Social Media All-Stars

This blog began as an assignment for my social media class in graduate school. As promised, here is my final project: more about the Cardinals, and what we can learn about social media from the team.

As an organization, the St. Louis Cardinals have a strong social media presence, most likely because much of their target audience is on social media. The team has an active Facebook page, Twitter feed, Google+ account, and Pinterest page.

Why would a sports team bother to establish an active presence across so many social media channels? For one thing, it allows the team to engage with fans. Creating a more engaged fan-base helps personalize the Cardinals brand and also likely leads to increased ticket sales, which is obviously good for the team.

Major League Baseball (MLB) provides its own answer, as the League “recognizes the importance of social media as an important way for players to communicate directly with fans,” and encourages players “to connect with fans through Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms” in order to “bring fans closer to the game and have them engaged with baseball,” teams, and players “in a meaningful way.” 

Above all else, I enjoy the Cardinals’ use of social media because it allows fans like me, who are living outside of St. Louis, to remain up-to-date with team happenings and participate in the Cardinals conversation from afar. Social media therefore allow Cardinal Nation to extend far beyond St. Louis and allow fans to connect to one another through global networks and communities.

Sports highlights also lend themselves well to video and the Internet. Online video preserves special moments in sports, allowing them to be watched over and over, even years after they take place. Here are a few of my favorite Cardinals moments that I have seen over the years (in no particular order), courtesy of MLB.com. Click on each photo to see the videos. (You may need to press the back button to return to the blog after watching the videos.)

1. Jim Edmonds’ diving catch during the 2004 National League Championship Series against the Houston Astros:

2. Albert Pujols’ home run in the 2005 National League Championship Series against Astros closer Brad Lidge. (The Cardinals were behind 4-2 in the game, and the homerun gave them a 5-4 lead in the ninth inning):

3. Adam Wainwright strikes out Brandon Inge of the Detroit Tigers to win the 2006 World Series for the Cardinals:

4. After twice being down to their last strike against the Texas Rangers in a do-or-die game, the Cardinals came back to win Game 6 of the World Series on a walk-off home run by David Freese:

The Cardinals entered the 2011 postseason as the major underdog. Nobody predicted that they would be able to get past the first round, let alone win the World Series. But the Cardinals kept winning. And as they did, the club used social media to help rally the fans and get them to believe in the impossible. For example, each day during the playoffs, the Cardinals Facebook page would post pictures and inspirational quotes for fans to like, comment on, and repost to their own profiles in solidarity. As the underdogs, the Cardinals needed all the help they could get.

Another example of this phenomenon is the “Rally Squirrel.” A squirrel ran onto the field at Busch Stadium during the Cardinals’ October 4, 2011 playoff game against the Philadelphia Phillies. During the next game, the squirrel scampered across home plate as Skip Schumaker was batting for the Cardinals. The squirrel interrupted the game briefly and distracted Phillies pitcher Roy Oswalt. The Cardinals ended up winning the game (and eventually the series), and the squirrel became the Cardinals’ unofficial mascot.

The “Rally Squirrel” soon went “viral,” or should I say spreadable, as it appeared all over the Internet, and eventually made its way onto T-shirts, bumper stickers, and baseball cards. It even created its own Twitter feed (@BuschSquirrel), which accumulated tens of thousands of followers within a matter of days. The team’s social media accounts discussed the squirrel as well. The Rally Squirrel became so popular that the Cardinals’ World Series championship rings even featured a tiny squirrel on one side:

The Cardinals’ World Series championship rings feature a tiny squirrel on the side, in honor of the Rally Squirrel. Photo by David Brown.

The Rally Squirrel also received coverage in the mainstream media (print and broadcast), illustrating convergence, as it crossed over between multiple media platforms.

The Rally Squirrel was not the Cardinals’ only new mascot, though. Cardinals player Allen Craig has a pet tortoise named Torty. Once word about Torty spread, the tortoise soon had his own Twitter feed (@TortyCraig) and merchandise as well. Torty and the Rally Squirrel became so popular that Cardinals then-manager Tony La Russa talked about them in press conferences (he even said that they were dating each other) and Cardinals reporters wrote stories about them.

This picture of the “Rally Squirrel” spread through social media.

Cardinals player Jon Jay used to tell Allen Craig to “Do it for Torty” before Craig’s at-bats.

