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Cleveland Indians hit a home run with social media

Social media remains vital marketing tool for Indians

By Jerry Beach

The Cleveland Indians enjoyed the second-biggest increase in attendance in Major League Baseball last season. One reason for the surge -- according to figures at Baseball-Reference.com, Cleveland drew an average of 22,726 fans per game at Progressive Field, up more than 5,000 from 2010, when it ranked last in the majors with an average attendance of 17,181 -- was the surprisingly solid play of the Indians, who lost at least 90 games apiece in 2009 and 2010 but went 80-82 in 2011 and spent more days in first place (96) than any other team in the AL Central.

Like every other franchise in baseball, the Indians know last year's results are no guarantee of continued progress this season. But the Indians are doing what they can to maintain the gains they made at the gate by once again expanding their interaction with fans on social media.

The Indians will have a presence on old standbys Twitter and Facebook as well as four new platforms: Blogs on both WordPress and Tumblr as well as accounts with Google+ and Pinterest.

"We've had great success with Facebook and Twitter and great interaction [and] we thought there's some other really good new platforms out there," Indians assistant director of communications Anne Keegan told TicketNews. "We figured we should utilize the differences [of the new platforms]. It's really exciting."

The "TribeVibe" blog on WordPress will provide fans a behind-the-scenes look at the team from the perspective of the team's public relations staff. The "Step into the Home" blog on Tumblr is, in Keegan's words, "a love letter to Cleveland" that will display photos of Cleveland as well as photos of the Indians.

The Pinterest page gives the Indians an opportunity to display pictures and other visual knick knacks on the increasingly popular site, which, according to Media Bistro, had more "blog traffic referrals" in February than Twitter. And the Google+ page will be used by the Indians as a more modern version of a message board, one that will encourage more interaction than a visit to the Indians' Facebook page.

"We're using more of [the] discussion board sort of capability to try and get some other discussion that you can't get in Facebook, [where the comments] just go down to the bottom," Keegan said.

At Twitter and Facebook, meanwhile, the Indians will offer social media-only ticket discounts and opportunities. Keegan said fans can save on tickets by sharing social media deals with friends on Twitter and Facebook.

The Indians will also continue to host 12 fans at each of their 81 home games in the "Indians Social Suite," which is open for the third straight year. The "Social Suite" was the first of its kind in Major League Baseball and Keegan said the Indians have far more applicants than they do spots in the suite, where fans are encouraged to Tweet and provided wireless access as well as the same game notes as the reporters covering the game.

The Indians held a trivia contest on Twitter on Wednesday, April 4 and awarded to the winner two spots in the Indians Social Suite for the Opening Day game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Thursday, April 5. Team president Mark Shapiro visited the suite during the game and Tweeted a photo of himself with the fans.

"We've been thinking about other ways we can expand it and get more folks in and more folks using social media in the ballpark," Keegan said. "We definitely have an overflow of applications."

And much like last season, many key Indians players and executives will maintain their own Twitter accounts, including Shapiro, general manager Chris Antonetti, manager Manny Acta, closer Chris Perez and second baseman Jason Kipnis.

Shapiro's Twitter followers have more than quadrupled, to more than 18,000, since last April, which suggests the Indians' embracing of social media is having quite a positive effect on a franchise whose attendance shrunk by more than two million from 2000 through 2010.

"We have folks there who are Tweeting during the game and are sort of ambassadors for the game as it is going on," Keegan said. "I think it lifts the buzz around the brand and the excitement around the team. I think, with social media, if people are excited about stuff they like to talk about it right away."

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