow. 2 more days til we head home.

In case you’re not up on your Twitter language skills, that tweet from linebacker Kawika Mitchell during Buffalo Bills training camp would seem to say:

“Back at the dorms. About to lay down in bed. Early morning workout. Short seven-on-seven practice and a night practice tomorrow. Two more days until we head home.”

Because of its 140-character limit, Twitter has spawned an abbreviation and notation language all its own. A tweet is like a public text message employing creative abbreviation and lots of numerical stand-ins for words.

But it’s quickly become the mode of communication for many athletes.

Bills receiver Terrell Owens scooped the world Thursday night when he wrote on his Twitter page that first-round draft pick Aaron Maybin had agreed to contract terms with the Bills. The news filtered out in the media Friday morning, about 10 hours after Owens first posted it.

Lance Armstrong, who tweets constantly, gave up doing news conferences at the Tour de France, preferring instead to address issues via Twitter. And reporters constantly quoted him from Twitter.

For some players like Mitchell, it’s a chance to talk about things he wants to talk about, rather than waiting for members of the media to ask certain questions.

“I like it a lot,” Mitchell said. “I get to communicate with the fans. There are things I don’t necessarily say in the paper. The questions I get asked might not bring out that type of answer. So with Twitter I’m allowed to say some other things that are on my mind.”

Does he respond to fans who reply to him on Twitter?

“I go through them and answer as many as I can,” Mitchell said. “They’ve all been pretty positive with me. You’re limited with how much you can say but it’s really easy to get it out there.”

The fan interaction seems to be one of the main draws for using Twitter. The motivation can range from interacting with fans at a safe distance, to controlling your own message to feeding your own ego.

“I am sure the attraction is quite different for each athlete,” Walter said. “I would think that for many athletes that it helps feed their ego [see Chad Ochocinco] in that they can get instant feedback on everything they post. As you have probably seen, some of these athletes have some enormous egos that need to be taken care of.

“It is also an excellent way for athletes to get their opinions out to the public without them being filtered or misquoted through traditional media outlets. In addition, I think many of them really enjoy interacting with their fans. They can do so at a safe distance. For some athletes it is simply a tool to further their personal brand or a specific cause.”

The trouble

But for all the advantages of instant communication, there are drawbacks that caused a bunch of headlines in recent months.

There was the case of the San Diego Chargers fining cornerback Antonio Cromartie $2,500 for complaining about the quality of food at training camp on Twitter.

Former Milwaukee Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva was reprimanded for posting a tweet during halftime of a win over Boston, and Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love in June let the news out of the bag a bit too soon when he announced to the world on Twitter that head coach Kevin McHale would not return.

New York Knicks guard Nate Robinson, pulled over by police in the Bronx last Monday for a motor vehicle violation, tweeted about it from his car.

“Cops pulled me over cuz my windows were 2 dark (but my windows were down) lol,” he wrote. “How funny is that?”

While no leagues have banned athletes from using Twitter, there are some rules in place.

Major League Baseball, for instance, forbids players from texting and using mobile phones, laptops or similar devices in the clubhouse within an hour of game time, and they are forbidden to be used on the bench or playing field at any time.

Otherwise, teams and leagues tell players to be smart and to tweet on their own time.

“The team has routinely reviewed policies and basically, social media is permitted after team activities are over,” said Andrew C. Major, executive director of marketing for the Bills.

“It’s summer so we haven’t really had to deal that much with players and Twitter,” said Buffalo Sabres Director of Public Relations Mike Gilbert. “But NHL players are pretty savvy and usually travel with their laptops. I’m sure once the season rolls around, we will probably find more guys using it.”

Aside from posting disparaging comments about food service or the negative interpretation of some “smack” talk along with letting slip some team secrets, there’s another downside to Twitter — negative fan reaction.

As much as the players see it as a tool to communicate with fans in a relatively safe environment, there are some for whom the response is not kind.

“Compared to Facebook, Twitter is much more impersonal,” Walter said. “Fans can say anything they want to an athlete and not have to reveal their identity if they choose. This can be good and bad, of course. I have seen some really hateful comments towards athletes.”

The company line

While players’ tweets may be entertaining and offer a personal connection between fans and players, individual teams and leagues are hopping on Twitter as a new means of communication.

Breaking news, like the Sabres’ signing of Mike Grier, was announced via Twitter. It can become a more efficient means of communication than the traditional press release.

“We see it as way to communicate with our fans and update them as quickly as possible,” Gilbert said. “The impression we get is that fans like it but it’s the offseason and the way we use it in November may change. It’s always evolving and we’re always looking for feedback.”

Social media becomes another tool in a team’s marketing strategy. The Bills are on a multitude of platforms — from their own Web site with video and blogs, to Facebook and Twitter.

“Twitter is another communication avenue for us and another way for us to be good listeners,” Major said. “The Buffalo Bills are hoping to increase interaction with fans in a new way and be able to quickly communicate with the fan base. Twitter provides us and the fans another method of interacting with each other.”

Follow Amy Moritz’s activity on Twitter at twitter.com/amymoritz.

amoritz@buffnews.com

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