Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ESPN Fans Not Fans of Social Media Policy

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

“He says he understands I have a wonderful collection of contacts in the business press, as if I picked them up like interesting seashells on some remote postcard beach. Yeah, I said. I’ve run into a bunch of writers, what about it? And this was his opportunity to rhapsodize on the subject of the Fourth Estate and the marvelous things I could do for The Company with those connections. I had assumed this was among the (to be honest, rather mysterious) reasons IBM had hired me in the first place, so none of this came as any surprise. The stunner was what came next: that I was never, ever, under any circumstances to speak with any of these journalists again without, a) direct permission from himself, or b) someone official listening in on another line. And with that he folded his napkin, gave me a winning smile and a little punch in the arm and disappeared into the bowels of whatever organization this company can lay claim to in the misty senility of its twilight years.
Wow, I thought. That’s really f*#@ed.”
- from the BOMBAST TRANSCRIPTS, Rants and Screeds of RageBoy®, by Christopher Locke

Had it been a company like State Farm Insurance, General Motors, IBM, or you name it virtually any other company, the backlash probably wouldn’t have been so pronounced. But this was ESPN. The word “fan” after all is short for fanatic.

Perhaps you already heard what happened. Perhaps not. It was about a week ago. And on the internet, or more specifically in the world of social media I’d say this story has essentially already blown away. Given some of my own comments though just a couple weeks ago in a post entitled “Social Media is Beyond Cool,” in which I suggest some social media backlash may be forthcoming, I can’t resist commenting.

Without getting bogged down in details, and in the spirit of Sportscenter, here are the highlights of what transpired:
1) ESPN publishes social media policy for employees
2) Someone other than an employee gets wind of it
3) Ranters and ravers start commenting online
4) Uproar and debate ensues
5) ESPN responds

At its core, the policy basically stipulates that ESPN employees can’t use personal Twitter, Facebook, and similar accounts to post sports related content. In the grand scheme of things, the policy actually makes a lot of sense and isn’t really any different than the policies of other corporations. It’s pretty much standard stuff. And perhaps this is the problem. Perhaps as sports fans we expect more from ESPN, rather than just standard stuff. We want the ESPN social media policy to be like their “Top Plays.” In one word, awesome.

[You can read the social media guidelines in their entirety at the end of this post.]

Whether the policy was reasonable or not, uproar ensued. These are fanatics as you know. Some of the discussion can be found within this ongoing thread at Mashable. My personal favorite:

  • Bob Taylor 08/05/2009 06:01 AM
    I guess the part that bothers me the most is this: "ESPN Digital Media is currently building and testing modules designed to publish Twitter and Facebook entries simultaneously..."In other words. they are indeed bent on a "push" strategy of robotic content feeds that are monolithic in tone and have no human personality. ESPN has the right to choose this strategy of course, but they like so many other commercial enterprises, will soon find out that in the social media space, we don't play like that. It's about the humans people.

Like a major league catcher attempting to avoid a bench clearing brawl by preventing a bean-ball victim from rushing the mound, ESPN to its credit did respond. They in fact addressed it on-air.

ESPN’s social media policy I believe is reasonable. It’s clean and thus likely avoids much of the gray area and confrontations between the personal and professional space of its on-air and online talent that could develop if it weren’t so. And I imagine the policy and underlying strategy will evolve over time. Or at least I would hope so. I’m guessing the 143,000 or so Twitter followers of ESPN and the other almost 98,000 Twitter SportsCenter followers hope so too.

Reasonable? Yes. Innovative? Honestly, not really.

How social is social media anyway? Or more importantly how social will social media be in the future? I can’t help but wonder. It is after all “about the humans people.” Will our interaction be automatronic, humanoid-like, or simply human? With so much online and automation technology at our disposal, I find it ironic that the most innovative strategy to online media may in fact be the one with a personal touch.

Instead of the Physics club, here I’ll apply the words of the Breakfast Club character John Bender to social media - “..it’s kind of social. Demented and sad, but social.” And so it is. Long live John Hughes. Thanks for sharing your talent with all of us.

ESPN Social Media Policy

ESPN regards social networks such as message boards, conversation pages and other forms of social networking such as Facebook and Twitter as important new forms of content. As such, we expect to hold all talent who participate in social networking to the same standards we hold for interaction with our audiences across TV, radio and our digital platforms. This applies to all ESPN Talent, anchors, play by play, hosts, analysts, commentators, reporters and writers who participate in any form of personal social networking that contain sports related content. ESPN Digital Media is currently building and testing modules designed to publish Twitter and Facebook entries simultaneously on ESPN.com, SportsCenter.com, Page 2, ESPN Profile pages and other similar pages across our web site and mobile platforms. The plan is to fully deploy these modules this fall.

Specific Guidelines
- Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted
- Prior to engaging in any form of social networking dealing with sports, you must receive permission from the supervisor as appointed by your department head
- ESPN.COM may choose to post sports related social media content
- If ESPN.com opts not to post sports related social media content created by ESPN talent, you are not permitted to report, speculate, discuss or give any opinions on sports related topics or personalities on your personal platforms
- The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content
- Assume at all times you are representing ESPN
- If you wouldn't say it on the air or write it in your column, don't tweet it Exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for your colleagues, business associates and our fans
- Avoid discussing internal policies or detailing how a story or feature was reported, written, edited or produced and discussing stories or features in progress, those that haven't been posted or produced, interviews you've conducted, or any future coverage plans.
- Steer clear of engaging in dialogue that defends your work against those who challenge it and do not engage in media criticism or disparage colleagues or competitors
- Be mindful that all posted content is subject to review in accordance with ESPN's employee policies and editorial guidelines
- Confidential or proprietary company information or similar information of third parties who have shared such information with ESPN, should not be shared
- Any violation of these guidelines could result in a range of consequences, including but not limited to suspension or dismissal.

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