Tyler Maun is addicted to Twitter.
"Every once in a while I catch myself watching TV or something, and I pick up my phone and check Twitter and there’s nothing interesting so I put my phone down, and then ten seconds later I do the same thing," he says. "And I repeat it for the next three hours. It’s so dumb, so pointless, and it’s something very vapid that I think ‘oh, I have to be possibly connected to whatever is going on.’"
Those who routinely use Twitter are likely nodding their heads right now, perhaps having been guilty of the same mindless offense on occasion. As social media continues to expand, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other networks continue to gain users hand over fist as brands, organizations, celebrities, and, yes, even baseball teams try to figure out where they stand online.
Maun, who reports for MiLB.com, knows a thing or two about the social media space for professional baseball teams, having worked in broadcasting for minor league clubs. He also knows a little bit about the social media community of Rockies fans—colloquially known as Rockies Twitter, at least for the die-hards on the 140-character social network—having hashed it out every day as part of the Purple Dinosaur Podcast.
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More Rockies social media news
"When you are connected with something like Rockies Twitter, it makes you feel like you are part of a community that’s bigger than yourself," Maun explains.
"Especially when you’re a Rockies fan and it’s a pretty lonely existence a lot of the time. I think that’s what’s really been one of the biggest assets for the Rockies being on social media, is uniting all of these people."
Communities in the real world are definable by their characteristics: location, shared experience, and so forth. It's no less meaningful online, of course, even though digital communities are not as easy quantifiable nor as widely recognized, especially in a corner of the Internet as specific as Twitter. But to Maun, the niche that Rockies Twitter has carved online is not insignificant, as it has appeal far beyond just Coors Field.
"[Social media] is an asset for a team like the Rockies," he explains. "When you are a fan of a team that has a limited following compared to other teams, it makes you feel connected to that community in a way that you hadn’t before. Not only that, but the Rockies go a step above and beyond because not only are you a part of this community, but they are, too. They are an organization that gets what it’s all about."
To hear that from a grizzled Twitter veteran is certainly quite an affirmation for the Rockies' social media efforts, but that endorsement has been a long time coming.
★ ★ ★
This month marks exactly five years that Julian Valentin has been with the Colorado Rockies, their assistant director of digital media and publications. A former soccer player at Wake Forest and then professionally with Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy, Valentin works in communications for the organization. However, you likely know him even if you don't know him; he's the man behind the Rockies' social media feeds, including Facebook and Twitter.
"What I love about my job, and what I try to keep in mind at all times, is the importance of the role as a communications tool, as a branding tool, and as a way to connect and engage with our fans," Valentin tells me. "Social media is a huge asset, and we try to make sure that everything we do is inclusive of all parts of the organization, and we are consistent across all platforms in telling our story of the Colorado Rockies."
Twitter is now ten years old, Facebook several years older than that—an eternity in the age of apps and niche social networks—but it's easy to forget their recent proliferation to the point of now being ubiquitous. Even five short years ago when Valentin started with the Rockies, his duties were more closely tied to Rockies Magazine and the team's other print publications than anything in the digital media realm.
"When I was hired in 2011, they had just added the digital media component to it, because that’s about the time that people started to understand that this is the next wave of communications, marketing, and branding," Valentin says about a digital shift that now seems so obvious and unrelenting, even if just a few years ago it was still new and uncertain.
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The best of purple row
"So that was added in 2011 to the existing position, and in my time that I’ve been here since then, my job has grown to target more of the digital side of things."
A testament to the digital shift so many corporate marketing and communications departments have had to endure, the Rockies now employ two social media managers—Lauren Jacaruso joined the organization in May, and runs the Rockies' Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat accounts along with Valentin—and the pair constantly seeks active collaboration from their marketing, communications, and sales teams.
"We have a great rapport, so we are getting ideas from everywhere, all corners of the organization," Valentin says. "Our office is located with the communications offices, so we are really in tune with all the stuff that’s going on with the greater communications side of the organization. And I think what that does for us, it keeps it fresh for us and it keeps it exciting on our end, but from a fan’s perspective, it keeps it fresh for them as well."
Internally, Valentin and Jacaruso have identified four social networks critical for the Rockies to have a daily presence: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Every day, they split up those accounts, each taking two to publish pictures, GIFs, and video, and to interact with fans. Along with help from Major League Baseball Advanced Media in New York City (which is available to and used by all 30 Major League teams) there's no shortage of funny, timely, and Rockies-centric content going up online, both in season and out.