Novelty Twitter feeds like these extended the narrative about these mascots beyond the baseball diamond to where fans could be creative and continue the story. The mascots took on “lives” of their own. For example, the Twitter feed for Cardinals closer Jason Motte’s glove, @SirGlovingtonAWilson, describes that he is “best friends with Torty Craig.”

The Cardinals’ playoff run also led to the creation of several hashtags on Twitter, such as #Happy flight, which was the team’s rallying cry after every victory (because a victory meant the flight home would be a happy one), or #11-in-11, which stood for the team’s quest to win their eleventh World Series championship in the year 2011.

Beyond novelty Twitter feeds, though, many baseball players themselves now use Twitter. The trend has spread to the Cardinals, where players such as David Freese (@dfreese23), Yadier Molina (@yadimolina04), Jon Jay (@jonjayu), Jason Motte (@JMotte30), Matt Holliday (mattholliday7), Carlos Beltran (@carlosbeltran15), and Daniel Descalso (@DanielDescalso) tweet frequently.

As a huge Cardinals fan, I enjoy following these players and others on Twitter, as well as Cardinals beat reporters, sports writers, and bloggers, because their tweets are genuine and personal. In an age where anyone can pretend to be another person online, authenticity is appreciated and rewarded.

I often tweet about baseball (live updates of baseball games fit with well Twitter’s 140-character limit and make Twitter a great source of breaking baseball news). Twitter allows me to become part of the baseball conversation. I tweet to reporters, asking them questions or responding to their comments, and many times I get responses back from them. I’ve even had a conversation via Twitter with a Cardinals player. It’s empowering, as a fan of the game of baseball, to be able to engage and interact with elite members of the sport. Though these players and experts don’t always respond, I try to tweet about baseball as much as possible so that I can establish a voice and a presence on Twitter, making people more likely to respond to or follow me. My experiences with Twitter demonstrate how social media can lower the transaction costs of communication, as Benkler suggests.

Though this type of interaction with reporters may not be as frequent for other types of journalists (see Pew study), I have found it to be quite common in the baseball world.

The use of social media has become so prevalent among baseball players that Major League Baseball recently followed in the footsteps of many news organizations by releasing its first social media policy. The policy outlines the boundaries of appropriate use of social media by players.

MLB encourages its players to use social media to interact with fans, but also recognizes that there must be certain limitations to those interactions. The policy prohibits the following player actions:

1. Displaying or transmitting Content via Social Media that reasonably could be construed as an official public communication of any MLB Entity without obtaining proper authorization.

2. Using an MLB Entity’s logo, mark, or written, photographic, video or audio property without obtaining proper authorization.

3. Linking to the website of any MLB Entity on any Social Media outlet without obtaining proper authorization.

4. Displaying or transmitting Content that contains confidential or proprietary information of any MLB Entity or its employees or agents, including, for example, financial information, medical information, strategic information, etc.

5. Displaying or transmitting Content that reasonably could be construed as condoning the use of any substance prohibited by Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

6. Displaying or transmitting Content that questions the impartiality of or otherwise denigrates a Major League umpire.

7. Displaying or transmitting Content that is derogatory or insensitive to individuals based on race, color, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, national origin, age, disability, or religion, including, but not limited to, slurs, jokes, stereotypes or other inappropriate remarks.

8. Displaying or transmitting Content that constitutes harassment of an individual or group of individuals, or threatens or advocates the use of violence against an individual or group of individuals.

9. Displaying or transmitting Content that contains obscene or sexually explicit language, images, or acts.

10. Displaying or transmitting Content that violates applicable local, state or federal law or regulations.

This policy reflects the importance of ethics when baseball players portray and express themselves. Players must be careful on social media, where comments they make about their personal lives can affect their reputations as professionals.

Social media also allow fans to become media producers. When significant events happen in sports, many fans create their own videos that splice together various highlights with music, resulting in a montage or narrative of sorts. For example, here is my favorite video that tells the story of the Cardinals’ season and their historic comeback to win the World Series in 2011. The video synchronizes action with lyrics in the song:

This video is an example of convergence culture, as it features various highlights and music that amateurs spliced together. Jenkins describes convergence culture as a place “where old and new media collide, where grassroots and corporate media intersect, where the power of the media producer and the power of the media consumer interact in unpredictable ways.” The line between media producer and consumer certainly becomes blurred on social media, as any person or sports fan can produce online content that many others can see. Videos that fans create can end up bringing positive publicity to the Cardinals, even though the Cardinals as an organization may have had nothing to do with producing the videos.

