Magazine May/June 2013 Rules of Engagement

01 May 2013, 10:00
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Rules of Engagement

I discovered Bryan Srabian on Twitter while doing what most productive males do every night – perusing through sports sites. To my disappointment, I quickly learned he worked for the San Francisco Giants. I did what no Dodgers fan would ever do – I followed him. He followed me back. And then, things got serious. Quick.

Long gone are the days when people meet the old-fashioned way. You know, face-to-face, in person... without online intervention.

Bryan and I had a prototypical 21st century meeting. It began on our computers and smart phones with emails and text messages and culminated with a meeting in a distal land 380 miles away. All this was completely normal – and fitting – because Bryan Srabian is the Director of Social Media for the San Francisco Giants, owners of two of the last three World Series trophies. Srabian is responsible for managing the team’s online community, which ranks among the most popular in baseball.

After our initial “follows,” I sent him a DM. For the non- Twitterati, that stands for “direct message.” I asked for his email address so that we could take the exchange to levels exceeding 140 characters. Srabian obliged.

Ten days after our online correspondence, he greets me on the Embarcadero in San Francisco in front of Juan Marichal’s statue. To my delight, instead of a Marichal bat, he greets me with a big smile, firm handshake and a bro-hug double-back-tap-combo. The online barriers are broken. We walk inside the ballpark I promised myself I’d wholeheartedly dislike throughout my seven-hour drive up the 101.

Srabian walks me through the club level and points at a picture of Henry, his youngest son. Henry’s face is covered with orange and black championship confetti and jubilation. I can’t help but admire the sight, hoping one day, I too can be Henry, only doused in Dodgers blue confetti.

Just after breaking the friendship barrier, I end up breaking my earlier promise to hate this place once I catch the smell of brats and garlic fries wafting throughout the concourse.

We take a seat in the upper deck with the World Baseball Classic playing out in front of us. It is March 18, twenty years to the day when the 20-point underdog Santa Clara, led by freshman Steve Nash, became only the second No. 15 seeded team to oust a No. 2 two team when they beat Arizona in the 1993 NCAA Tournament.

Then Srabian, a University of Santa Clara alum, begins to explain the story of another underdog and relative unknown who came and captured the hearts – and fingers – of the world like no one ever could.

He begins to talk about social media.

Sports franchises and the players they employ are often the fabric and representation of their community. The advent of social media in the last 10 years has given organizations the luxury of building the profiles of their players as well as the team brand to demographics in their fan base they once couldn’t reach.

Like a Barry Bonds home run deep into the waters of McCovey Cove, the days of social media escaping everyday vernacular is outta here!

As the Director of Social Media for the Giants, Srabian uses online platforms to highlight the eccentric personalities of a team that’s seemingly winning in every facet of baseball.

Facebook is nine-years old, Twitter is seven, Pinterest is three, Google+ is two and Instagram is at a raw and flourishing 19 months old. Add them all up, and it doesn’t even total the age of most of the executives who try to make sense of it.

The 40-year-old gate-keeping guru is in the fourth year of a position essentially created for him. He’s helped to build the Giants’ Facebook and Twitter accounts to a current ranking of third best in Major League Baseball with a combined audience of over two million, trailing only the Yankees and Red Sox. Srabian understands the city’s eclectic culture, fan base and the 130-year-old Giants brand – and he successfully merges them all together. San Francisco lends itself to individuality and diverse characters. The Giants themselves are a band of misfits – like the reigning $167 million MVP Buster Posey, the perfect-game-throwing $127 million ace Matt Cain, two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, Pablo “Kung Fu Panda” Sandoval, the guitar-playing yogi Barry Zito, and prankster Sergio Romo.

Some of the digital strategies they’ve implemented to highlight the cast are special giveaways, Twitter chats, live stream question and answers, viral videos and even having fans tweet their phone numbers to get a call from a player.

But there is no cut and paste formula for managing quirkiness and alternate personas. What works for the Giants might not work for another team, says Srabian. But one thing is certain – the Giants always seem to set themselves up for scoring positions. Companies sign countless checks buying software and consultants in search of an online strategy and vision, but if people like Srabian don’t live and breathe the brand they’re promoting, consider it null and void.

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