"You never know who’s working each account, because we have a great synergy and a great consistency, and we are always in communication with each other," Valentin says of his daily plan with Jacaruso. "But it’s a way to kind of break things up and make sure we are keeping things consistent and fresh."
Keeping things fresh is difficult when it comes to creating content for a team that's lost at least 88 games in each of the last five years. Spend some time on the Rockies' Twitter or Facebook pages and there's no shortage of negative comments about the team, its owners, and its general direction—but, interestingly enough, Valentin welcomes the anger and dissent.
"We do a great amount of listening to our fans on social media, and that’s really important," Valentin says, "but venting is fine, and honestly, it’s passion. That’s what being a fan is all about. It’s about connecting with your team, and being passionate about your community and being passionate about your team."
From his perspective outside the organization, Maun seems to agree with that sentiment.
"I think the Rockies know their place in the sports landscape, and they’re continually positive," Maun offers. "I think Julian is very aware that being the Rockies' social media guy, he’s going to have to deal with a lot more trolling than, say, the Broncos' social media guy."
The abuse that the Rockies' Twitter and Facebook accounts take from a relatively small subset of very loud fans is directed, of course, at the team's on-field product. In that way, it's easy for Valentin to let mean tweets roll off his back, since it's typically misguided, regardless of how passionate the angry fans may be.
"Honestly, it’s not often that we see anything that’s a reflection of the content we are putting out," Valentin says of social media trolling. "It’s rare that somebody says ‘this is a stupid tweet,' or 'this is a dumb post, why did you pick this picture?' Mainly it’s general frustration or general passion over something bigger than the actual post itself, and not an attack on the way we do our job in the digital space."
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More Social Media News
While Valentin shows remarkable patience with some of the less-than-ideal conversations that take place online, Maun has no qualms about being more critical towards social media trolls.
"It's something people forget, or the vast majority of people on social media don’t really care, but if you are tweeting at the Rockies' account, Julian has no control over the product on the field," Maun notes. "So when people tweet ‘you suck, get better players,’ the guy doing social media doesn’t have much sway in that regard. I think that’s where social media really runs into the realm of being a total waste."
That's not to say Twitter or Facebook are totally worthless pursuits; far from it, if both fans and baseball teams approach it in the right way. It's just that, like any community, certain members will behave in certain ways, regardless of policing or any specific community standards.
"Social media is kind of the place where no matter what, a certain percentage of people are going to log on just to be trolls, and just to be terrible," Maun admits. "But the ultimate game of it, I think, is to create that community."
As the Rockies—and Cleveland Indians—have found out, creating that community sometimes means trying new things on a whim and taking a chance with the response.
★ ★ ★
When Joel Hammond woke up one Sunday last fall, he had an idea: troll Valentin and the Rockies with a Twitter challenge surrounding that day's NFL game between the Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns. Hammond isn't just a regular Twitter user, though; as the Indians' assistant director of communications, his trolling would come from the AL Central ball club's official account, and if done right, could be a viral hit during a time when neither baseball team was still playing games.
One short tweet later, the wheels were set in motion:
Hey @Rockies -- friendly wager on today's @Browns/@Broncos game?— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) October 18, 2015
Loser changes AVI to mascot emoji. Deal? pic.twitter.com/nkZTYD25ak
"There are instances where things are planned, but that was kind of on a whim," Hammond tells me. "In the offseason you’re trying to find a way to keep yourselves in the conversation. I was just sitting at home Sunday morning saying this oughta be fun. And given that it was Denver, and Julian and I know each other real well, I just threw it out there. I didn't even give Julian a heads up that it was coming."
.@Indians @Browns IT'S ON! Loser must must keep avi for 48 hours. Let's go @Broncos! pic.twitter.com/QpgaoexLhx— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) October 18, 2015
What resulted was a fun Twitter exchange between the two teams that did exactly what Hammond was hoping for, getting picked up by sports and entertainment websites from every corner of the web. When the Broncos beat the Browns in overtime that day, the Indians were saddled with Dinger's face for 48 hours, though that was a small price to pay for Hammond.
"That did it," he admits. "It was picked up all over the country, national big online outlets picked it up, so it really accomplished our goal of trying to stay in the conversation. We’ve been lucky on our end as far as that goes."
Valentin and Hammond—and thus, the Rockies and Indians—didn't just get together on a random football bet, though. The two social media pros initially connected the year before during the All Star Game's Final Vote, when Colorado's Justin Morneau and Cleveland's Corey Kluber were paired up for fans to elect to the game via Twitter, using the hashtag "#ClevelandRox."