Here is another video that ended up circulating the Internet. This one is a compilation of fan reactions to the Cardinals’ World Series victory:

Each of the above videos was uploaded to YouTube (another social media channel), and was then shared through email, Facebook, and other channels when people posted or sent the link. YouTube thus serves as an aggregator that facilitates video sharing. According to Burgess and Green, “we watch videos after we stumble across them on blogs, or click on links sent to us in emails by our friends, and we pass them along to others” (9).

This is certainly true for me. I usually find Cardinals videos after people post them to Facebook or Twitter. If I like them enough, I’ll send them to other fans (like my Dad, brothers, or friends) who would appreciate them.

Burgess and Green therefore consider YouTube to be a site of “participatory culture,” or a culture in which “fans and other consumers are invited to actively participate in the creation and circulation of new content” (10).

In addition to videos, Cardinals fans have also developed several memes that have spread across the Internet and have been spotted on Facebook. For example, this meme spread when Albert Pujols went on a home run drought for the entire month of April:

The “No Homers Club” meme capitalizes on [some] Cards fans’ resentment of Albert Pujols for leaving the team and also uses humor to poke fun at Pujols for his extended offensive slump. Homer Simpson is not allowed in the club, but Albert Pujols, who had no “homers” (home runs) at the time is allowed and can be seen through the window.

Another popular meme features the thoughts of Mike Matheny, the Cardinals’ new manager, and relies on his good looks and the fact that he is baseball’s youngest manager. The meme is based on the “Feminist Ryan Gosling” meme and has several versions that have spread online.

These memes are examples of user-generated content and spreadability. According to Kaplan and Hainlein, the main characteristics of user-generated content are: (1) the content is published on either a publicly accessible website or on a social networking site; (2) the content shows a certain amount of creative effort; (3) The content was created outside of “professional routines and practices.” Anyone could make a meme like this, but only certain ones receive enough views and publicity that they spread rapidly among their target audiences, in this case St. Louis Cardinals fans.

Social media and baseball are two of my favorite things. I love that I can use them together. Even as I write this, I am watching the Cards game, Tweeting about it, and keeping up with what people are saying about the team on Twitter. Social media have allowed me to combine my passions for communication and baseball and find innovative ways to interact with the Cardinals. For a complete list of Cardinals social media accounts, visit the team’s social media clubhouse.

Works Cited

Benkler, Y. (2006). The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Alexander, A. (2009). “Post Editor Ends Tweets as New Guidelines are Issued.” The Washington Post: Omblog. Retrieved from http://voices.washingtonpost.com/ombudsman-blog/2009/09/post_editor_ends_tweets_as_new.html

Brown, David. (2012). “Cardinals Put ‘Rally Squirrel’ on World Series Ring.” Yahoo Sports: Big League Stew Blog. Retrieved from http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/mlb-big-league-stew/cardinals-put-rally-squirrel-world-series-ring-160249382.html

Burgess, J., Green, J. (2009). YouTube: Digital Media and Society Series. Malden, MA: Polity.

Goold, D. (2011). “A Field Guide to Cards’ Wild, Wild Kingdom.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Retrieved from http://www.stltoday.com/sports/baseball/professional/birdland/article_f8105c4a-f109-11e0-a20e-001a4bcf6878.html

Holcomb, J., Gross K., Mitchell A. (2011). “How Mainstream Media Outlets Use Twitter.” Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Retrieved from http://www.journalism.org/analysis_report/how_mainstream_media_outlets_use_twitter.

Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York, NY: New York University Press.

Jenkins, H. (2009, February 11). If It Doesn’t Spread, It’s Dead. Confessions of an Aca-Fan: The Official Weblog of Henry Jenkins. Retrieved from http://www.henryjenkins.org

Kaplan, A., Haenlein, M. (2010). “Users of the World, Unite! The Challenges and Opportunities of Social Media.”  Business Horizons. Retrieved from Science Direct.

“Memorandum RE: Major League Baseball’s Social Media Policy.” Retrieved from http://davidhallsocialmedia.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/mlbsocialmediapolicy.pdf

Schroeder, S. (2009). “WSJ Social Media Policy: Still Not Getting It.” Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2009/05/14/wsj-social-media-policy/

Silverman, M. (2010). “The Future of Social Media and Politics.” Mashable. Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2010/11/01/future-social-media-politics/

About stlconfidential

I am a Midwesterner at heart, living in Washington D.C. I am also a graduate student at GW's School of Media and Public Affairs, interested in political communication, social media, and baseball.
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