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Baseball and Social Media: Alyson Footer and Houston Astros on the Cutting Edge

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Baseball and Social Media: Alyson Footer and Houston Astros on the Cutting Edge
Alyson Footer is finding new ways to connect with Astros fans.

Anyone that is an avid Astros fan knows Alyson Footer.

Most of us remember her as the beat writer for Astros.com (through MLB.com). Since she was an employee of MLB.com, and though she did not technically work for the Astros, she was closer to the team than those from other media outlets.

So, it would have been reasonable to expect her to give a more pro-Astros slant than writers from the Chronicle or the local radio stations. Despite that, Footer provided the most balanced and detailed coverage of anyone covering the team on a regular basis.

I would struggle to call Alyson and I friends. We talk occasionally on Twitter and Facebook and we have met a few times in person at games and other baseball-related functions (SABR). I’ve always hated it when people assert friendship in situations like that. So, I’ll say we are friendly.

What I have always respected about Alyson is that she has always tried to be accessible to fans even when she doesn’t directly benefit. She has helped my efforts as a writer and blogger even though we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye on the team. I’ve always tried to be respectful, but have seen other fans that haven’t been. She almost always keeps her cool in those situations.

This time last year, Footer was hired by the Astros as the senior director of social media. The Astros have been criticized in the past for being behind the times, but they are way ahead of the curve here. I thought I would catch up with Alyson after her first year on the job to see what her thoughts are on her position and the future of social media in baseball.

Footer says that Facebook reaches more fans than any other medium so far.

 

Scott Barzilla: Could you briefly describe what you do for the Astros organization?

 Alyson Footer: I am in charge of all of the social media efforts of the Houston Astros, although our marketing department is heavily involved as well. I use Twitter, Facebook and my blog (Alyson's Footnotes) to communicate with the fans. I blog regularly and tweet daily. I also tweet from all non-game events. 

SB: How many teams have a similar person in charge of social media? Do any of you work together?

AF: I don’t have an official count on what other teams have designated one person solely to do social media. We were the first, and a few have hopped on board. Many teams have appointed someone in their media relations department to spearhead the social media efforts, but as far as teams that have it as a completely separate position, there are only a few.

I have communicated with several on a casual basis, but I would anticipate as time goes on, we’ll have regular meetings amongst ourselves at the winter meetings, as the PR directors and traveling secretaries and equipment managers and athletic trainers do now.

Twitter gives Footer the opportunity the connect in real time with avid fans.

SB: What do you think is the biggest difference between this position and the beat-writer position with MLB.com?

AF: I am no longer a news writer. I try to stay away from straight news because our website already has someone assigned to do that job. I do write features but mostly, the blog is used to provide insight, to opine about the team, to show through pictures and videos what’s going on with the Astros, to give a behind-the-scenes, fly-on-the-wall perspective you can’t get from reading a game story or watching on TV.

SB: Which particular social media platform (Facebook, Myspace, Twitter) do you think has had the largest impact on your position? How so?

AF: Not sure, to be honest with you. The Astros have more than 200,000 members to their Facebook page and all of my blogs are automatically linked on there. So that’s probably the most far-reaching. I have about 6,500 Twitter followers, which is considerably less than Facebook, but there’s much more opportunity for interaction there, because we can talk back and forth to each other.

So as to what has the largest impact, it’s pretty subjective. And while I have a general idea of how many fans read the blog, I don’t get the raw numbers. So it’s pretty hard to gauge.

SB: What do you see happening in the future with social media and baseball?

AF: I would expect more players down the road to start tweeting. I also envision more social media-themed nights at the ballpark. Mainly, I would imagine advertising through the old “mainstream” avenues—newspapers, mainly—will go away completely.

Social media is way more far-reaching, and it’s free. What better way to get your message across? Social media and sports, in my opinion, couldn’t be a more perfect match. The one thing I’ve tried to express to the fans is how “normal” our players are. They have hobbies and interests and families and life experiences just like the rest of us. A lot of that, we can bring to the fans through social media.

Sports, to me, falls under the category of entertainment. And through social media, you can reach thousands, millions, and share with them the best parts of your product. Fans are deeply entrenched with their sports teams. They care deeply. So, whatever insight we provide, they’re mostly grateful for simply being included. Fans like to feel like they’re part of the process, and through social media, they are.

SB: What do you think is your biggest challenge with your current position?

AF: Responding to everyone who contacts me is one of the biggest hurdles. E-mail is really the least-used method of fan contact these days. I hear from a lot on Facebook, then Twitter, then e-mail. And I have two e-mail addresses that are out there. So it takes some effort to keep track of everything and to make sure I answer everyone.

I know I don’t get to them all—a few fall through the cracks—but I try. It’s something I tried to do religiously when I was at MLB.com and I’ve tried to carry it over to this position as well. I was hired to communicate directly with the fans, so it’s probably in my best interest to do so! Drayton McLane is extremely fan- and media-friendly and we follow his example.

SB: does the team provide you with an advance on player news or are you reacting at the same time as the local press?

AF: I get what we’ve dubbed the “two-minute warning.” That basically means when the media relations department is about to send out a release announcing something, they send it to me with the time that I’m permitted to tweet. Once I tweet and/or post on Facebook, the team sends out the release two minutes later.

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