For Valentin, a partnership with Cleveland was perfect from the start.
"We wanted to be with the Indians, because we really like their social voice, and they stay really engaged in the social space," he says of Hammond's work. "And that was really important to try to see if we could secure that partnership, and we did, and it just evolved into something we kept going over the years. I really like the way they do Twitter, they get it, they are fun, they are engaging, and their fans are really locked into what they’re doing."
The Indians' voice on Twitter is very unique—sarcastic, dry, and constantly engaged with their fans—but that unique style took Hammond time to implement, and even now he constantly walks the line of being edgy without going too far online.
"It took a while for sure, but now that it’s there, people get it and like it," Hammond says of the Indians' Twitter account. "We’re kind of lucky, where our job is to know where the line is and not cross it, like some other accounts have done. As long as we’re not doing that, we have been given some freedom to try what we think might work."
★ ★ ★
If it sounds like running a team's social media outreach is a bit of a unique strange job, well, yes. After all, to hear him tell it, Valentin's gig with the Rockies has in some ways been five straight years of monitoring angry tweets about the team's ownership or lack of pitching. But just how much listening does Valentin do on social media, anyways?
"We listen to everything," he tells me matter-of-factly. "We see every tweet, whether you mention the Rockies or not. Anything that uses the words ‘Rockies’ or ‘Rox,’ I see it, and I have since I was hired in 2011. I’ve probably missed maybe a handful of tweets in five years."
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More Rockies Features
Hammond tips his proverbial cap to Valentin, applauding the latter's commitment to understanding Rockies Twitter at the most painstaking of levels.
"We monitor everything that’s going on out there, so we know what fans are saying," Hammond says of the Indians' approach before comparing it to Valentin. "Probably not as granularly as Julian does, though. We want to do more of that."
Even Maun marvels almost incredulously at Valentin's commitment to staying on top of what's happening in the Rockies' social media channels.
"You’d think you can go on and troll a social media account because they are this big corporate monolith and they’re just not going to see it, but I think they do," Maun says of the Rockies' social media awareness. "That’s the difficult thing. If I’m the Rockies, the thing that’s crazy to me is that Julian and that staff, they actually have to search through all of that."
There's a point to all that listening on Valentin's end, and it's not Big Brother-esque. Rather, for the Rockies, monitoring conversations on social channels means better serving fans at the ballpark. And though Valentin monitoring five years of mad tweets and frustrated fans sounds difficult, to say the least, he's able to focus on the greater good his job brings rather than the day-to-day frustration.
"Nothing we do is haphazard, nothing we do is by accident," Valentin says of his social media outreach. "Everything we put out there is very well thought out. We think about copy, timing, the images that are being used. Certainly I’m a person behind the account and I see everything, but I have really thick skin, and it doesn’t really get to me. I see the bigger picture."
Others have noticed the bigger picture, too. In September, Forbes highlighted the Rockies for their social media outreach with female fans. FanGraphs has given the Rockies high marks for Twitter media use and fan engagement, and named the Rockies the most emoji-friendly team in baseball last summer, no doubt spurred on by Valentin's decision to live-tweet an entire game last June using only emojis.
@ROCKIES ALERT— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) June 23, 2015
After today's lineup is posted, we'll tweet ONLY using emojis & images, including game action! No text.
National notice of his work is nice, but Valentin doesn't put too much weight in those rankings, telling me there aren't really any right or wrong answers in social media right now as teams like the Rockies try to find their voice online. Rather, for him, using emojis and communicating in experimental ways with fans on Twitter and Facebook comes down to one word—engagement—and the ability to build the team's brand in non-traditional ways that appeal to digital natives and social media-conscious fans.
"That has sort of become a hot button word, it’s a buzz word in the industry nowadays," Valentin tells me about engagement, "but for us what that means is, when fans are scrolling through their feeds, we want them to see our content, and we want them to stop what they are doing and click on it. We try to create content that doesn’t get lost for somebody if they have 500 people that they are following."
It's tough to measure social media initiatives sometimes, and while metrics trying to quantify which teams do the best on certain social networks will always fall short in one way or another, the broader idea of creating an engaged, vocal community is important for Valentin and Hammond alike—even if it's not a hit with the sales numbers.
"We’ve turned supporters into season ticket holders through our account, and we’ve turned people who we don’t know into advocates on behalf of our brand, so to us it definitely matters," Hammond says of the Indians' reliance on social media. "You’re not generating millions of dollars in ticket revenues through social, but you’re certainly generating incremental revenue and you’re certainly creating the ambassadors and advocates for your brand."
