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Friday, September 21, 2012
Social media: MLB.com is private for stunt

By Maria Burns Ortiz
Special to ESPN.com

major league baseball
Here is what the private screen looked like on MLB.com on Thursday afternoon.
The hottest club in Major League Baseball on Thursday was not a team contending for the playoffs.

The buzz began earlier this week when @MLB started posting tweets about #MLBMembersOnly but didn’t elaborate on what the hashtag was referring to.

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On Thursday morning, the official account of Major League Baseball informed people to "follow @MLB ... while you still can." The post received more than 1,000 retweets.

Forty-five minutes later, MLB's Twitter account went private. Changing the privacy setting meant that MLB's tweets were only visible to the current 2.4 million followers.

And just like that, #MLBMembersOnly went viral.

The fact that @MLB was giving away everything, including tickets and merchandise, contributed to the chatter, but what really had people talking was the ability for followers to be part of something exclusive. The move is almost unheard of in a social media world, where the aim has been to broadcast a message to as wide an audience as possible.

The idea for the noon to 6 p.m. stunt came to MLB.com director of social media Dave Feldman about six weeks ago.

"I thought, 'What if we just went private?'" he said. "Why not become exclusive and really reward the fans that follow us and see where that goes? I hadn’t seen anything like it done before, and it seemed like a fun thing."

Feldman and his team coordinated with various departments under the MLB umbrella and with their contact at Twitter, who was surprised by the idea.

A major concern for Feldman had been getting the word out. Users can't directly retweet posts that are private. He need not have worried, as #MLBMembersOnly trended throughout the day.

MLB's aim was to reward the league's followers and to let fans know that there is always a reason to be following MLB on social media. The move was also a unique way for the league to create a feeling of community even with millions of users.

"With a follower base of their magnitude, to make it exclusive to only those who were following them ... gave you that sense of elite status and somewhat of a closeness to the MLB," Matt Steckling said.

Steckling, a senior at Illinois State, can attest to MLB's ability to connect with fans during the #MLBMembersOnly initiative. His reply to the campaign's final tweet scored him World Series tickets.

Just because the doors were closed didn't mean new members couldn't join. Over the course of the day, Feldman said, @MLB picked up an estimated 10,000 new followers -- each of whom had to be approved manually by an MLB.com staffer.

That's a lot of new members to the club.

Elsewhere in the social mediasphere

• A replacement referee was pulled from officiating the New Orleans-Carolina game just hours before kickoff Sunday after his Facebook page showed he was an avid Saints fan.

• The NHL isn’t looking good on social media as the lockout continues, the Globe and Mail reports.

• A U.K. parliamentary report by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee suggests that social media, notably Twitter, might be able to play a role in fighting racism in soccer.

• Duke launched an Instagram account that will feature images from all 26 of the university’s varsity programs.

iPhone 5 for sports fans

The much-anticipated iPhone 5 launches today , and it is already a must-have for many sports stars and fans. The latest iteration of the Apple's smartphone should serve sports fans well.

A recent survey by Qualcomm and Snapdragon revealed that 66 percent of smartphone and tablet owners use their devices to access sports-related information. The iPhone 5's larger screen will likely resonate with the 27 percent of users who watch sports highlights and the 18 percent of users who watch live sports events on their devices.

The iPhone 5 also features an improved camera, which many sports fans will find useful. According to the survey, 58 percent of smartphone/tablet owners who attend sporting events use their devices to take photos.

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