SBJ/June 13-19, 2011/Opinion

How connecting online can produce real business value

The main ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square was filled last month with the best and the brightest from sports, as executives from the leagues, teams, networks, brands and agencies gathered for the annual Sports Business Awards. Outside the ballroom, there was a familiar scene. Colleagues and friends shared updates and insights that could lead to the next great idea in sports, and introductions were made that could lead to new partnerships that alter the sports landscape.

Networking is critical for our industry, and as many of you know, it’s expanded online significantly in the last five years. Portals such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other industry-specific social communication sites have changed the way we do business. With nearly 750 million accounts between the three major sites, the impact continues to grow.

Twitter has certainly found popularity among the sports industry in particular, as 42 percent of those surveyed in the 2010 SBJ/SBD Reader Survey are using the service, up six percentage points from the previous year. Assuming that our industry has a universe of 50,000 individuals domestically and internationally (a very round estimate), that would mean that at least 21,000 of us could be connecting on an hourly, daily or weekly basis on Twitter.

If we were to look at those Twitter users within the sports business community, we could likely classify them in three ways. I’ll call them “no-shows,” “lurkers” and “connectors.” No-shows are industry members who are not using Twitter. Lurkers are those who have a Twitter account, but use it only for keeping up with the news and conversation, rarely or never contributing. The connectors are those who are plugged in, both receiving and sharing information, all in a highly targeted way.

Each of these groups plays a role in sports business online, but all three have the opportunity to continue to build the community. For no-shows, it’s about getting onto the site, creating a handle and surveying the landscape — listening in. For lurkers, it’s about joining the conversation and interacting with the community — being engaged. If you’re a connector, you’ll want to continue to advocate for using Twitter and engage others to also connect — doing more. That’s where each of these will experience real value. If we look specifically at that value, it’s primarily fourfold. For ease, I’ll just call it the four C’s:

Connection: Twitter provides connection points with colleagues in real time, paired with the ability to network with individuals we don’t normally come across on a daily basis. There’s real value here: Tangible business relationships are formed every day through the medium.

Collaboration: Through these relationships and subsequent conversation on Twitter, we’re able to dissect important issues of the day as a group, each providing our own insights and opinions for the group to consider. While we all represent our own organizations and areas of business, we find opportunities to share valuable thoughts and ideas in an open forum.

Consideration: Through connection and collaboration, we have the opportunity to consider new ways of thinking from other areas of sport. While some may criticize Twitter as a means to erupt with short-sighted musings, it is also a way to read others’ opinions as they unfold, and possibly reconsider your own positions.

Current events: Twitter is increasingly becoming the go-to site for breaking news, whether it’s SportsBusiness Journal reporting a Pac-10 media deal or updates on the latest free agent signing. By simply following one of the many lists of sports business reporters, you can help eliminate the dreaded daily onslaught of Google Alerts.

Over the last three years, our industry has developed a subset of executives that actively participate on Twitter, primarily through the hashtag of #sportsbiz, which is a means of identifying conversations. About 800 users consistently use this identifier to stay up to date on news, share insights, connect with fellow professionals and become more engaged in our industry. This community has become one of the critical components of the ongoing education of sports business executives across the globe. The value of this group, and others built around the sports industry, is evidenced through their rapid growths.

Let it be said that the sports business forum on Twitter will never replace the value of working the ballroom and hallways at industry conferences. We need the face-to-face interactions that are the backbone of our industry. And to be fair, some of the criticisms of Twitter are rooted in the truth. While some of the early perceptions of the medium are well-founded (i.e., sharing what you had for lunch), Twitter has evolved and will continue to do so as business professionals embrace the channel. There’s little downside to joining the community.

By engaging through Twitter, we all share in the ability to be more informed and in tune with the sports business industry. It allows us to serve our clients and sponsor partners better and, in the end, further develop our own ability to collaborate and connect.

For smart sports professionals, I believe the choice is easy: We all have to develop an online networking game plan and execute it. Whether you’re a no-show, lurker or connector, commit to the plan and you’ll find rewarding interactions that have real business value.

Jonathan Norman (jnorman@gmrmarketing.com) is director of sports strategy at GMR Marketing. Follow him on Twitter @jonathan_norman.


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