As newspapers diminish in popularity, the news is moving to the internet. Sports news is one of the few areas of journalism that is booming right now. The future of sports news lays in the internet, and Twitter will be a massive part of that. Up-and-coming journalists can take notes from these three entities. Whether working in media relations for a specific team (for which EOTK would be a good example to look at), reporting to a regional fan base (John Clay is one of the absolute best at this) or appealing to a national audience (Stephen A. Smith is a fine example), the three users we at hand three can help groom future Twitter journalists. There are few who use Twitter better for sports analysis.
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Nobody is perfect. This oft-used statement depends on one’s perception of perfection. J. Cole (yes, the hip-hop musician) says, “Nobody’s perfect / But you’re perfect for me.” Though the context of that song has nothing to do with Twitter, the concept translates. Empire of the Kop, John Clay and Stephen A. Smith are by no means perfect, but they are almost there. Of course, each could benefit from some minor alterations, but as far as Michelle Golden is concerned, they meet much of the criteria of successful Twitter users.
Some of this has to do with the simple setup of their accounts. Golden says that a simple, yet unique Twitter name is crucial.
“To be found and remembered,” she says, “try to use something easy for others to recall.” (Golden 187)
She continues, “If you already have an online presence elsewhere, and are known as something specific, use that name in your Twitter name if at all possible, as it will give you broader recognition as well as a little extra ‘link power.’” (Golden 188)
All three of the Twitter users at hand have simple, memorable Twitter names. Each has at least one online presence elsewhere sharing the same or similar name, and they all utilize the “link power” Golden describes. In fact, they also have clean, organized profiles and memorable profile pictures. Clay and Smith both have their face as their profile picture, so that followers connect the Tweets with the men. EOTK has a Liverpool F.C. symbol as its profile picture, appropriately focuses on the LFC community as a whole, for which EOTK is representative.
Fig. 5 displays EOTK’s profile, Fig. 6 displays Clay’s and Fig. 7 displays Smith’s.
In their actual activity, all three users also demonstrate that they understand what Twitter is all about. That is, they all interact with others prolifically. Each utilizes the RT and @reply frequently, and EOTK and John Clay utilize #hashtags often. An added measure, each curates at high levels. Linking followers to content from other sites and other people is common practice for all three users. In fact, each meets the 10:1 ratio Golden suggests for Tweets about other people and content to Tweets about yourself (Golden 196)
All this means that, to a large degree, these users are doing it right. They are utilizing Twitter with maximum result. But each has at least one area in which they could improve.
Empire of the Kop
If there is one foul committed by EOTK on Twitter, it is clearly over-posting. At 80+ live Tweets per game, that is nearly one Tweet per minute. Followers can become annoyed and overwhelmed with the near-spam-level Tweeting, and sometimes this can lead to them unfollowing. Though the content is useful, EOTK could benefit from compacting information into fewer Tweets.
Clay is another consummate Twitter user. It is difficult to see where his Twitter strategy is lacking. He does not overload his followers with too much content. He is an avid curator of information from around the web. His profile is professional and clean, yet personal enough to seem friendly. Clay especially interacts with others at a highly efficient yet personal level. In fact, John Clay may be the best, most balanced Twitter user I have come across. The only possible suggestion that seems applicable to Clay is one I will mention momentarily.
Stephen A. Smith
Smith does many things well, but he is lacking in a few areas. First, his Tweets are not very focused. Golden says that focus in your Tweeting is important to keeping followers engaged (Golden 198). Added focus could make his Twitter feed easier to follow. Followers could know better what to expect from him, and hence be on the lookout for it. Something else Smith could add to his Twitter use is #hashtags. #hashtags would spread Smith’s Tweets to an even wider audience. If he used #knicks for ever Tweet he posted about the New York Knicks, for instance, Knicks fans unaware of Smith may stumble upon his Tweets and choose to follow him.
