As part of my week-long special looking at Twitter and its relevance to the sport industry, I had the opportunity to conduct an e-mail interview with Shannon Paul, who is currently the new media content creative coordinator for the Detroit Red Wings. Shannon is the brains behind Hockeytown Blog, the Wings new official blog, and she also talks about social media on her own personal blog entitled Shanon Paul’s Very Official Blog. I personally see her as a social media expert and was honored to have her answer 10 questions for the Sports PR Blog about social media and sport as well as tips for college students.
1. According to your LinkedIn profile, you started out as a Community Relations intern for the Detroit Pistons before moving on to intern with and then work for non-sport companies before eventually moving back to the sport industry in your current job. What advice would you give to college students interested in obtaining an ideal internship and how can they get the most out of their internship?
I think the best advice I can give is to take advantage of every opportunity you can access, and treat your fellow students like colleagues. This is something that most students don’t think about when they’re still students. I was able to move into my first internship with the Detroit Pistons because of a classmate. She and I had worked on a project together during a previous semester and was already working as an intern with the team. They were looking to taking on several interns, and since another one of the interns wasn’t able to fulfill the duties of the position, they were looking to replace him right away. Since she was already doing such a great job, they took her glowing reference seriously and I was able to start right away.
The other piece of advice that I can give to interns is to ask for assignments that are related to your major requirements and your goals. Your superiors, especially in sports, are very busy — they think about you, they just don’t always think about you. It’s your job to be your own advocate and ask for assignments. Also, treat internships like a job; even when it’s an unpaid position.
2. You are now considered a social media wizard. How did your previous work experiences influence your interest in this medium and what made you decide to specialize in this area?
Well, thanks for such high praise. I still really feel like there’s so much to learn. I guess that’s why I love social media — it’s new and it’s about using communication to build more honest relationships with a variety of publics — not just the mainstream media. I am also a bona fide information junkie. I love gathering information and sharing it with others. I started a blog as an independent study project when I was a student because I wanted to learn how these things worked. Since I was an English major with a journalism/public relations minor, I thought it would be a good idea to blog about literature. Not a big surprise that almost nobody read it, but I learned a lot about the technology, how feeds work, what Technorati does, etc. It wasn’t until I was working at my previous employer, a PR agency. that I really started to dive into social media.
I was already reading several blogs on a regular basis since I considered it an essential part of my professional development. Later, I became involved with Twitter out of curiosity and that’s when things really took off. Twitter enabled me to start forming real relationships with bloggers and other strong voices in the social media sphere. I spent a lot of time learning about the people who were active on social networks and creating content on the social web. In many ways, I really just felt like I found my home. The people I met through social networks and blogs have since become a vital part of my network, and when I was finally ready to launch my blog as it exists now, I had a network of people that I had already cultivated relationships with who were eager to participate with me in the kind of discussion that only blogs can create.
3. You currently work as the new media creative content coordinator with the Detroit Red Wings. How did you manage to get that position and what exactly does it entail?
The team actually sought out someone who was social media savvy. They wanted someone who understood how communication works in social networks to help them develop good communication strategies for the social web. Right now it entails helping them manage their presence on a variety of social networks including Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, as well as helping them develop a strategy and create content for the team’s blog as well as the relaunch of the team’s own social network called Red Wings World. It also involves monitoring and managing relationships with other bloggers. Since it’s a brand new position, we’re still working out the details, but that’s a big part of what makes it so exciting!
4. When you first learned of Twitter, what was your immediate reaction? Now that you have used it for quite some time, how has this perception changed?
Mostly, I was just curious about Twitter. I thought it sounded silly, like most people, but I was intrigued. Once I spent some time taking a deep dive into the people and conversations on Twitter, I was hooked. I was elated to have a platform that enabled the development of relationships based on sharing of information. I would devour information so I could pick interesting things I could share in that space. I tell everyone I can that most social networks are great at helping people maintain existing relationships — these are relationships that typically formed offline through school, former places of employment, etc., but Twitter enables individuals to form real friendships and professional relationships in an organic way online — through casual conversation and helpful information exchange. I was also immediately impressed with the quality of individuals in that network; so many people are prolific bloggers or directors of communication, business owners, members of the media. These were the kind of people that I would never have this kind of immediate access to any other way.
5. For someone who is just starting out on Twitter, what key things should they try to avoid? What should they be sure to do?
My advice is always to be as genuine as possible and as helpful as possible. It’s always a good idea to try to add value for other people. If you’re looking to grow your network with other people involved in sports and sports marketing/pr, it might make sense to use Twitter Search and services like Twellow to seek out like-minded people to follow. From there, try to consume information that these people would also find helpful so that you can share it with them through links. Then, be willing to discuss and check out some of the links that they are passing along. If it’s helpful, retweet it — or in other words, continue passing it along to your followers.
6. You masterfully use Twitter to engage others in conversation about a variety of topics from social media to sport. How do you find the time to engage with so many fellow Twitterers and what suggestions do you have in using Twitter to generate discussion with other users?
That’s difficult to answer. Since my network has grown quite a bit in the last few months, managing those conversations has become very different. I simply cannot respond to everyone who replies to me. In the beginning, it was much easier to do this. I don’t suggest everyone use Twitter like I do, but I think it’s best to try to be as helpful as possible and share useful information. It’s also a good idea to promote other peoples’ content through sharing links and to participate on other peoples’ content through comments. Since most people on Twitter have a URL listed in their profile, you can click on that to discover what they’re interested in creating. I think it’s also important to try to meet as many people at offline events as possible — face-to-face meetings at conferences, events, meetups or “tweetups” help to cement the relationship and give everyone something to talk about online as well.
7. As someone who is working for a sports team in the area of social media, how can sports PR practitioners use platforms like Twitter effectively?
Being genuine is extremely important and letting people know who you are as a person helps people feel connected to the organization. Again, people are involved in Twitter to engage in conversations. I think there are exceptions to this when people create accounts that operate more like newsfeeds, but for the most part, people in social networks are usually impressed when brands, and especially sports teams bother to engage in two-way conversations. Twitter is best when it’s a two-way conversation.
8. The NHL appears to be making a strong effort to reach out to its fans digitally speaking. Why is this a beneficial strategy for sports teams and leagues?
It’s a smart strategy for several reasons. More and more time is spent online, especially amongst younger audiences. Already, more than 100 million consumers participate in social networks and of that 100 million, more than 25 percent of them claim that social networking reduces the amount of time watching television. The Internet is quickly becoming the place where we live our public lives and people increasingly have the expectation that the information and entertainment they want will find them. It makes sense to be as available to consumers as possible, especially when so many alternatives are just a mouse-click away.
9. In your opinion, what capacity do you think the average sports team or league will be using social media in their business strategy five years down the road?
That’s always difficult to predict. I think social media is becoming more pervasive in every aspect of doing business, from recruitment to internal communication to marketing and promotion; even ticket sales has the potential to add a social component. Hopefully, social media will help fans feel more personally invested in their favorite teams and help deepen the fan experience.
10. Earlier, you gave tips to students about nabbing a great internship. What type of social media skills should college students have if they hope to get a job in the sport industry, particularly in the PR sector?
It’s my belief that students should get good at listening to what’s already being discussed in social media skills, especially on blogs. Bloggers are the 10 percent of those online who are engaged in creating content. In the future, PR is going to be all about generating relationships that center around good content. Already, anyone can post content, but those who are able to generate discussions around their content are going to be in demand. On the social web, discussions help build relationships and relationships are key to garnering interest in yours or your organization’s content. Social media is so much more than simply having a profile on Facebook, it’s about being engaged in the way information circulates online.