Commentary

The New York Jets' social media takeoff

Originally Published: September 13, 2011
By Maria Burns Ortiz | Page 2

Rex RyanGetty Images

Matt Higgins looks no further than the New York Jets' locker room for proof of how much social media factors into the team's operations. There, among the 28 New York players who currently have accounts on Twitter, the Jets' executive vice president sees an even more obvious sign -- a literal one.

"Right in our locker room, we have a poster that is the do's and don'ts of Twitter," Higgins said. "It gives practical advice, but it's an example of how much we've evolved with regard to social media. A couple of years ago, it was an exception where we were putting our toe in the water. Now, it's standard."

The list serves as a simple reminder. It is one of the many examples that illustrate how actively and effectively the Jets have become a leader among NFL teams in social media. Before the season kicked off, Nielsen identified the Jets as the team that "generated the most online buzz during the offseason from blogs, message boards/groups, Twitter, Facebook, and online news posts." The conversation has continued into the regular season, with the team dominating Twitter's trending topics and sending related searches surging as the Jets lit up the Web with a dramatic finish in their game against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night.

As with building championship teams, implementing a successful social media strategy doesn't happen overnight. The Jets are in the third year of really focusing efforts on social media. The results have been measurable.

"While not exclusively by any stretch, I believe [social media] has been significantly responsible for how we've grown the fan base in the last couple of years," Higgins said. "Our website has gone from the bottom quartile three or four years ago to now being in the top quartile in the league."

The foray into social media began as an experiment with Higgins and social media consultant Gary Vaynerchuk. The two worked with a single player (then-Jets safety Kerry Rhodes) to develop a social media presence and see where it went.

That test run marked the start of what would become standard practice for the Jets. The team has a seminar for players at the beginning of every season on "how to manage your brand on social media" and educates and encourages players to be active on social media.

Higgins also takes pride in the team's "Connect with the Jets" Twitter tool, which allows fans to follow the team's official account, players and select front office personnel with a single click. It's a feature he sees becoming standard among sports teams.

"What's great about the tools is it promotes the team concept, but it also has the effect of taking some of our players who might not have as much of a following publicly and gives them the benefit of all those followers," Higgins explained. "The viral network effect of social media then begins to take on a life of their own if a guy has a personality."

While having players active, visible and engaged on social media may be the most evident aspect of social media operations, especially to the fans, it's only one part of the team's efforts.

The organization has strived to make the entire social media experience more valuable to their fans.

"When you come to the stadium, it has a well-thought-out experience," Higgins said. "There's the team coming out of the tunnel, the music, the cheerleaders. These things you get to experience when you're there. We see Facebook as the same thing. It's one giant [virtual] stadium ... and let's brand these unusual experiences you can only access by being a part of the Facebook community."

And it's worked. This offseason, the team launched its "How Would You Like..." Facebook initiative that offered unique opportunities to users who liked the team's page. The results? The team had the third-highest-trafficked Facebook page among NFL teams in July. Even more impressive, 87 percent of the team's growth on Facebook occurred during the 2011 offseason. When the team offered a presale to social media users for the first time, they sold a thousand tickets in a matter of hours.

Higgins also views social media as an incredibly powerful tool that enables a team to engage with its entire fan base and improve customer service. The fan and customer relations sector is considered an area in which social media can play an even bigger role down the road.

Identifying what's next is part of the reason the Jets have been able to maintain an edge. The social media staff tends to focus on broader categories of emerging technology that are compelling rather than every new site that pops up.

"We've looked at Tumblr, we've looked at a few of the other sites, but right now, we put our investment still primarily in Twitter and Facebook," Higgins said. "I think the next big wave in the social media stuff is going to be geo-communication, meaning everybody in the same space communicating with each other by virtue of a tool that recognizes that you're all sitting in the same space experiencing the same event. I think that's a natural in the sporting context."

However, there is one thing Higgins doesn't foresee in the team's social media future -- outspoken coach Rex Ryan joining Twitter.

"He's an interesting scenario," said Higgins, laughing. "He's a larger-than-life personality, and I field tweets every day saying Rex should get on Twitter. I always challenge fans to try to convince him. Then when fans see him at events or wherever, they'll say, 'Matt said you should join Twitter.' It's gotten to where Rex tells me, 'Stop doing that.'"

But in the world of social media, things change rapidly, so what seems unlikely this week could be completely within the realm of possibility six months from now -- especially the way the Jets are moving in the social media space.

That was quick

Kobe Bryant finally gave in and joined Twitter last week. Well, for a few hours.

The Los Angeles Lakers guard launched his @kobebryant account Wednesday, tweeting, "Can you hear me now?!?!"

Word of his arrival in the Twitterverse spread quickly, earning him more than 35,000 followers in three-and-half hours.

Then, Bryant's account disappeared. Multiple media outlets reported the NBA star will return to the microblogging site, but he wasn't yet ready to launch the account.

Until then, Bryant still holds the distinction of being the NBA's biggest Twitter holdout. He does not, however, hold the record for briefest stint by a professional athlete on Twitter. That distinction belongs to Manchester United midfielder Darron Gibson.

Elsewhere in the social mediasphere

• The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the thick of "Social September," a monthlong social media event. Fans have the opportunity to tweet questions that players will answer after home games and win prizes via Twitter. The team also will feature tweets with the #SocialSept hashtag at games, with a number of other elements integrating both Facebook and Twitter.

• The Rugby World Cup is under way in New Zealand and will provide fans with a unique weekly social media wrap-up throughout the course of the tournament. The first edition appeared this week and looked at the rise in tweets, Facebook and Twitter interest by country and highlighted Flickr photos. The tournament has been successfully utilizing social media in the event's lead-up and seeks to continue that through the next six weeks.

• The UFC is also providing weekly wrap-ups, highlighting the most interesting fighter tweets of the week.

• Voting for the National Lampoon Twitter Awards is under way. After narrowing it down to five Twitter accounts after Round 1, the finalists for the "Sports Humorist" category are The Skylar Brothers, Seth Meyers, Jay Mohr, Bill Simmons and Justin Stangel.

• NFL free-agent receiver Terrell Owens will be appearing on the social media show "What's Trending" with Shira Lazar on Tuesday. The show airs online at 1 p.m. ET.

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 Page 2 on Twitter at @Page2.

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Maria Burns Ortiz covers social media for ESPN Playbook. She began writing for ESPN.com in 2006, covering college soccer for ESPNSoccernet.