Social games in sports

With the “dog days of summer” in sports, you have to get a little creative to keep your fans engaging with your brand. Here’s one way I did it in late May and early June, taking advantage of the rich history of Detroit sports.

We had fans on Facebook and Twitter construct all-time lineups, setting all-time athletes at certain values depending on 1) how great they were, obviously, and 2) how popular they were among fans. 

The photos of the games are below, but click on each team name to see the post with share/comment numbers.

Detroit Red Wings (even Wings star Pavel Datsyuk shared it!):

Detroit Tigers:

Detroit Pistons:

Yes, it’s social but it’s not just about social media. Yes, it’s about engagement but not engagement with us but instead about a community’s engagement with its own work. It’s about results, outcomes, impact.

Some news orgs are killing comments, but not just because their commenters are terrible at being humans

The war on comment sections continue.

Like I’ve written before, my opinion on comment sections continues to change as time passes. I used to think all anonymous comments were the optimal path to transparency by opening every reader to the discussion within every story without fear or censoring. Then I started to realize the benefits of “Facebook comments” to hold what people say accountable to their names and/or faces (and to promote overall civil discussion).

Nowadays, though I still support them to an extent, I see the benefits of removing comments altogether. Why? For the reasons stated in this link: To prevent distraction, to promote a linear “read, then share” click economy and, best of all, to keep the bulk of the discussion where it’s meant to be: Social media. Let’s face it, Facebook and Twitter tend to provide better, more efficient forums for discussion than news sites and they drive much more traffic for local audiences. Why hopelessly try to emulate them when promoting the habit of “reading, then sharing” can accomplish the same goal: Driving more engaged traffic?

All that said, my personal preference is to see a news site not only implement comments, but to have staff engage with readers within them. That encourages productive, civil discussion and prevents comments from turning into a digital graffiti wall, where anonymous trolls spew hateful messages and add no value to the user experience. But are the resources there to promote such a social environment on a news site? Can reporters and editors seamlessly add comment discussion to their workflow? It’s a complex issue and there isn’t a single answer for every news entity.

Now that metrics are part of the news agenda, all of the sticks are in the air. Just because something is popular does not make it worthy, but ignoring audience engagement is a sure route to irrelevance.
(via Data Point: How Many Hours Do Millennials Eat Up a Day? - Digits - WSJ)
(via Consumers Prefer the Mobile Web Over News Apps - 10,000 Words)
But unlike the days when legacy media loyalty called for reporters to reserve their biggest scoops for their employers, Greenwald says he’s proud of the way the Guardian (and now, the Intercept) didn’t hog the story. “There are dozens and dozens of journalists who have worked with lots of Snowden documents,” he said, because he has felt the entire time that “the obligation is to the story and not the institution competitively.” By sharing his knowledge and materials with multiple (but vetted as trustworthy) outlets and individuals, Greenwald says the goal is to “maximize the impact. That has been crucial to not just engaging Americans [with the NSA story], but the world.”
I have been arguing that we in news should stop seeing ourselves as content factories and start seeing ourselves as members of our communities who are in the relationship business, who use what we know about people to better serve them. Thus, I ask media companies how many relationships they have with the people they serve and what they know about them — what signals they have, enabling them to improve relevance and thus value and often impact. Those are metrics that start with the public rather than with media. Those are metrics that matter.

Good metrics, bad metrics — BuzzMachine

This is Jeff Jarvis’ response to a TIME piece by Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile, titled "What You Think You Know About the Web is Wrong." While Haile describes the “bad metrics” news organizations use to measure engagement, Jarvis explores what the “best metrics” could be.

The only important thing I can add here is that there may never be a way to truly measure engagement and relationships with readers. It can mean many different things for many different websites, as Jarvis points out. The best we can do is ask ourselves what our mission is - what we want to do as a news organization, as a whole - and use that to determine the metrics of which are most important to us.

Navatar: an Indoor Navigation System for Blind Users using Google Glass (by Eelke Folmer)

Google Glass is still in its infancy and is a ways away from mainstream use, but already some outstanding innovation in the works. Really cool.

In case you missed it, this is Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen’s viral rant on those who may be uncomfortable with an openly gay man such as Michael Sam sharing a locker room with NFL players.

This video has received millions of views, but WFAA, which originally aired it, didn’t reap all the benefits; many views went to YouTube from a third-party uploader not affiliated with WFAA.

Here’s one WFAA Web Editor who explained why the station decided to let the video spread rather than try to control the brand. And it’s spot on.

This was a situation where we felt getting Dale’s message in front of as many eyes and ears as possible was more important than where our viewers and readers were seeing it. That’s not to say we didn’t benefit from the reaction –– Hansen’s commentary drew nearly three quarters of a million views, setting an all-time record for video views on our site. However, that YouTube clip, which was posted to Huffington Post and Gawker, has 4.5 million views (and counting), dwarfing our numbers. On the surface, that disparity seems like a cause for alarm. In reality, it didn’t really matter. Our brand was seemingly everywhere. Dale became the de-facto voice on one of the nation’s most hot-button topics last week.”

It might be a surprise to some that three of Vox Media’s entities make money. It has invested oodles of cash on things like beautiful design experiences, video studios, and the best reporters it can find. But to Bankoff, that’s all part of the monetization strategy. “The whole Internet content industry and the whole Internet advertising industry has been racing to the bottom,” Bankoff says. “At Vox Media we want to race to the top.”

The art of the newspaper Facebook meme


So why did we call the Detroit Lions “scumbags” in this above photo from Thanksgiving 2013?

