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An Interview with San Francisco Giants’ Director of Social Media

The San Francisco Giants enjoyed a banner year in 2010: they won the World Series and embraced social media as a means of engaging diehard fans at AT&T Park and across the country. We sat down with Bryan Srabian, the Giants’ Director of Social Media, and asked him about the successes in 2010 and the future of social media in sports.

How long have you held your current position as head of social media for the Giants? What were you doing beforehand? What skills do you feel were necessary in preparing you to manage the day-to-day social media operations of a pro sports team?

I began my career with the Giants as an intern in 1995 working my way up to Director of Marketing and Entertainment. In 2008, I left the Giants to relocate my family. I returned in January of 2010 to head up the Social Media for the Giants. I believe my background in marketing, years working behind the scenes with the Giants, being a fan of the Giants and understanding the fan behavior have all helped me with my role in Social Media. Every day I am learning more, talking to and trading ideas with experts in social media and listening. It’s an exciting time to be in social media because it is so new and changing so much, I love my job.

The Giants won the World Series this season. In what ways did social media play a role in the team’s push to the World Series?

It was truly a remarkable year for the Giants. Social Media played a pretty big role in keeping our fans connected throughout the season and post season, as both Facebook and Twitter accounts experienced huge growth.

As always, we tried to bring our fans up to the minute news and behind the scenes content, but mostly it brought fans together from all over the country. I think the biggest role Social Media played for the Giants was bringing fans closer to the game. We learned a lot from listening to our fans, answering a lot of questions, having fun with promotions, contests, and engaging in conversation.

The World Series was just amazing, but watching it though the eyes of hundreds of thousands of fans was even better. I love hearing from fans who tell us they really appreciate the behind the scenes photos, access to the players and more.

We definitely made an impact with our fans using social media in 2010. But of course, winning has a positive effect on any effort, so we were lucky enough to benefit from the Giants post season run.

The Giants held the team’s first official tweetup on Friday, April 30 before the game against the Rockies. The tweetup included Giants pitcher and avid Twitterer Jeremy Affeldt, @JeremyAffeldt, and executives from Twitter. How did the tweetup go? When did the team have the idea to host the tweetup? What things would you change for future tweetups next season?

TweetUps are nothing new. In fact we modeled it after a few other teams, but wanted to put our own spin on it. Our Special Events department got behind this as did our ballpark operations. The goal was to reach out to the tech community in the Bay Area. We had a great panel, including Twitter Founders Biz Stone and Jack Dorsey, we had a charity component, where $1 of every ticket went to Room to Read, a fantastic non-profit. We gave away an exclusive Giants Tweetup Shirt with our Twitter Address featured on it, and we had Jeremy Affeldt there taking photos, signing autographs and answering questions, all in the brand new Triples Alley, which allowed fans to watch Batting Practice from the warning track inside the ballpark.

As for future tweetups, we plan on having more informal tweetups at events, bringing our fans together.In fact, we try to allow our fans to create their own tweetups and provide support to them.  But we looked for a way to incorporate our tweetup into a ticketed event. It actually was an amazing deal – $19, which included game ticket, tshirt, drink ticket.  The game ticket itself was $35, so twitter fans had a great time, and we found a new way to sell tickets.  We are planning for more in 2011.

The Giants have had several players on Twitter including Affeldt, whose Twitter experience has been largely positive, and Brian Wilson, who closed his Twitter account after an incident with the media in April, 2009. How does the Giants organization approach players on Twitter? Do the players have specific guidelines for social media?

The Brian Wilson incident happened in 2009 before the Giants had someone running social media and it’s too bad. Brian had one of the most entertaining and genuine twitter accounts out there, which I think is quite rare. I think he was ahead of his time and we definitely would have stepped in to diffuse the situation, which to me was completely blown out of proportion. Twitter has evolved, the media has evolved, and if that situation happened today, maybe everyone would have taken a different approach.

Who knows, maybe he will get it up and running again, but I understand how it could be a distraction and it was probably best for him to move on.  It would be great if more of our players were on Twitter, our fans would love it. But the players have to want to be on for it to work.

Jeremy does a great job of using twitter for a charity he is close to called Not for Sale.  Jeremy is a very passionate person, you can tell through his blog and tweets.  That’s the type of authentic voice you want to have on Twitter, no matter what you are talking about. Just be yourself.  This past season, we made a decision to focus on the Giants brand and use creative ways to connect Giants fans with our players through the team twitter account.

In 2011, we might branch out and see if anyone would like to have their own voice in our clubhouse.  We know our fans want more players on Twitter, so we will work on that this offseason.

In what ways can organizations prepare their employees (and/or players) to use social media as a means of representing the organization?

It definitely is something teams have to prepare for as the social graph continues to grow. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter continue to grow in the work place. It can definitely bring more to your organization and increase communication. But it comes down to trust, and building that trust within the company.