Engagement and advocacy can be fickle and specific, though, as the Rockies' goals and policies on one platform won't necessarily transfer over to another. Twitter is best for live updates in play-by-play tweets and GIFs, for example, while Facebook is better used for news and Instagram ideal for appealing visual content. With that, after paring down and growing the team's main social media accounts, Valentin's latest challenge has been to figure out why what works on some networks won't hold sway on others.
"Each of our platforms has its own voice and its own personality, and we try to create specific content to each platform as well," he says. "We try to keep it fresh with the expectation that our fans are going to be following us on all platforms, knowing they want a different experience when they go to Facebook and a different experience when they go to another platform."
With that, though, Valentin does have a favorite account—and those who follow it daily right now probably shouldn't be surprised with his pick.
"When we first started Instagram, I was incredibly proud of how we built that, but I saw a need last year to really overhaul our Twitter account, and now that’s probably my greatest source of pride," Valentin says. "We’ve been able to slowly change the voice of that, engage with fans in a new way, and we have some great stuff we are looking forward to doing there and on Snapchat this coming season."
★ ★ ★
Cameron Rogers and Dan Lucero are different in so many ways, one a nearly lifelong Rockies fan born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, by Dodgers loyalist parents and who hasn't yet been to Coors Field, and the other a professional radio broadcaster and Colorado native who has spent most of his adult life out of state and away from his beloved baseball team.
Yet while Rogers is 8,761 miles away from Denver and Lucero now less than 150, one thing links them: the Rockies. Their respective distances from the club are a fact of each man's fandom, and because neither can easily get to a game at Coors Field on a random weeknight, social media is the simplest way each can connect with the club they've called theirs since 1993.
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More From The Minors
"I moved all over the Midwest for work, and went from 2008 through 2014 living outside of Colorado," Lucero, who now lives several hours outside of Denver in Sterling, tells me.
"During that time, social media became the strongest tie that bound me to my Rockies fandom. Twitter in particular is just about the perfect medium for being a sports fan. It's like being on one big couch or in one big sports bar, following along with the games. It's been a lot of fun connecting with people who care just as much about this stupid baseball team as I do, with the boundaries of age, gender and location washed away."
Rogers, who's seen baseball news evolve in Australia very slowly over the years, cites Twitter as his fandom platform of choice, too.
"Until a few years ago, I generally had a sports ticker of some sort running in my browser all day during the baseball season," the Aussie tells me. "This changed from year to year depending on who had the latest developments, who had the most stable solution, and which sites were not blocked by the office tech team. A few years ago this all changed when I realized that the majority of these tickers were past the post, and Twitter was a much easier way to stay up to date with in game developments."
When Valentin talks about monitoring conversations about the Rockies online, or about engagement with the team's fans, he's referring to men and women like Lucero and Rogers. And to Valentin's credit, fans have noticed the club's consistent and improved presence online, even during some lean years on the field.
"Rooting for the Rockies has been more fun since the team bolstered their social media presence," Lucero admits. "Following a baseball season is a grind, but the Rockies social media folks seem to strike just the right balance to make following the team more fun. It's tough to find stuff to get excited about in the midst of 90-loss seasons but the social media team does it, night in and night out, and I can't imagine it's easy all the time."
★ ★ ★
The Rockies are just two weeks away from their first spring games, and Valentin—along with everybody else in the organization—is already looking ahead to a new season. For the Rockies' social media team, that new year begins with their own spring training of sorts; in the coming weeks, Valentin will address the team's big leaguers about social media policies and outreach for the summer ahead.
"We’re here to help them and we want them to get involved," Valentin tells me of his yearly talk to the Rockies' Major League camp at Salt River Fields. "If they don’t want to create their own accounts, feel free to use us. So I’ll speak to them, it’ll be an encouraging message, we’d like to get involved, and we are here for them however it may be."
That pays off down the road, too; come summer time, when Valentin has an idea for a tweet or Facebook post, he reaches out to the clubhouse and finds receptive players open to the idea of getting involved with the Rockies' digital media outreach.
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More Rockies Longform
Part of that plays out from Valentin's experience as a professional athlete, too.
"It’s not one conversation in spring training and then we never talk to them again," Valentin says of his relationship with players. "I think that helps, dealing with the big leaguers, is their understanding that I’ve been there in some ways, and I know what they’re going through. I’m really strategic about who I ask to do what, so that it’s comfortable for everybody, and vetting those requests so that the chance of us getting a ‘yes’ and the buy in is going to be there."
