Sports coverage is a great match for community engagement because engagement is about conversation and sports fans love to talk. We boast when our teams are winning, whine when they are losing and trash-talk with fans of rival teams. We analyze statistics and strategy and fantasize in games that involve both.
Talk with fans. Twitter and Facebook are great tools for monitoring and joining the fans’ conversation. Follow the popular hashtags for the local sports teams and follow individual fans as well. Pose questions to fans on your Facebook page (individually or a branded page). Join the conversation on fan groups or fan pages on Facebook.
@stevebuttry I think Twitter has totally changed sports media. Creates an automatic conversation b/w media & audience virtually every event
— Ross Maghielse (@Maghielse) April 20, 2012
Live-tweet and liveblog games. Fans expect live coverage of all events at all levels now. Whether you live-tweet or use CoverItLive or ScribbleLive to liveblog, you should provide live coverage of every event you staff. (And if you live-tweet, you should feed those tweets into your site using CIL, Scribble or a widget.) If high school or small-college writers need to keep their own stats, they won’t be able to tweet or update as frequently, but they still should post major developments live. (And they should explore ways to get schools to provide reliable, timely stats, so they can liveblog more aggressively.) The approach may vary depending on whether a game is televised. If fans are likely to be watching TV while they read your live coverage, don’t bother with play-by-play. Do more analysis, color and commentary. Same if most of your readers are likely to be in the stands or reading after they’ve watched the game. But if the game is not televised, especially if it’s a road game, be sure you’re reporting what’s happening, even if you don’t do actual play-by-play.
Aggregate fan tweets. As I noted in my Friday Night Tweets blog post last fall, you can organize, encourage and compile fan tweets from high school events you don’t cover and so-called minor sports you don’t cover as much as fans wish you did. Ask local high schools to recruit designated tweeters and send you their usernames. Send them tip sheets (on which you can warn that you’ll stop using their tweets if foul language becomes a problem), encouraging them to use hashtags, post scores, identify team names, etc. Then you can set up a CoverItLive event, feed in their tweets and cover all the games in your region, not just the ones you can staff.
Curate fan tweets. For a big game or a controversial story, use Storify to curate the best, funniest, most outrageous tweets, blog posts, Facebook posts, etc. I Storified some advice from my tweeps about sports engagement.
Follow athletes on Twitter. Professional and collegiate athletes have taken to Twitter like crazy. Even the athletes who don’t use Twitter themselves have interns to tweet for them (seriously, I know a journalism student who is interning as the Twitter voice of a pro athlete, and no, I’m not saying who). Athletes trash-talk opponents, discuss injuries and announce career decisions on Twitter. Sports writers absolutely have to follow sports figures on Twitter.
Engage local sports bloggers. We need to view sports bloggers as collaborators, not competitors. Form a network of local sports bloggers and link to their work. Perhaps you’ll want a daily (or special-occasion) blog roundup, summarizing their views on the day’s sports news or on a big game or story. Add the bloggers’ tweets to your live coverage. You’ll steer some traffic their way, they’ll steer some your way and people who come to your site will find richer, deeper coverage and conversation on local sports. Maybe you can develop a widget to post on their blogs, with your logo, local scores and links to your latest stories.
Host live chats. Fans are talking about sports. Make sure some of that conversation happens on your site. Sports editors, columnists, reporters and bloggers are all potential hosts for live chats. A weekly chat is a good idea for every sports site, and you’ll want to host chats for big events and stories, too. You can host a live chat with a guest, such as a coach, athlete or athletic director, or just invite fans to chat with your staff. Community bloggers also make good guests.
Engage with comments. Fans will discuss local sports in your comments. Encourage or require your sports writers and editors to join the conversation.
Watch fans’ YouTube efforts. Watch for fun fan videos on YouTube. They can make good blog posts.
Pinterest. Pinterest is used most heavily so far for sharing images relating to food, fashion, travel, weddings and other topics with a heavily female audience. But I think it’s got great potential in sports to become a social tool for men and women. (Sports interests women more than some sports staffs might recognize). Think of sports pinboards as digital baseball (or football or whatever) cards. I think sports staffs should be using their archives to develop pinboards for every season their local teams have played (linking to your archived stories about those seasons). And for local stars. Our Digital First newsrooms in Detroit could collaborate on popular pinboards of the championship seasons of the Tigers, Red Wings, Pistons and Michigan Wolverines and on local sports heroes of the past and present such as Justin Verlander, Al Kaline, Sparky Anderson, Ndamakong Suh, Barry Sanders, the Bad Boys, Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, the Fab Five, Bo Schembechler, Gordie Howe, Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Joe Louis. (And any Detroit sports fan is thinking of several I’ve left off.) You start with your own archived photos of these iconic figures, each linking to archived stories, and invite fans to contribute their own photos. I’m promoting my Hated Yankees blog with a new pinboard of Yankees who belong in the Baseball Hall of Fame. I did find some other sports uses of Pinterest, including a board of favorite baseball parks and a fan’s Detroit Tigers page.
Let the fans vote. Invite the fans to vote regularly on matters of sports discussion: Who should be the starting quarterback? Was that the team’s best comeback ever? How long will Bobby Valentine last as Red Sox manager?
Use Google Voice. I haven’t worked with Google Voice myself yet, and I won’t discuss it much today, except to plug the session after mine, when Karen Workman of the Oakland Press will be discussing how to give voice to the community conversation using Google Voice.
Partner with teams on engagement. Perhaps you can host an American-Idol-style singing competition to choose the best local rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner, with the winner singing the national anthem before a home game. Take submissions by Google Voice and YouTube, then let the community select finalists. Have those finalists sing live (and livestreamed), with either the community or a panel of local judges (or both) choosing the winner.
Photo engagement.Of course, you can and should seek general user-submitted photos and videos from games of all levels. But for a big game, you might do some coordinated photo engagement. For instance, if you promote before the game (and maybe on the scoreboard during the game, you might get everyone to shoot different photos at the same time. But give them directions. You don’t want lots of lame photos of the field from long distance (like my shot below from Comerica Park yesterday). So encourage fans to take photos of other fans celebrating around them the first time the home team scores. Then you quickly edit the photos into a slideshow that you can post during or shortly after the game, with lots of faces of people in your community, shot by people in your community.
Look for revenue opportunities in sports engagement. Facebook contests, in collaboration with local sports teams and sponsors, have considerable revenue potential.
Blog. Sports writers and editors should blog. A lot. I won’t elaborate on that, because I think the practice is pretty widespread in sports staffs now. If you’re a sports writer or editor who isn’t blogging, it’s way past time you started. Sports fans love blogs and if you’re not blogging, you’re losing relevancy.
Promote your content. I put this last because I encourage engagement for journalism, more than for promotion and distribution. Promotion and distribution are important, but too many newsrooms and journalists stop there, so I mention them last. Promote and distribute your content by tweeting links to your stories and posting them to Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest. I encourage also posting links in comments on relevant blogs, being careful to actually comment on the blog, not just spam it with your links. (You might encourage local sports bloggers to post their links in your blog comments and tell them you’ll do the same on theirs).