Saturday, September 9, 2017

Dabbling in Social Media

Has another week passed already? My family is off at hunting camp while I'm grinding away on school work. There might be a slight flicker of light off at the end of the tunnel, but I'm pretty sure it's just the neighbors porch light about to go out. I'm learning doctoral studies are more a challenge of perseverance than that of academics.

I'm having a difficult time taking my mind off the state of our country right now with the devastation being caused by hurricanes in the south and wildfires in the west. Watching the intimate details of what friends are going through across the country, through social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, magnifies the reality.

But, on the other hand, without those outlets for disseminating information, we'd be reliant solely on media to convey the destruction and impact. This round-about thought process brings us to the week four topic for Stoll on Sports: the ever-expansive world of social media.

I must admit, I have internal struggles about social media in general. I wrote last week about the time-suck tendencies of mindless scrolling (guilty!), but in times like what we are seeing now, social media is vital to knowledge and understanding, empathy and compassion, and perhaps most importantly, prayer and giving.

All of this before our feet even hit the floor and we begin to peel back implications of social media at varying levels.

Refill your coffee and let's get started.

Speaking of starting down the road of social media, it's no simple effort just to try and put a scope around this week's topic. Social media has been so ingrained in our everyday life, segmenting it for discussion is like slicing water. But lets try.

I've previously cited statistics about average amount of time individuals spend on social media platforms. The gist is, it's a lot. This week's readings covered social media through a variety of lenses, some of which incited internal laughter just by how vastly information has changed since publication dates as recent as a few years ago.

According to an article by Mitchell, Gottfriend, and Matsa (2015), 61% of Millennials consume news through Facebook as compared to the 60% of Baby Boomers who get their news from the good ol' TV. The article classifies Millennials as those individuals born between 1981 and 1996. Now I'm on the older end of the Millennial classification, but geesh, it feels like there is a vast chasm between the older Millennials and the younger ones. To think someone who is barely 21 falls in the same life stage as me is scary, and kinda makes me feel good at the same time!

Other sources (WJS, ND) have different breakdowns of generational categories, but none-the-less, the point here is the vastly shifting media consumption patterns between the groups, not that I'm in the same group of people who could just be purchasing their first *legal* beer. Simon Sinek (I know, I post his stuff often, but I'm a fan), has an excellent and thought provoking video about Millennials in the workplace, and I think the core concepts also tie back to the class discussion. You can check it out via the inset video.

The good news for me is that Sinek classifies Millennials as being born in 1984 or after, so I'm safely off the list, but in all seriousness, he talks about essentially pacifying Millennials, which I believe is seen in our social media use as well.

Stay with me here for a minute, but much of the reading this week focused on discourse through social media platforms. Yardi and Boyd (2010) described the word "homophily" in which individuals tend to associate with other groups of people who are most like themselves. In other words, we run in groups of people with which we are comfortable, because we may share the same hobbies, interests and world views. We all do it, we follow organizations or personalities we align with, thus ultimately filtering our consumption content.

Everything is peachy when the content we see is what we want to see, reinforces our beliefs, and makes us feel "in the right". But what about when it's not? Do you recall the 2016 election or did you, like me, try to block out of your short term memory not because of political views but because of the non-stop social media in-fighting and negativity?

While we do have the ability to filter our consumption content, when content that is not in agreement with our view appears, we can either ignore it, engage in constructive discourse, or respond with aggression. Duggan and Smith (2016) noted that 30% of highly politically engaged social media users reply to comments in which they disagree. The authors noted a phenomena in which "although social media can help facilitate connections to the causes people care about, it can also expose the same users to negative or aggressive speech and require them to more attentively curate their social feeds" (Duggan & Smith, 2016). Interesting. Dichotomy of the pros and the cons.

When I read comments that fit this bill, I often think of the writer and the individual commenting, sitting face to face at a Starbucks, and wonder if the same words would be wielded. I don't know about you, but I've actually had very constructive discourse about politics, religion and other sensitive topics where rather than falling on my sword, I gain an understanding. Doesn't mean I agree, but I do appreciate the diversity of perspective.
Perspectives, Courtesy University of Washington

And isn't that what social media is all about? Social media took the standard model of one producer broadcasting to a massive audience, and made the massive audience able to produce its own ever-flowing content (see Clay Shirky's TED Talk about How Social Media Can Make History). I'll spare you yet another diagram about social network theory.

