So last week, Sports Illustrated opened up its cover selection process to social media, letting anyone in the world vote for the best picture of 2011. In the end, the fans chose Rutgers’ Eric LaGrand and his inspirational story. Granted, it was a good choice, but the explanation by SI’s Terry McDonell reveals that in the end, big brands don’t get social media, and you are left to wonder if they ever will.
This is what McDonell wrote in last week’s issue:
The idea that the editor should relinquish that call this week and ask fans to choose the cover came from Scott Novak, SI’s vice president of communications. Novak is editorial minded and brilliant at driving connections with readers through social-media platforms such as the SI Facebook page, where he proposed to invite visitors to vote for the best sports moment of the year, with the winner featured on the year-end cover. The argument against him was simple: As much as readers may second-guess the magazine’s cover choices, that’s where they want SI’s credibility and authority to start. And who said the voters would be readers in the first place? But the argument Novak, his team and a growing number of staffers made was that letting the public in on the selection process would strengthen the bond between the magazine and its readers and, further, allow SI to plug into a new two-way relationship with a wider landscape of sports fans.
- It’s all about control. There is still this assumption by media outlets that in order to succeed in the digital space, they must still control the message. And that is where the problem lies. Once you commit to social media, everyone becomes an equal, from the magazine to the readers to the people who tweet about the brand.
- Social media credibility comes from actual engagement. It is just hard to believe that SI truly “gets it” now. The SI example, as much as its editors think it is “two-way conversation,” it is still SOCIAL MEDIA LITE. SI missed the opportunity to take their cover selection process and really make it 100% engaging. Sure, people voted and chose the cover, but SI’s team failed to make something out of it. They should have spent more time shouting out the people who voted, mention them, thank them for the votes on Twitter. THAT would have strengthened the relationship SI sought. Instead, SI was still the story, and not the voters. People will quickly see through that.
- Where is the real engagement? True engagement is when both sides of the channel are highlighted. SI still thinks that it is better than the people who follow its accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Maybe if SI lightens up a bit and not feel so concerned about losing control, people would become even more loyal.
It is encouraging to see that McDonell has a Twitter account. But his profile on Twitter just has four tweets (although kudos for using an @ reply for one of those tweets, maybe there is hope?). And McDonell has only tweeted once this December, the month when he should have done more to prove that SI is becoming more social media savvy and friendlier. And before that, he tweeted once in October 2011, once in December 2010 and his first tweet was in October 2009. Knowing how smart the guys at SI are, I do believe they will understand that they must practice what they preach. I am rooting for you, Terry. Come dive into Twitter and enjoy it.
Trust me, I love SI. I think it is the best weekly magazine in the world. The writing is vastly superior and the photos are top-notch. However, if SI REALLY wants to dive deeply in the social media sphere, it should, for example, take the time to simply reply to people, their readers, the ones who buy their magazine every week (their current Twitter presence is the perfect example of how NOT to do it).
So maybe, if their editors are open to it, they should publish a Social Media edition of their magazine, where individuals who follow the brand choose and develop the brand for one week. Publish the tweets, shout out the opinions, and maybe even have some content creators publish some of their pieces. Now THAT would be cool. Let’s hope SI stops hiding behind the image of the BIG BRAND that thinks it is doing social media. It would actually be more fun for them and it would change the needle for them, especially in this age, where ANYONE can be a publisher now.