British baseball and softball all a-Twitter

Fri 16 Dec 2011

One of the newest baseball and softball playing fields in Britain has neither bases nor backstop, and you don't need a glove to play there.

The Twittersphere has seen more (virtual) footfall than many of our physical diamonds in the past twelve months. British baseball and softball players, coaches and volunteers are communicating daily about their sports via Twitter  and sharing the latest headline news from governing bodies around the world in 140 characters or less.

Until recently, British baseball and softball communications were all centrally-driven by mass emails from the Federations or website news. Now, teams are tweeting daily to each other about everything under the sun, including how to improve their club and get more out of their sporting experience.

A "tweet" - for those of you late to the party - is nothing more than a micro-blog entry or a short snippet of text sent via Twitter to one's followers. Many of the world’s top celebrities and sports figures tweet regularly with insights to their careers, observations about current events and event banal tidbits from their daily lives. Lady Gaga, Barack Obama and Britney Spears top the list of most-followed Twitter users. Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) is perhaps the UK’s most prolific tweeter with upwards of 3.5 million followers! By comparison, the New York Yankees (@Yankees) have a half-million followers and Team USA softball star Jennie Finch (@jfinch27) has more than 55,000.

In the world of British baseball and softball, players and fans have been tweeting all manner of insider-speak, such as recent game scores, links to interesting articles and videos elsewhere on the web, sport-specific observations and questions, Federation and club notices and even good ol' fashioned trash talk between rival teams.

Now the governing bodies have jumped into the fray. The British Baseball Federation launched their Twitter account in early December (@BritishBaseball) and the British Softball Federation followed closely thereafter (@BritishSoftball). The national development agency, BaseballSoftballUK (@bsuk) has been using Twitter since 2009.

"Twitter has prompted a significant leap forward in the way our community interacts," said Jason Greenberg, Marketing, Communications and Events Manager for BSUK. "Our BSUK coaches in the field are tweeting, the majority of BBF teams are dialoging on Twitter, and the trend is increasing as we head into the off-season, not dwindling away until April. It's fantastic."

 

Tweet and retweet

The Leicester Blue Sox (@BlueSoxBaseball) were one of the first clubs in the mix, joining Twitter in April 2009. Since then, they've posted 886 updates and have 304 followers in their Twitter fan base. They're listed in 14 separate indexes of baseball-related tweeters.

So how has that helped their club? Club Media Officer Matt Crawshaw writes, "Twitter has allowed us to promote our club activities to a wider audience, plus network with the local media and other sports clubs. In particular, we've recruited new players, organised a local radio broadcast from our diamond and have a promotional event in the works to be held at a Leicester Riders Basketball game next month... and all of this was from just a few tweets! We also experimented with using Twitter for live in-game updates last season and hope to do more of this in the year to come."

Last month the Great Britain Baseball National Team (@GB_Baseball) announced they were actively recruiting ahead of next year's World Baseball Classic qualifiers. They tweeted the news to their 265 followers, 13 of whom relayed the announcement by retweeting it to more than 7,000 of their own followers. The "retweet" is how Twitter becomes powerful as news can quickly go viral across desktops and handheld devices all over the world.

 

Make a hash of it

Twitter allows its users to track other people or organisations (@MLB_Europe for example), or they can track specific "hashtag keywords" to follow a thread or subject matter that is trending on the Internet. #BritishBaseball was used all throughout the 2011 season, as was #BBF_scores. By tagging your own tweets with these phrases you can easily join ad hoc groups of Twitter users who are all typing about the same subject.

“For me one of the powerful things about Twitter is the ease with which people can group around any given hashtag in order to start or join a conversation,” said BSUK Operations Manager Tim Stride. “I think that could be a really engaging tool for people around the country wanting to talk baseball and softball.”

When the film Moneyball starring Brad Pitt was released in cinemas last month Twitter went mad with #moneyball mentions, from established BBF and BSF clubs and total outsiders alike. Responding to local-area Twitter users who are interested in a specific baseball or softball topic could be the perfect inside track for finding new recruits or building awareness of the sports in the UK.

 

Best practice

Of course, Facebook has provided a social community-driven outlet for British baseball and softball for the past several years. According to Greenberg, the two platforms are neither redundant or mutually exclusive.

"Facebook is fantastic for publicising events, sharing photos and video or starting conversations online. Our sports continue to use Facebook well, and we don't see that changing anytime soon.

"Twitter, by contrast, is pithy and immediate, which means it has a different flavour altogether. Tweets from a National Championship, for example, relate to what's going on at that very moment in time. As a result, it's far more mobile and allows for players, coaches and organisers to interact with each other wherever they are -- on the field, on the train or anywhere else for that matter."

Both Federations have made arrangements for some auto-tweeting in 2012, including live score updates from their websites and time-sensitive Federation announcements including short hyperlinks to news articles and registration forms.

But this kind of interaction on Twitter will be kept to a minimum, as users are increasingly sensitive to what is fresh and what is regurgitated. Instead, the goal is to enable as many individuals and teams as possible to use Twitter to their own benefit.

"Twitter is about people in conversation… not just corporate monologue. We're trying hard to respect that balance," Greenberg said.

 

A beginners guide

For those newbies eager to jump into the deep end, we've prepared a short British baseball and softball "Tweet-o-Dex", with the handles of relevant users and organisations, popular hashtags and some key links to get you started quickly.

If you find yourself hitting a virtual roadblock or would like us to advertise your club handle, community list, or trendy hashtag please write to tweetspot@bsuk.com.

HANDLES

LISTS

LINKS

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