My goal isn't to make this post all about what is wrong with social media, but rather explore the dynamic role of these outlets.

Corporations are constantly trying to leverage social media discourse to their advantage. Media are experimenting with social media response strategies (Stroud, Scacco, Muddiman, & Curry, 2015), trolls are on the rise hiding by the veil of antagonistic anonymity, and "influencers" are  shaping the way we make consumer decisions (Wilson, Guinan, Parise, & Weinberg, 2011) - consciously or subconsciously. I have seen this first hand in the athletic and general student recruitment processes.

Here's an example from which we can draw a parallel.

I once heard a consultant talk about recruiting for a top 5 NCAA Division I football program. He spoke about how during a site visit, to campus, the recruit brought his mom, dad, an uncle, grandmother, and his girlfriend. The recruiter had to acknowledge all of those individuals as influencers on the young man's decision, what factors were important to each, what priority order their influence had, and then try to win over each one. It was far more about the influencers, than it was the five-star athlete. The dad wanted his son to get playing time, the mom wanted him to keep his grades up, the uncle wanted perks, the grandma wanted him to get enough to eat and the girlfriend guessed it, to make sure she was the only young lady for which he'd have time.

In the end, the recruiter identified the mother as the key driver, so he focused his pitch on the academic standards, tutoring available, graduation rates, etc. And thus, the top recruit committed to the institution.

This example relates to the flood of influence we face on social media on a daily basis. Companies and organizations strive to figure each one of us out, segment us in some fashion and identify what we like. Johanna Blakely's TED talk (Blakely, 2010) exemplified this desire. Notice the "people-who-bought-what-you're-about-to-buy-also-bought-these-items" feature on Amazon. Or the fact if you demonstrate moderate restraint and don't purchase the product right then, it will pop up in your ads for the next 12 months.

Returning to the sports domain, the concept of influencers has been used recently by teams hoping to steer the conversation about a franchise. The Cleveland Indians implemented this strategy in wildly successful fashion with their Social Suite, a suite to which they invite bloggers and key influencers to shape the discourse about the team during a game (Holton & Coddington, 2012). It has worked brilliantly, as these individuals are probably less likely to badmouth the organization when they are receiving such "suite" perks. See what I did there?

They are building brand ambassadors. Lightening the load of the organization and letting some of their die-hard fans take on the responsibility of brand perception. The New Jersey Devils have also implemented a similar strategy called "Mission Control" (Fisher, 2011).

So, when we talk about sports, is it all positive? Not necessarily. You see, any organization can have a crisis in which all bets are off. Think of the BP oil spill, or the plethora of automobile manufacturer recalls. Goldstein (2017) outlined an article about key elements necessary for an effective social media crisis communications plan (I'd also highly recommend the book Reputation Rules by Dr. Daniel Diermeier).

As long as companies operate, there will be risk of crises. But what traditional organizations strive for is consistency of product. Yes, some bad press will inevitably creep up, but in general, the product they are offering remains unchanged. This is why Starbucks baristas go through such extensive training. Consistency. As of 2013 there were nearly 11,500 Starbucks stores in the U.S. How do we ensure the latte I love to order in Grand Junction is going to taste just the same when I order it in Asheville, NC? Companies make painstaking efforts to ensure product consistency.

For sport, however, you've got to tap the breaks.

Sport, by it's very nature of competition among humans, exemplifies product inconsistency. A grad school professor once described it this way: When I open my can of Campbell's chicken noodle soup, I know EXACTLY how many noodles, how many carrots and how many pieces of "chicken" are in each can. When I go to a sport event, I have no clue who is going to win, what will be the final score, whether it will be a nail-bitter or a blow-out...That is product inconsistency. Sports is founded upon it. It is what creates the angst, the thrill, the passion. (Thank you Dr. Greenwell, for the analogy that stuck with me all these years!)

