ESPN’s New Social Media Policy: The Beginning of the End For ‘The Worldwide Leader?’

ESPN is a popular target for bloggers, even though it remains everyone’s go-to source for sports news.  It’s probably because everyone wants to knock down the big guy.  It’s also because as a gigantic corporate entity, ESPN makes corporate decisions that rankle the common folk like you and me.

But this one is a little mind-boggling, and its indicative the suits upstairs at ESPN (suits always sit upstairs, you know) are a little out of touch when it comes to how we get our information nowadays.

• Think before your tweet. Understand that at all times you are representing ESPN, and Twitter (as with other social sites) offers the equivalent of a live microphone. Simple rule: If you wouldn’t say it on the air or write it in a column, don’t post it on any social network.

• Do not break news on Twitter. We want to serve fans in the social sphere, but the first priority is to ESPN news and information efforts. Public news (i.e. announced in news conferences) can be distributed without vetting. However, sourced or proprietary news must be vetted by the TV or Digital news desks. Once reported on an ESPN platform, that news can (and should) be distributed on Twitter and other social sites.

• Prior to engaging in any form of social networking dealing with sports, you must receive permission from your supervisor. Personal Web sites and blogs that contain sports content or ESPN marks are not permitted.

• At all times, exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for colleagues, business associates and fans.

Rules 1, 3 and 4 make enough sense.  Don’t be a obscene or a jerk, don’t go off representing the company without checking with us first, and be respectful.  Simple enough.  

Rule number two is what gets me.  

I’ll fill you in on a little secret.  I have a select few folks I follow on Twitter, and have them set to receive their tweets in particular as text messages.  Aside from making an unlimited text plan necessary, it also allows me to get breaking news texted to me, because I know these guys are the guys who break news.  A few of them are ESPN guys.  And I’ve been able to get new information up on blogs. Blogs which drive traffic to sites like ESPN quickly. 

It’s a race.  First come, first served.  You break the news, you get the links.  A lot of bloggers deal that way.  So do a lot of people.  You go with the first place you saw something as the source.  

But this story isn’t about me complaining that I won’t get certain stories as quickly.  It’s to highlight ESPN flipping the first domino in what could be the real rise of its competition.  The more other sites and reporters break news on social media sites, the more they get recognized as the leaders. The more they’re recognized as the leaders, the more likely I am to go to them, rather than ESPN, for the news.   And I’m not just speaking from a blogger perspective.  I’m speaking from a human nature perspective.  

Let’s say you hang out with the same people every day at lunch.  For years, Joe has been the guy giving you all the office scoops before anyone else.  Now, Joe is waiting a little while and emailing you half an hour after lunch with the latest gossip.  Meanwhile, Bill is giving you the scoops at lunch the way Joe used to.  How long before you’re hanging out with Bill all the time?  

65% of all Americans online use a social media network.  50% of all Americans alive are on one. And the numbers are climbing.  Why ESPN would tell its reporters to stop catering to such a large segment of the population is simply a greedy way to try to get all these people to go to their site and make more money.  That’s all it is.  But its going to have the opposite effect.  Because we’re not wired that way.  We’re wired to take the easiest possible route, especially if it caters to us.  

This is relevant to this blog, and all blog, because part of our way of doing business is to be aggregators.  We compile news from multiple sources and give it to you in one spot.  We’re also the reactionary side of the news process.  Someone reports something, we report that it was reported, and we give you our reaction to it.  Hopefully, we do it in a way that interests you and keeps you coming back.  And, simply, if you’re reading us, chances are you’re on a social media site. The way you find out about what Kevin Durant did to some chump last weekend changes.  

ESPN’s new social media policy is a greedy play to drive people to their site.  What it will do instead, if it doesn’t change, is give people the out to find new ways to get their sports, and NBA news.  Is this the beginning of the end for ESPN?  It’s impossible to say right now.  But they did drop a snowball down the side of a mountain with this.  We’ll just have to wait and see if they can stop it in time to prevent an avalanche.