A critique for all three users is this: display more gratitude. Golden notes that it is very important to thank fans users for following, Retweeting, @replying to you or otherwise mentioning you (Golden 199). EOTK is the closest to doing this. By following his followers back, he is including them and reciprocating, a form of gratitude. When followers refer EOTK to other users, Zammit generally Tweets his gratitude to his followers as a whole. None of the three utilize the Direct Message (DM) feature on Twitter to thank followers. Golden suggests that a personal DM thank-you can mean a lot for expanding your following. Though each of the users at hand has many, many followers, gratitude should still be shown.
Before describing the actual Twitter practices of EOTK, John Clay, and Stephen A., let us lay down some Twitter lingo (i.e jargon) so that we can better understand what is done on the site. Again, citing Michelle Golden, there are three main terms to understand: “RTs,” “@replies,” and “#hashtags.”
RTs, or Retweets, are utilized to pass on Tweets posted by someone else to your followers. This can be done a couple of different ways. First, Twitter has a built-in RT feature that allows you to click a button and send the Tweet directly to your followers. This attributes the Tweets to the original poster, and says in small font at the bottom, “Retweeted by …”
While composing a Tweet, one can “tag” another Twitter user by clicking the “@” character and typing the other user’s Twitter name. As you start typing, a list will pop-up and allow you to select the user you wish to mention, in case you’ve forgotten their specific Twitter name. @replies will show up in your feed and the feed of the users you mention. This is a tool to involve others in discussion, and to pass on information to specific users who may find it interesting. The @reply is essential to connecting with others on Twitter.
Finally, we have the #hashtag. #hashtags allow Twitter users to partake in discussions without having to @reply other users directly. Trends are shepherds of the #hashtag herd. If a nationally televised program is broadcast to millions of people, and they all take to Twitter to discuss is, they will likely use a #hashtag. Let’s take, for example, the London Olympics in 2012. Whether organically created by viewers and analysts, or suggested by broadcasters and event organizers, the #hashtag “#London2012” was trending for weeks surrounding the event. Users could comment on an athlete, country, competition or anything regarding the Olympics, and add #London2012 to their Tweet to enter their voices in the global discussion. Then users interested in seeing what the world of Twitter (often known as the Twittersphere) had to say about the Olympics could simply search “#London2012” and be directed to all the Tweets that included the #hashtag. This is a great way to find other users to follow who focus on topics you are interested in. It is another key to communicating on Twitter, and it is utilized by all three of the users we are discussing.
Empire of the Kop
In observing EOTK, one quickly realizes that a large portion of Zammit’s Twitter activity is made up of live Tweeting Liverpool games. Live Tweeting is the simple act of giving immediate updates of an event as it takes place. EOTK live Tweets LFC games as they take place, and for the sake of study, we will focus on the most recent LFC game against West Ham United. By my count, EOTK ended up posting 80 live Tweets in the duration of the West Ham game, not including RTs. Fig. 1 shows some the first several live Tweets of the West Ham match.
During his live Tweeting, EOTK often uses #LFC to share his Tweets with the LFC Twitter community. Another common #hashtag used by EOTK is #YNWA, which stands for “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Liverpool F.C.’s anthem, YNWA is somewhat of a secret handshake for Liverpool supporters.
Further analysis of EOTK’s Twitter activity shows that Zammit spend a lot of time doing several other key things: (1) self-promoting content he has created on other sites (regular links to empireofthekop.com); (2) supporting fan causes by Tweeting, Retweeting and #hashtagging (#JFT96 litters EOTK’s Tweets and even heads his page description—it stands for “Justice For The 96,” a Liverpool supporters cause regarding the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989, in which overcrowding in Hillsborough Stadium resulted in a cover-up by Hillsborough law enforcement of the cause of death of 96 Liverpool fans); and (3) @replying to players, fans and other individuals around the club. In fact, EOTK follows the majority of his followers, a move showing unity and connection with the greater crowd.
In many ways, John Clay performs similarly to EOTK on Twitter. Clay live Tweets games and interviews as well, generally using #bbn (Big Blue Nation—a nickname of the UK fan base) to indicate that UK is the focus. Clay, however, does not live Tweet with anywhere near the same frequency as EOTK. For example, UK basketball took on Portland last week, and John Clay live Tweeted only 21 updates from the game, not including RTs and @replies, of which there were many. And there is Clay’s bread-and-butter: interaction. Though Stephen A. Smith and EOTK have many more followers than does Clay, Clay’s practice of @replying to his followers while simultaneously Retweeting them outmatches the interactions of Stephen A. and EOTK. And trust me, the competition is stiff. Fig. 2 shows examples of Clay’s practice of @replying and Retweeting followers simultaneously.