Earlier in the week, a Green Bay Packers offensive lineman called the Lions out on a radio show, saying the entire defensive line was “a bunch of scumbags” and so was the coaching staff. This prompted some rage among Lions fans and even some players, who admitted it motivated them for this holiday game (a 40-10 Lions win). 

So I decided to have a little fun afterward. Hence, the photo above, which generated 508 shares and more than 24,000 views on a Facebook page — Freep Sports — with just more than 2,500 ‘likes.’

So why was it successful? A number of factors, starting with the timing — right after the game, when people were getting on their computers and phones to celebrate with other fans. Also, the type of media — photos draw more eyeballs and, therefore, more shares on Facebook than boring links. The last big factor was the humor — “Scumbags 40, Packers 10” has that “drop-the-mic” feel to it and, if there’s one thing sports fans love to do, it’s brag about their team, especially at the expense of another.

Internet memes — the “inside jokes of the web” — aren’t a new concept; they’ve been around for years among close Internet circles and, only recently, have picked up steam on social in the form of “lolcats” and double rainbows and dancing babies and, one of my personal favorites for obvious reasons, Bad Luck Brian. Your Facebook and Twitter timelines are now flooded with funny pictures and videos your friends share. You now see dozens of Facebook pages and hundreds, if not thousands, of websites dedicated to them. They may not provide much individual value, but memes are the quickest form of amusement in a fast-paced information age. And they aren’t going away anytime soon.

Which leads me to the main point of writing this post:  Newspapers need to step up their social game. And memes are a great way to do it.


How newspapers can use memes

The meme above is of Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander after beating the Oakland Athletics in the American League Division Series. It was the second consecutive year in which he shut down the A’s in the deciding game, prompting a play on words from the famous “Most Interesting Man in the World” Dos Equis commercials

It really doesn’t take much to generate a meme you can use on your Facebook page. A good eye for photography, maybe some basic Photoshop and a sense of humor and/or imagination is all you need. 

In sports, this can be incredibly easy to do. The subject matter is usually nowhere near as sensitive as it is in politics or investigative news. There are plenty of inside jokes and funny moments in the sports world; USA Today has a website virtually dedicated to it. There are Facebook pages such as NFL Memes which thrive on them (one frequent target is Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo). One of ESPN’s most popular segments is the weekly “Not Top 10” it airs every Friday on SportsCenter, which is always a hodgepodge of bad plays and humorous moments in games. 

The biggest hurdle for those of us who work in newspapers, however, is how to effectively apply the “meme” concept with our respective audiences. For example, the web audience for Detroit Free Press sports is different than that of, say, ESPN or the NFL Memes page. It may not be as tech-savvy, or as tuned in to what memes are. An inside joke isn’t funny if you don’t “get it.” Furthermore, our readers tend to look to newspapers for information more than entertainment. So we have to keep it as simple and as harmless as possible, while also keeping it amusing and possibly even informative. Here’s a good example:


This is a teaser photo I put together last December for the Freep Sports Facebook page, which looked ahead to the bowl games for our two major Michigan college football teams. Is it laugh-out-loud funny? No. But it does its job by teasing the teams’ games, complete with matchups, game times, dates and locations. This photo, which took maybe 10 minutes to put together in Photoshop, generated 267 shares. We also do this for all Detroit sports postseason games.

And, of course, there’s also the celebratory photo you can share immediately after a big win, like this one after Michigan State won the Rose Bowl. Again, timing’s everything:


Other ideas for using memes

I’m a sports web editor, so all my examples are sports-centric. So how can you apply this on the news side? 

Again, the idea is to keep memes light-hearted, which can be tricky to do with more serious news stories. So why not relate to people during their everyday lives rather than focus on the location they live in? Here’s an example, from the CityRail Memes Facebook page, a concept that could apply to your locality if there’s a major road under construction:


And another example, courtesy of the “Success Kid” meme:


Chances are, you can relate to both memes in some way, no matter where you live. Hence, the humor! These would be great to mix in with the normal workflow of stories, photos and videos you would normally post from staff-generated content.

To create your own memes such as the one above, Meme Generator is a great option.


And that about covers it. Feel free to share some of your ideas, tips and experiences with memes on social media!

For more meme inspiration:

NFL Memes

NBA Memes

Gym Memes

Know Your Meme

Ezra Klein Is Joining Vox Media as Web Journalism Asserts Itself

"Organizations like BuzzFeed, Gawker, The Huffington Post, Vice and Vox, which have huge traffic but are still relatively small in terms of profit, will eventually mature into the legacy media of tomorrow."

A great read on the future of web journalism and what Ezra Klein’s move to Vox symbolizes.

The most successful “hyper-local” efforts — sites like West Seattle Blog and Howard Owens’ Batavian — seem to be those that emerge organically from within the community they serve, and are driven by the passion of local residents — and in many cases those of a single individual. Virtually every project that has been constructed by a major media entity, from AOL’s Patch to the ill-fated New York Times project known as The Local, has failed miserably.

AOL calls it quits on Tim Armstrong’s quixotic quest, ships Patch to the bone-yard

I made this argument three years ago, when Patch first began to spread. Maybe it was a valiant effort by Tim Armstrong and AOL to try and solve the hyper-local news conundrum, but you *cannot* put community news entities under one corporate umbrella. They have to reflect the communities themselves; that’s the only way you can effectively engage and build trust in your community. This is a great read from Mathew Ingram on the matter.