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Social media has changed the world as we know it. One world in particular that is being drastically effected is the sports world. And, just like the rest of us, the sports world is still trying to find its head amid this firestorm of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and everything else associated with Web 2.0. It also seems that the sports industry is more hesitant than others on accepting this new, strange tool called social media. However, social media provides a great opportunity if conducted correctly.

The sports industry is unique in that its driving audience is the fans.  Social media has presented an opportunity for leagues, teams, players and other sports organizations to connect to their fans on a whole other level.  For instance, providing up-to-date Tweets allows fans to have instant access to any relevant information. The Boston Celtics, who are often praised for their social media strategies, even provide exclusive locker room footage for their YouTube subscribers. Fans thrive upon inside access. This type of access, and also interaction, creates a valuable experience for the fans, which is essentially what sports are all about.

Social media also provides an opportunity for two-way communication, and the best sports social media pages are the ones that are interactive. This entails being the first to respond to questions directly from the fans, or even address criticism and complaints. Or this can be done by creating contests that online followers can participate in. Putting in this extra effort also shows they value their fans and supporters. Creating personal interactions via online conversations also creates the feeling that people are apart of something. This increases involvement, loyalty, support and enthusiasm, all of which are crucial in an industry relying on fan base.

And of course, there are the athletes who have their personal social media. Fans love access into an athlete’s personal life. I don’t know why, but knowing what Shaq ate for breakfast is so enthralling. Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco, who has a famous online following, takes his social media to new extremes by broadcasting parts of his life on Ustream. When athletes create this “intimate” connection with their fans by allowing access into their personal lives, fans are able to put a face behind the celebrity. This also creates a loyal fan base and following, even from people who are not die hard sports fans.  You no longer know them as a jersey, a number, or face on the highlight reel, but as a person.

Like with any industry, social media has also brought a new array of problems.  While the positive aspect of social media is transparency, the negative aspect is also transparency. How much information shared is too much? The NFL battles this as it has a strict social media policy, which entails that no employee (including players) can use social media networks from 90 minutes before kick off until after post game traditional interviews.  The NBA has a similar policy, except the time starts at 45 minutes before a game. Why? Because they believe players must respect their obligations to the media, or rather the league’s obligations to the media. Milwaukee Bucks Brandon Jennings got fined $7,500 for tweeting his excitement about beating the Portland Trail Blazers in a double overtime before conducting traditional interviews. Athletes and coaches are also constantly getting penalized for saying negative things about their organization or members of the officiating crew.

What the sports world seems most concerned about, like any other organization, is a loss of control. Yes, people may say bad things about your organization. And yes, players may say things that may not reflect so well on themselves or the organization they are apart of.  But what is important is adapting to this new realm.  Some of the sports organizations are, especially by creating reasonable social media guidelines to adhere to and providing social media training similar to media training.

Instead of shying away from social media, the sports world needs to take advantage of it. Social media provides new opportunities to increase fan base and establish a positive brand image, all of which is key for generating revenue in the sports industry. Besides, all these possible implications do is create a demand for great PR practitioners, and there are plenty of us out there ready to tackle these issues!

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BP has a lot of cleaning up to do. The company behind the worst oil disaster in history not only has the daunting task of stopping and cleaning up the 200,000 gallons of oil that is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico every day, but it also has the task of cleaning up ALL damages. This includes the damages that have been done to the company’s reputation. As this oil spill  is looking to be one of the worst environmental disasters in history, BP has a lot of PR clean up to do.

A recent post by Todd Defren on  the blog PR Squared discussed BP and its public relations disaster.  Defren points out the mess BP has created for itself (no pun intended), citing two storylines that show BP’s lack of preparedness in its exploration plans regarding  a disaster like this, and claims that the company is offering cash payments to coastal residents in order to avoid lawsuits.

While there may be a lot of things that BP is doing wrong, I did find something that BP has finally gotten right.  And that is addressing the crisis via social media. Yet the company did not address its social media issues until they received heavy criticism for their lack of. Since then, BP has made some major changes with the hope of stopping their downward sprial.

When you click on the BP company site, you are automatically directed to its “Gulf of Mexico Response” page on the site.  The page includes:

  • Photos and videos of the response efforts
  • Maps that track the clean up
  • Current news, including company press releases and updates from the BBC
  • Technical briefing video with the CEO
  • Links to all contact information, including contact info within the company and different external hotlines
  • A claims center feature, including updates and a contact number
  • Other “useful links,” which links visitors to the company’s environmental-friendly policies, programs and other information

BP’s Twitter page is now constantly updated with information regarding the disaster.  They tweeted hot lines for people to call to report an oil spill on land, and also the telephone number for the claims center.  Even more beneficial, you can now follow along with the immediate response efforts. The company tweets out the different steps it takes in regards to stopping the spill.  Not only that, but Twitter is very effective for companyies to respond quickly to new developments, and it appears that BP is finally using the tool effectively.

Deepwater Horizon Response, a coalition between BP and other organizations to respond the oil spill, also has a Facebook page that is constantly updated with posts and different multimedia. The page also links to the Deepwater Horizon Response’s Flickr page and YouTube channel, that is also constantly updated.

Social media for BP is crucial because it enhances transparency and provides a quick and effective means of communication. During disaster relief, it seems that new information comes out every day and it is important for BP to address this with the public as quickly as possible.

Yet, the question is BPs social media strategy too late? Instead of ignoring social media in the beginning (except to divert blame elsewhere), BP should have immediately developed a social media response like the one they have now. Social media is not superman and cannot save you from disaster, yet if executed immediately and openly it could have prevented BP from the hole it has sunk into. 

Is social media a requirement for a PR professional? What an interesting question.  The fact is, as a PR student, I have never even thought about it.  I have been so focused on learning the ins and outs of Twitter and keeping my LinkedIn profile up-to-date.  I spend my free time scouring blogs (especially ones with social media tips), searching for  cool widgets, checking my favorite RSS feeds and creating my own Delicious page. Everywhere I turn, it’s drilled in my head that I must be a social media guru in order to be a PR professional and compete in the job market.  But is it an actual requirement? Well, maybe it is not a requirement, but why wouldn’t you?

I recently read a blog debate on Social Media Today where two PR professionals spoke their sides on whether every PR professional should be on Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media outlets.  One of the bloggers said no, he did not think it was a requirement.  He claimed that social media does not work for everyone, and nothing can replace real relationships.  He also claims that you shouldn’t be apart of social media just to “be apart of it.” The other blogger claimed that yes, social media is a requirement because in order to understand how it works you need to actively use it yourself.  Also, she says it  is the newest and most most effective tool in the field of communications.

If you want to be technical, I might agree with the first blogger that “you are not doomed if you do not use social media.”  There are plenty of examples of PR professionals and organizations who do not use it.  Yet I do think if you are not actively apart of social media, such as blogs and Twitter, you are miles behind.  Part of being a PR professional is to be aware of new trends and tools that can be effective, not only for the organization you work for, but for your personal use as well.  That is what being a PR professional is all about–staying ahead of the game.

Secondly, why would you not choose to use such incredibly effective communication tools?  As a student, I realize in order to be a value to any organization I need to be aware and fully competent of every possible communication tool out there.  Being an avid seeker of PR jobs and internships, almost all listing include social media background as requirements.

I think the main question is not asking if social media is a requirement, but asking why not take advantage of it? It helps the PR field in the most valuable and core areas:

  • Increasing transparency
  • Ensuring the flow of communication
  • Networking
  • Keeping up on news and trends of the industry

Sure, some may be able to get by without it.  However, by not actively using one of the newest and most effective communication tools out there, what does that say about you as a PR professional?