This is an excerpt from Social Media and Sports With HKPropel Access by Galen Clavio.
The path to being effective in any creative pursuit starts with a solid base of knowledge. Throughout nearly 15 years of teaching communications and media, I have found that students who are more knowledgeable about their areas of media focus are more confident, more productive, and almost universally have better job prospects than those whose knowledge levels are lacking. This may sound like simple advice, but it is consistently surprising how many people neglect to build their knowledge bases, particularly within the worlds of sports and social media.
Many students mistake knowing a lot about a small segment of the field for being truly knowledgeable about that field. This is largely due to students' interests initially developing out of fandom, rather than professional interest. In other words, most students develop a casual knowledge about a sport, such as a fan in high school learning about the roster of their favorite Major League Baseball team and perhaps a few of the leading players elsewhere in the league. While that level of knowledge is more than sufficient to effectively demonstrate fandom to members of their peer groups or on a message board, it falls well short of what is needed to be successful working in a communication-oriented job within sports. The earlier that students understand that a knowledge base must expand considerably to be effective, the better chance they have of succeeding.
Specific areas that students should strive to work on, regardless of what aspect of sports social media they are interested in, are vocabulary,industry literacy, cultural knowledge, andgrammar and writing conventions. Each are detailed below.
The building block for nearly every aspect of social media communication is vocabulary. In some cases, this means the actual words that are written or spoken as part of the social media message. In other cases, it refers to the visual imagery or editing patterns used to produce photos or videos.
Regardless of the content being created, the person doing the creation must possess a broad and ever-growing vocabulary of words and ideas to choose from. See Tips for Improving Vocabulary for some ways that aspiring social media specialists in sports can improve this part of their approach.
Vocabulary improvement is a lifelong pursuit, requiring mental flexibility and a willingness to change one's perception of how concepts fit together. The most effective method of improving vocabulary within the context of a job is to study the way that content providers already employed in that field use words and images. Consume their content on a regular basis, taking notes on what approaches are used and seeing what kind of audience feedback they receive.
Grammar and Writing Conventions
Most written sports media content requires the writer to adhere to traditional norms of professional writing. The AP Stylebook and proper grammar and punctuation are still expected to be adhered to by most sports media content producers. However, it's not always an ironclad requirement when it comes to social media posts, particularly when you're trying to be creative and fit into the existing cultural landscape.
Some of the best and most recognizable memes, both graphics and with only text, rely on purposefully poor grammar, spelling, or punctuation. This is due to the nature of memetic media and the online cultural habit of laughing over mistakes. Traditionally published media tries to anticipate and correct mistakes. Effective social media sometimes relies on purposely making mistakes and doing so for comedic effect.
Your role as a social media professional requires you to understand the differences between the two and to know when to appropriately use both. Understanding the expectations of your employer and the general cultural atmosphere of the area of sports that you are creating social media for are important elements of effectively using language conventions, or lack thereof, in your creative content.
Understanding the sports industry is an important aspect of creative development within social media. It's not enough to have a good grasp of social media within many aspects of the sports world. You have to comprehend how audiences view the sport, what kinds of outlets lend themselves best to the portrayal of the sport, and how others have communicated the sport.
A good way to start the process of developing your industry literacy is to evaluate where your interest in sports comes from. Consider the following questions.
- Are you a fan of a team?
- How deep is your knowledge of that team?
- Would you win a trivia contest about the team's history, or are you mostly focused on current players and the last few years' worth of results?
- How much do you know about the non-sports aspects of your team's business, such as their sponsorship deals, community relations involvement, and philanthropic efforts?
- What is your team's philosophy when it comes to their social media messages?
- How is your team portrayed in the media outlets that cover it, and who are the reporters and commentators who provide most of the coverage?
If you don't know the answers to those questions, you have a nice place to start in terms of building your literacy levels.
The same sorts of questions should be applied to leagues and players across the sports world. The more that you can understand about how the sports industry works and how it gets communicated about, the greater chance you have to become an effective sports media communicator. Publications that focus specifically on the sports industry, such as Sports Business Journal, should be required reading for those working in any aspect of sport business, including media. Internet publications such as Awful Announcing are also an excellent resource that focus more specifically on the world of sports media.
You can also channel your fandom of sports or teams into your social media work. Almost everyone involved in sports social media is a fan of sports in one way or another. However, it is important to remember that there are differences in how you should approach expressions of fandom via social media professionally.
Journalists, including writers and broadcasters for independent media, will generally want to remain objective and impartial in how they use social media. This means you can show positive or negative things about the teams or leagues you cover, but you should not be expressing personal enjoyment or disgust at what you are seeing or covering. These rules of objectivity are strong in the United States, and less so in other countries, so just be aware of what the cultural expectations are of the country's media industry you are working in.
Some media members serve as opinion leaders, which may lead them to express fandom and more partisan thoughts and feelings on social media than traditional media members. This can include talk radio hosts, columnists, and sites that are fully or partially run by fans and part-time journalists.
People who work for sport organizations generally have much freer rein to express fandom and positive opinions on the team they work for. Conversely, working for a team or league also means that no negative opinions will be permitted on social media, and employers will monitor your social media output for things that could be construed as negative. Be sure to check with your employers to see what the expectation of expression is within your organization so that you have a better sense of what to do on your social media feed.
The separation within social media usage between journalists and team personnel is discussed in greater detail in chapters 8 and 9. Be sure to check there for more information.
As important as it is to understand what's going on within a sport, effective communication often rests on being equally knowledgeable about what's occurring outside of that sport and having the ability to harness broader cultural trends in your social media communication. In a social media world where your brand's messages are going to be constantly compared with the other communication types in the same online spaces, a working knowledge of pop culture can be the difference between engaging your audience and being ignored or disregarded.
Consuming media from different sources can help your creative abilities. Reading articles, viewing art and photographs, watching movies—all these pursuits add to your cultural knowledge levels bit by bit, and the more sources and topics that you open yourself up to, the more material you provide your brain to draw from during the creative process. Within social media, this process becomes even more important. You are creating media that exists in a converged state, with writing sitting alongside video, artwork, and sound in most social networks. Consider a Twitter feed, where a simple scroll down the timeline can reveal words, pictures, animated GIFs, autoplay videos, and other forms of media.
Increasing your level of industry literacy will help you cover sports on social media more effectively.
Tips for Improving Vocabulary
- Pick a random word a day from the dictionary and figure out how to integrate it into a social media post. Using new words can force you to consider new contexts and structures for social media messages.
- Read things from outside the sports world on a regular basis and keep your source material varied: science journals, poetry, fiction, technical manuals—anything that includes words and word combinations that are different than what you are used to seeing.
- Use Internet sites that harness the power of stored dictionaries and random number generators to learn new ways of putting words together. Sites like the Random Word Generator (WordCounter.net, n.d.) or TextFixer's (n.d.) Word Generator can present words and word combinations that you wouldn't have thought of on your own.
- Keep a notepad page on your phone open so that you can jot down words, concepts, and ideas that you see or think of throughout the day, and constantly add new things to it. When it is time to post on social media, go back and look at what you've jotted down and see if any words or ideas fit your content for the day.