ESPN Finally Discovers Twitter, But They Still Don’t Understand It
Like many major corporations that have existed for generations, ESPN/Disney exhibits a significant reluctance to embrace new communication technologies. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the case of Twitter, the popularity of which the network has ignored publicly while simultaneously being confounded internally . Try searching for the word "Twitter" on ESPN's home page, and it becomes clear the organization is evading acknowledgement of the platform's existence.
But that's all about to change, according to this piece by SportsBusiness Daily's John Ourand. A fresh perspective on integrating Twitter into ESPN.com has taken hold -- but will it really change anything?
The network's first recognition of the medium came in 2009, when an internal memo detailed a policy on tweeting (more accurately, the use of social media) that some reporters found draconian in nature. On-air personality Kenny Mayne compared it to the Taliban. The perception was that ESPN personnel could tweet links to stories on ESPN.com or report news that had been authorized by a senior editor -- period.
Of course, that wasn't really the case, and the policy itself has been applied with significant subjectivity. (ESPN spokesperson Josh Krulewitz says the policy is in constant evolution, and its latest iteration is awaiting approval from the editorial board.) ESPN personalities that were active on Twitter before the policy's implementation have, more or less, returned to their regular activity. Yet a significant number of ESPN reporters were novice Twitter users or had yet to join at that date, and the reputation -- if not the language or practical application -- of the ESPN social media policy has clearly had a chilling effect on the frequency of their tweeting and the value of content within the tweets.
The result is a surprisingly low follower count for all but the most celebrity of ESPN personalities. Mark Cuban recognized this in April, citing that ESPN had a serious problem on its hands in a link-driven information marketplace. Sure, social media mavens like Bill Simmons have massive audiences, but the only time Simmons broke a major news story he did so by accident.
This all assumes ESPN's new Twittercentric formula actually emphasizes collecting that sort of attention. The SBD article indicates the opposite, in fact; ESPN plans to feature social media as contributions to its web content. That's terrific, but it's also a very simple implementation of the information and one most media websites have featured for several years already. That ESPN thinks this is somehow innovative reflects how primitive the network's understanding of the platform is.
On ESPN.com’s Pittsburgh Steelers page, for example, ESPN will aggregate tweets from about 40 sources, including local and national media, Steelers players and team officials.
ESPN’s editorial department follows 2,000 Twitter accounts from athletes and sports executives for potential stories.
So does SportsGrid. 2,101, actually.
The closing anecdote of the SBD piece, in which ESPN.com editor-in-chief Patrick Stiegman shows his surprise at an article's popularity after a link is shared by an influential Twitter user, illuminates the most damning evidence of the organization's misjudging of the platform.
“Stories can become viral.”
We struggle to be confident ESPN will competently integrate Twitter into their reporting practices when the individual heading up the operation thinks that is something that actually needs to be said.
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