Bringing it back to social media, sometimes teams and athletes are at their peak, other times they are the Cleveland Browns. The social media efforts of organizations like the NJ Devils and Cleveland Indians, try to build brand ambassadors that have loyalty to ride out those product inconsistency waves, while capitalizing on fan engagement despite the quality of competition, or the outcome.

It is truly a fascinating time to watch how new media, particularly social media, is being creatively leveraged across the world, both internal and external to sport. What's even more exciting, is the opportunity that exists to truly globalize our content, help other areas of the world, and right here at home. Houston Texan linebacker JJ Watt has raised more than $27 million for hurricane Harvey relief, all through social media. His goal was $200,000.

Despite the trolls and the anonymity antagonists, good is out there and social media can exponentially grow it.

Remember, Twitter, Facebook, Google, Blogger, and Wordpress are all banned in China, a country of nearly 1.4billion people. Imagine another 1.4 billion people contributing to the social media dialogue.

It turns out, that little flicker of light may not actually be my neighbors porch light going out, or the glimmer of hope I'll make it through my doctorate with some semblance of sanity remaining, but rather it may be the growing torch of our ability to use these technologies in innovative, collaborative and positive ways throughout the world.

This is Stoll on Sports. Happy football season (Go Bucks!) and remember what Dave Willis said, "Don't use social media to impress people, use it to impact people."


Blakely, J. (2010). Social media and the end of gender. Retrieved from

Duggan, M. & Smith, A. (October 2016). Social media and political engagement. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

Fisher, E. (August 2011). 20 great uses of social media in sports. Street & Smith's Sports Business Journal. Retrieved from

Goldstien, S. (February 2017). A social media checklist for your crisis communications plan. PR News. Retrieved from

Holton, A. & Coddington, M. (2012). Recasting social media users as brand ambassadors: Opening the doors to the first 'social suite'. Case Studies in Strategic Communication, 1, 4-24.

Mitchell, A., Gottfried, J., & Matsa, K. (June 2015). Millennials and political news. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from

Shirky, C. (June 2009). How social media can make history. Retrieved from

Stroud, N. J., Scacco, J. M., Muddiman, A. & Curry, A. L. (2015). Changing deliberative norms on news organizations' Facebook sites. Journal of Computer-Mediation Communication, 20, 188-203.

Wilson, H. J., Guinan, P. J., Parise, S., & Weinberg, B. D. (2011). What's your social media strategy? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

WJS. (ND). Generations X, Y, Z and the others. Retrieved from


  1. Jennifer I agree with what you said regarding social media magnifying the reality of the recent devastation. I had a lot more friends stuck in Florida than I did in Houston so knowing they were right in the path of Irma scared me. But with social media at least we were able to be informed quickly of the conditions as well as what their status was immediately. Sometimes with traditional media that can be difficult. I know personally being in the military and gone often, I do not have cable. So I rely solely on my phone for important updates. I’m not sure if it is the smartest idea, but it’s been working pretty well over the years. Unless all cell phone towers go out I will be good. Lol no but seriously, social media can be very beneficial. I also agree with you stating we do waste a lot of time scrolling. I am totally guilty of that especially at work sometimes. I know many of us spend more time than we should with pointless scrolling on social media and just “sitting” on it for hours at times. Social media is beneficial but it can be counterproductive without discipline. Being strategic communication specialists we need social media for our daily lives as well as careers, but we have to make it worth our while and not get lost in the sauce. I like how you point out how we like things we see on social media when it ties in with our likes and beliefs but it can be a different story when it is not. Thankfully last year I was deployed so I didn’t have to hear or see too much regarding the election. When I did log in to Facebook it was a constant reminder of why I am beginning to hate Facebook. Some opinions should be kept to yourself and a lot of people haven’t seemed to grasp that idea yet and the election made that VERY obvious. People are more likely to comment when they disagree because they want to stir the pot and get that debate going. As for myself, I stay out of it whether I agree or disagree. I tend to look and observe but always gather my own thought or opinion on things and leave it at that. I am hoping that as technology continues to grow, the people using it will find more useful and productive ways to use social media. Maybe it’s a little na├»ve to think more good can come out of it than bad.

    1. Natasha, thank you for your thoughtful comment and more importantly, thank you for your service!