That's as far as he's willing to go when pushed for specifics come spring or summer time, though.
"I can’t give away all my secrets," Valentin jokes. "But last year was about improving Twitter in particular, and this year we’re trying to take everything to the next level. You’ll see some nice visuals, consistency with the in-game voice, and watching Rockies games on TV while following along on Twitter will be a great way to connect with the team. We think of what we do as a way to supplement what fans are doing anyways, watching and listening to games all the time."
★ ★ ★
Rockies Twitter is far from monolithic—Rogers, Lucero, even Maun collectively will never entirely represent the informal community—and yet there are undeniably shared experiences from most of those on the short-form social network. As such, you begin to hear similar stories of fans' experiences within that community.
"I love the diversity of Rockies Twitter," Lucero admits. "the fact that we're from all over the place, do all kinds of different things for a living, are disparate in age, but we all bond over this lousy baseball team all year long. In some ways I feel like the fact that the team has mostly stunk in the 'Twitter age' has helped make the group a little more authentic. Who'd spend all this time agonizing over the Rockies at this point if they weren't really and truly invested?"
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More From The Fans
There's also that, of course; that the Rockies haven't been good for five years only adds to the solidarity shown by those on Rockies Twitter.
Whether it's commitment to a team or sheer lunacy—or perhaps a little of both—members of the community seem to understand the inherently absurd nature of their fandom.
"In the last three years, just three Rockies games have been shown in Australia," Rogers says of his reasons for following the team so closely online. "One of those was an alternate broadcast when another game was washed out, another one was a game where we got one-hit but I recorded and watched the whole game anyway because I’m a stubborn fool who doesn’t know when to quit.
"My wife couldn’t believe it," he continues. "'You know the result. You know you lost. You’re already angry, and you’re still going to spend the next three hours watching it?' Yep. And I did."
That Rogers would bring up a story about a family member is perfectly appropriate, since others go right to the family metaphor to describe the Rockies' online community. And as you'd imagine, just like a family, things get hairy between community members sometimes during the season—often directly coinciding with a tough run of games for the big league club.
"I hate to use a really cheesy analogy, but Rockies Twitter is like a family trip home for the holidays," Maun tells me. "At the beginning of every season, everybody is really excited to see each other, and they’re all laughing and joking and catching up on things, talking about their optimism for whatever. And then, you know, by day four, everybody’s at each other’s throats and they want to kill each other."
But as Valentin has experienced, and as Maun is quick to note, the anger stems not from disputes within the community itself, but rather frustration over the team's general direction. And for Maun, that frustration is the downside of the tug-of-war that is cheering for this particular baseball team.
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"Are there days when I want to strangle everybody on Rockies Twitter? Absolutely," he admits. "But there are days when you’re going to be frustrated with anybody in your life. We’re all pulling on the same end of the rope."
"It may be frustrating and annoying to deal with certain aspects of it, but we’re all hoping for the same thing," he continues. "That’s the overriding sensation. We may all be annoyed with each other at times, but we’re still all ultimately going for the same goal."
That goal has proven elusive since 2009, and beyond that and Rocktober, far more elusive all the way back to 1995, but hope springs eternal, as it goes.
And maybe hope—however ill-advised or unlikely—is the appropriate takeaway for the Rockies' social media community, especially as players report to spring training and a new year begins with even the faintest bit of optimism.
"I liken following the Rockies to playing golf," Rogers offers. "I’m a hack golfer, and I don’t play often. When I do, I tend to travel twice as much distance as my mates, I lose balls, I curse a lot, and breaking 100 is generally the aim. So why do I keep playing? For that one glorious shot each round, the one miracle moment when everything clicks and I drop an iron shot a foot from the pin (before I 3-put)."
"That one drive that goes straight down the middle, though," he continues, "the miracle putt that you drain from 30 feet away. Why do I follow the Rockies so closely despite seasons of disappointment? For those minor glorious moments that happen each season."
Call it blind or ignorant optimism, call it true Rockies love, or just call it the dirty work that goes into being a sports fan, but Rogers' metaphors are the kind of glue that holds together the Rockies' online community. Just as Valentin hopes that one Rockies tweet will stand out in an otherwise busy feed, so stands out a shining on-field moment every so often, and until the Rockies put a winning team on the field again, those fleeting moments are enough for a group of fans committed to the team's online community as much as the team itself.
"Social media and Twitter especially is such an everyday part of our lives," Valentin concludes. "We use it all the time, and it’s something we do almost unconsciously. We don’t even think about it."
Tyler Maun can attest to that.