Thursday, August 6, 2009

ESPN Drops The Twitter Hammer (Updated At Bottom Of Page)

When emails begin to appear in clumps and most of them are from folks connected with ESPN, there is usually a theme. This time, the message was not good for NASCAR fans and the timing could not be worse.

ESPN has dropped the hammer on NASCAR reporters, anchors and production staff using Twitter. Unfortunately, they have done it during one of the most critical times of the NASCAR on ESPN season.

Throughout this year, ESPN's NASCAR efforts have been better off due in no small part to the contributions of many ESPN folks who use Twitter on a regular basis. Ryan McGee, Marty Smith, Mike Massaro, Shannon Spake and even Allen Bestwick all use this form of social media to present a mix of professional and personal messages.

This often drove Twitter users to the website to follow-up on a message or a link that had been posted. The entire idea of Twitter was to allow the closest thing to a short conversation to be sent anywhere to anyone who wanted to listen.

Here are some of the new guidelines ESPN presented to cast members in a recent memo:

ESPN regards social networks such as message boards, conversation pages and other forms of social networking such as Facebook and Twitter as important new forms of content. As such, we expect to hold all talent who participate in social networking to the same standards we hold for interaction with our audiences across TV, radio and our digital platforms.

This applies to all ESPN Talent, anchors, play by play, hosts, analysts, commentators, reporters and writers who participate in any form of personal social networking that contain sports related content.

Specific Guidelines
· Personal websites and blogs that contain sports content are not permitted
· Prior to engaging in any form of social networking dealing with sports, you must receive permission from the supervisor as appointed by your department head
· ESPN.COM may choose to post sports related social media content
· If opts not to post sports related social media content created by ESPN talent, you are not permitted to report, speculate, discuss or give any opinions on sports related topics or personalities on your personal platforms
· The first and only priority is to serve ESPN sanctioned efforts, including sports news, information and content
Assume at all times you are representing ESPN
If you wouldn't say it on the air or write it in your column, don't tweet it
Exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for your colleagues, business associates and our fans
· Avoid discussing internal policies or detailing how a story or feature was reported, written, edited or produced and discussing stories or features in progress, those that haven't been posted or produced, interviews you've conducted, or any future coverage plans.
· Steer clear of engaging in dialogue that defends your work against those who challenge it and do not engage in media criticism or disparage colleagues or competitors
· Be mindful that all posted content is subject to review in accordance with ESPN's employee policies and editorial guidelines
· Confidential or proprietary company information or similar information of third parties who have shared such information with ESPN, should not be shared
Any violation of these guidelines could result in a range of consequences, including but not limited to suspension or dismissal.

How about that for a wake-up call? Click here for a link to Richard Sandomir's column in the New York Times on this issue. Click here to read ESPN's entire memo on the subject in full courtesy of the website.

Just how this will affect the NASCAR on ESPN gang is about to be seen in two days. Normally, the Tweeting begins as the various anchors, reporters and production folks start their journey to the race. The biggest volume is over the weekend, when NASCAR fans are kept informed of stories, issues and just how far Marty Smith went on his daily run.

As someone who is tremendously interested and involved in social media, I follow probably 50 Twitter accounts of people and sports information directly tied to ESPN. Ironically, one of my favorites is a social networking manager at ESPN in Bristol, CT. My days of her updates on sports-related new media topics may have come to a sudden end.

"Today is a landmark day for social media, but for all the wrong reasons," says Jennifer Van Grove at the social media site "It would appear that the network is showing poor judgment and exposing to the world the fact that they have no idea that social media is all about relationship building." Click here for her full column.

Chris LaPlaca at ESPN is a great guy and has been a spokesman for the company for over 25 years. "We’ve been in the social networking space for a long time and will continue to be there," said LaPlaca. “But we want to be smarter about how we do it. The key phrase is write it once, publish it everywhere.”

Ultimately, ESPN's goal is to publish one piece of content and then have the company's own technology deliver that information everywhere. Unfortunately, that is exactly the opposite of the very personal vibe that Twitter users get from the NASCAR on ESPN staff who speak directly to the fans with every hand-crafted message.

This issue will continue to be debated in the media and almost certainly ESPN will continue to clarify this new policy. The only way for many of us to completely understand it will be to monitor the traffic on Twitter from the many ESPN friends we have come to respect and enjoy on the NASCAR beat.

The push-and-pull of freedom of expression vs. the corporate agenda is bending in very different directions as technology continues to advance. I'm just not a very big fan of this direction for ESPN where Twitter use is concerned.

Updated: Click here for a great interview with Rob King, ESPN social media czar that talks about these issues. Wonderful journalism by John Ourand at Sports Business Daily.

We want your comments on this topic. To add your opinion, just click on the comments button below. This is a family-friendly website, please keep that in mind when posting. Thank you for taking the time out of your day to stop by The Daly Planet.

When Nerds Attack!

Thanks for all the email. Lots of it. Yes, today a group apparently celebrating the ESPN change of social media policy flooded the Twitter website and effectively shut it down. Gee, that certainly is brave.

Click here for the official Twitter notices. These "denial of service" attacks basically flood a website with traffic and block the normal flow of information. Click here for a C-Net update on the situation.

Sorry for the hassles, these things tend to come and go in the Internet world. No real theories yet on who would benefit from taking the time and expending the effort to block Twitter access.

We will update the Twitter status and any additional news that breaks on the new social media guidelines put in place on Tuesday by ESPN. We welcome your comments below.