I think the Phoenix Suns do a great job of allowing their employees tweet on their behalf, but other teams want a more structured policy.  As with anything, it has to be clearly defined and communicated, whatever the policy is, that is the first step.

I do think there needs to be someone running Social Media as a resource to guide employees and management on any policy set forth.  I also think there is an opportunity to train employees how to use facebook and twitter to help boost events and promotions from within their own networks.

What has been your biggest personal success story when it comes to social media? What has been your biggest disappointment?

I think it’s easy to discount the growth the Giants had because they are World Champions, but we started with just 3500 followers on Twitter and ended the regular season above 40,000. I am really proud of our steady growth, and the response from our fans. It doesn’t get any better when I hear from fans how much they appreciate the replies, answering of questions and the timely updates.  I really love helping our fans out as much as possible and using our twitter as a customer service channel as well.

I also am proud of how well the Giants organization embraced Social Media.  Matt Chisholm our Media Relations Coordinator deserves a lot of credit for creating the twitter account before a lot of baseball teams had last year.  He has done a tremendous job of bringing the player and baseball operations vantage point into social media, which our fans love. I add the marketing flavor and we are a devastating tag team.  Disappointments?  There’s been a few, but looking at it as a whole, this is all new and we knew not everything would be perfect. One thing I have learned is patience, you can’t grow overnight and you certainly can’t accomplish everything from scratch.  We kept our focus on our fans and giving them what they wanted.  We want to build on that this offseason and keep our momentum up in 2011.

In what ways do the Giants use social media to engage fans in attendance during games at AT&T Park?

We didn’t do enough and that is a priority in 2011. We did a few promotions that our fans really enjoyed.  We allowed fans to request music directly from our ballpark DJ. We gave away tickets and tshirts as well.  But in 2011, we want to immerse our in game experience, and take our social media to the next level.  There are some great ways to activate it inside the ballpark and we are looking at a few of those now. I would say this is one area where we really see more growth and are excited about this. I also see a huge opportunity to increase our ballpark activation with our social media elements. There are some great venues that have created some very cool areas to bring the social media live and in person. Again, we want to keep the focus of our fans on the field, you try to avoid distractions. But if there is a way to bring fans closer together and closer to our product, we are going to explore those avenues.

Recently more and more teams are developing their own official mobile apps. Do the Giants have plans for an official mobile app? Do you believe that mobile apps, with their ability to sell tickets and merchandise and potentially offer ticketless entry into games, are the future in the sports industry?

Major League Baseball Advanced Media has been working teams on mobile apps. I don’t have any info on the Giants creating an App, but the future of mobile is moving in that direction. Buying a ticket and then walking into the park using your phone without a ticket is in the near future for the sports industry.  I know the Phillies were experimenting with an app that allowed you to order food for in seat delivery.

Apple just announced that the MLB At Bat App was the #1 app of the year in terms of sales. I really love the At-Bat App, and see a future with in stadium activation if MLB chooses to go there. There definitely is something to be said about mobile apps and live sporting events.

Recently CNBC sports business reporter Darren Rovell wrote that the position of social media coordinator will be one of the newest and most exciting positions available in the sports industry. Do you agree with his assessment? What are some things applicants can do to stand out when applying for such positions?

Darren Rovell is a very smart man so it’s very flattering to read that. I saw that and I retweeted it immediately. I’m really surprised more teams don’t have a dedicated person running their social media, but I think that change is coming in 2011. It’s not a part time job, it’s very time consuming and yes, it’s really exciting. You need someone who is involved in the mix, has access to the action, whether that’s the team clubhouse, on the field, or information about an upcoming event.

I think the same advice goes to applicants of this job as any job.  Just because you know social media, or have experience, the most important part is to know your brand you are applying to.  If someone was applying to the Giants, they should know what we are doing in the social space, what we aren’t doing it and understand everything in between.  Just because you have 1,000 followers on Twitter and a blog does not mean you understand the dynamics of a sports team.

It’s all so new, teams sometimes don’t know where to turn.  This is a huge opportunity for applicants to make an impression.  Spend some time to make your pitch as to what you could do, what other teams are doing, and what you have done with other brands.  Some teams have definitely figured clever ways to utilize social media, ask yourself what you would do with the opportunity.

In what new ways do you think social media will impact the sports industry in 2011? What do you believe will be the biggest change in the industry a year from now?

We are just scratching the surface in the sports industry. I think there are a few teams in the NBA who are really doing some interesting things and pushing the envelope. I think Geo-location has a lot of potential, as does Streaming and bringing fans closer than ever to their favorite athletes.

We are still learning the basics and the technology moves so fast, it’s exciting.  I am still very excited about Twitter and think we can accomplish even more, and reach more fans. Fans definitely have responded to getting closer to their favorite athletes, accessing more behind the scenes, and teams/athletes are learning new ways to communicate with fans.

We need to continue to bring our team closer to the fans, bring the players closer to the fans, and continue to look for ways to learn from our fans.  I am excited what the next few months will bring to us, and open to hearing from what my colleagues have to say.

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