Beyond this, Clay spend much of his time on Twitter self-promoting content on other media, online and offline, such as his blog, John Clay’s Sideline, and his work for the Herald-Leader. In fact, Clay regularly posts links on Twitter to a specific type of blog posting he does in which he simply posts links to the latest sports news in Kentucky. The links often come from other reporters and news entities, though he also promotes his own work. This is high-level curation in full force. When the rumor mill explodes, Clay can be counted on to post the most reliable information, exhibiting patience and plentiful access to official, reliable sources. To test Clay, I have Tweeted him myself, and received near-immediate response, as shown in Fig. 3.
Stephen A. Smith
Stephen A.’s Twitter practices don’t appear to be as clinical as EOTK’s or Clay’s. As opposed to the routines that the other two display, Smith is a bit more erratic. He live Tweets some games, mainly Knicks basketball games, but sometimes football, sometimes other sports. Whatever he appears to be interested in at the time. His live Tweets often seem to focus more on commentary than a simple retelling of what happened. He doesn’t live Tweet every game, nor does he stick with one city or fan base. Smith certainly covers a lot more ground than do EOTK or Clay, but that is likely due to his position on the national stage, as opposed to a regional or team fan base. Smith does @reply to a lot of his followers, especially Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) and followers commenting on ESPN First Take (@ESPN_FirstTake). Smith’s Tweets are also more varied in non-sports content than EOTK’s or Clay’s. Smith often divulges personal information to his followers, such as the Tweet shown in Fig. 4.
Another interesting note on Smith’s Twitter use: he RTs and @replies often, but rarely does he #hashtag. Perhaps this is because he assumes that his followers are so plentiful and his reputation such that Twitter users will come to him for his Tweets, as opposed to finding his Tweets amongst the discussions of other topics.
Now that we have all been introduced, the time has come to consider what exactly these three men intend to accomplish through their use of Twitter. In fact, the trio has five common goals: (1) to provide an immersive news experience for their followers; (2) to interact more closely with sports fans; (3) to provide up-to-the-minute sports news for their followers; (4) to act as curators of reliable and worthwhile information from themselves and other across multiple media platforms, online and off; and (5) to provide immediate commentary to events in the sports world as they occur for their followers.
These goals have been gleaned by acknowledging the purposes of the tool and the role of the user. First, inherent in the role of journalist is the intention of providing news as quickly and accurately as possible to one’s audience. Second, in her book, “Social Media Strategies for Professionals and Their Firms”, Michelle Golden describes four purposes of using Twitter, of which the final three are as follows:
“Interacting with others, at least to a moderate degree—you might be surprised at relationships that are forged.”
“Sharing your thoughts and content—strive to be that information filter for others.”
“Promoting others (building goodwill) by sharing their thoughts and content.”
Who exactly are we dealing with here? Are their faces behind the usernames? Each of the three Twitter entities in question is in fact operated by individuals on their own: each account has one little man behind the curtain, so to speak. Let us meet the men in question.
Empire of the Kop - @empireofthekop
Despite the imperious title, Empire of the Kop (or EOTK, as it is commonly referred to) is really the alternate Twitter account of one Antoine Zammit (@azammit). Zammit, a Scotsman operating out of Florida, is not professionally a sports analyst. In fact, he is a super fan playing the role of sports analyst. For whom does Zammit cheer on game day? Liverpool Football Club (LFC) of England’s Premier League is his team. The Kop, a section of seating at one end of Anfield (the physical home of LFC), is the traditional and cultural birthplace of the Liverpool fan base, one of the largest sports fan bases in the world.
