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Friday, November 9, 2012
Social media: Athletes hang out on Google+

By Maria Burns Ortiz
Special to ESPN.com

Hanging out with your favorite player traditionally hasn’t been something you could do from the comfort of your living room.

But six Jeremy Lin fans got the chance to do just that Tuesday night as the Rockets guard hosted a Google+ hangout.

Lin’s use of the social networking site represents the most promising opportunity for Google+ to gain social media ground with sports fans.

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Google+ boasts more than 400 million users, including 100 million monthly active users (although some people within the industry question the accuracy of the 100 million figure). By comparison, Facebook has surpassed 1 billion users as of last month. Twitter had 140 million active users as of March – and there were projections the microblogging site could hit 250 million by the end of the year.

No question, Facebook and Twitter dominate the social media landscape, and new platforms populate the Web on a seemingly daily basis. Although the above numbers show Google+ has made gains since its public launch in September 2011, the platform is still a minor league player in sports and social media.

The Los Angeles Lakers are by far the most popular NBA team on Google+, being in 891,000 circles. In contrast, the franchise has 15 million likes on Facebook and 2.8 million followers on Twitter.

But then at the other end of the spectrum, teams such as the Charlotte Bobcats appear to have a Google+ page but have never posted to it.

Or there are the Dallas Cowboys, who are on the social networking page but haven’t posted anything new in months. (The team’s Google+ habits might reflect those of most users.)

The truth is Google+ might be just a little button on most teams' websites. Then again, it might not get even that much. The Boston Celtics have a Google+ icon under the “Social” tab on their homepage. Under the homepage heading “Stay Connected,” the Lakers have only Facebook, Twitter, text alert and email notice buttons.

Google+ doesn’t get a ton of attention from the sports world. Hangouts are an exception – and an opportunity.

The New York Giants created quite a buzz when the team randomly selected fans to participate in hangouts with players just days before Super Bowl XLVI.

The New York Times partnered with Google+ on a series of hangouts that brought together athletes, media and fans around the 2012 Olympics, including Team USA’s Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul.

In June, Rafael Nadal hosted a hangout with fans similar to Lin’s session.

And more than only athletes are looking to integrate hangouts as part of their social media offerings.

Manchester City made news earlier this fall when the club announced it would be incorporating regular Google+ prematch hangouts. Although, looking over the team’s account, there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of the initiative's having taken off since the inaugural hangout in September.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance for such events to take off in the future. Social media from a sports standpoint have been incredibly successful because fans want to engage with their favorite teams and athletes. Being able to do so virtually face-to-face, as Google+ allows, seems a logical evolution.

Elsewhere in the social mediasphere

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick had a talk with his brother Marcus about how the younger Vick should and should not be tweeting.

Soccer stars Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand are making big bucks off Twitter.

Jeremy Roenick reportedly is preparing to fight a Twitter follower in real life.

Got a story we should feature? Have a site we should check out? Who's on your must-follow list? Tweet me at @BurnsOrtiz. If your idea gets mentioned in this column, so will you. Follow Playbook on Twitter at @ESPNPlaybook.