Though not a professional journalist, Zammit holds a near-official position within the LFC community as EOTK. The club, in constant pursuit of deeper connection to its enormous fan base, has come to recognize EOTK as direct line to that fan base through the internet, mainly Twitter (as a more-popular extension of EmpireOfTheKop.com). With press-like access to the club, EOTK presents not only a feed of reliable club information to the fans, but also a forum for fans to reach the club and as well as each other. EOTK could accurately be called the voice of Liverpool supporters as a whole, hence the name.
Stats: 365,000 followers; following 355,700; 96,500 Tweets.
John Clay - @johnclayiv
A long-tenured sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky, John Clay deals with a fan base equally as passionate and information-hungry, though less numerous, as that of Liverpool’s: University of Kentucky (UK) sports. Clay, a journalist by profession (26 years at the Herald-Leader) and education (1981 UK graduate), does not have the luxury of covering only UK. He also covers high profile high school sports as well as the University of Louisville and other collegiate and professional sports within and around the commonwealth. For the most part, however, UK football and basketball make up the majority of his coverage.
Clay has received praise for his journalistic ventures on the internet. His blog, John Clay’s Sidelines (JohnClay.BlogInKY.com), has been nominated for the Editor & Publisher’s EPPY Award for best sports blog. The blog plays into Clay’s Twitter usage often, but that will be discussed later. Clay is a columnist of level disposition, exuding poise and experience, and he is not prone to trendiness or sensationalism. His opinions are held in esteem by many in the Kentucky area, and when rumors start flying, he is almost always a reliable source of accurate information.
Stats: 13,200 followers; following 1,726; 18,900 Tweets.
Stephen A. Smith - @stephenasmith
Stephen A. Smith, a journalist by profession since his graduation from Winston-Salem State College in 1993, has become one of the most recognizable voices in sports news. After years of newspaper work in his native New York as well as Pennsylvania, Smith ascended quickly through the ranks of sports news to land himself a place with ESPN, one of the largest international sports news entities in the world. He has appeared on Sports Center, NBA Shootaround, ESPNews, and even had his own show, Quite Frankly, from 2005-07. Now he is a regular fixture on ESPN’s First Take, where his colorful banter with sports analyst Skip Bayless creates much buzz on Twitter. Smith also runs a website, StephenA.com, and hosts a national weekly radio show, with online access at StepthenASmithShow.com.
Smith’s emphasis has been on the National Basketball Association (NBA) since he was a beat writer for the Philadelphia 76ers prior to his ESPN days. Though he openly declares his support for the New York Knicks of the NBA, Smith often gives relatively objective, even harsh, analysis of the rest of professional basketball, as well as other sports around the world, professional and otherwise. Stephen A., though often loud and entertaining, generally presents wise insights into the sporting world, especially basketball, and the information he provides is more often than now quite reliable.
Stats: 980,500 followers; following 78; 21,600 Tweets.
Twitter: the realm of endless information and instant gratification.
Anybody with a computer, tablet or smart phone and access to the internet can easily navigate their internet browsers to Twitter.com and open up a Pandora’s Box of mass information posted by millions of individuals and groups, from business firms to janitors to celebrities. Though any old schmuck with the correct technology can access Twitter, certain understandings and literacies are required to fully utilize the power of the social media tool. In fact, Dr. Adam Banks says that in the “taxonomy of access,” the possession of the physical technology represents only one of five levels of access.
Twitter is now one of the quickest and easiest ways of getting information out and take information in (Hutzell), as eleven percent of Americans now use Twitter as their main source for news, and eight percent use Twitter every day (Sonderman). With Tweets limited to a maximum of 140 characters, brevity is essential, and hence information is passed more quickly. Twitter saves us from boring days at the office and consumes our attention when major news breaks from a hundred thousand sources simultaneously (Katzowitz).
From scandal (Wyshynski) (Koslowski) (Laird) to major announcements to colorful group discussions, Twitter has quickly made itself a fixture in the world of sports (Katzowitz) (Migliaccio), especially sports news and analysis. As a case study regarding the effective use of Twitter, I have followed three Twitter entities of different scales in the world of sports news: Empire of the Kop, John Clay and Stephen A. Smith. With an understanding of who these Twitter entities are and what they intend to accomplish, we can assess the strategies they implement for their Twitter use and how they may improve upon such strategies.