A Twitter back-and-forth between the two teams devolved into poop jokes. And they demonstrated that the lines between 'edgy' and 'poor taste' remain blurred when it comes to social media.
Inside sports business
Both the Sounders and rival Portland Timbers last week took a Twitter beef beyond the usual “crap” often posted.
And they demonstrated that the lines between “edgy” and “poor taste” remain blurred when it comes to social media. Employees running team accounts often walk a tightrope between an anything-goes Twitter mindset and the corporate attitudes of older bosses growing ever more aware of how online branding represents their team.
It’s common for teams to playfully lock horns on Twitter, stoking rivalries and engaging fans. But the Sounders-Timbers spat devolved into potty-humor after Seattle acquired midfielder Andreas Ivanschitz from Spanish club Levante.
The official Timbers feed took a jab, tweeting: “So, let’s get this straight: Ivanschitz and Deuce are on the same team now?”
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Deuce is the nickname for Sounders forward Clint Dempsey, but also a common slang word. Ivanschitz is pronounced exactly how a giggling 6-year-old might suspect.
The Sounders could have let it go. Instead, they upped the ante by tweeting: “A __ joke from a __ club” and filling in the blanks with an emoji — a Twitter cartoon logo — of a smiling pile of manure.
The exchange garnered national media attention online and differing reactions from management of the teams.
The Sounders deleted their tweet, but not before fans took screen grabs. The Timbers, on the other hand, let their tweet stand.
Timbers spokesmen did not return phone calls.
Sounders media relations director Alex Caulfield said his club had no comment. Behind the scenes, though, I’m told the Sounders are taking things quite seriously.
Complicating things, longtime Sounders digital media director Shane Evans left for a new job two weeks ago. Assorted staffers have been handling tweets and the Sounders won’t say who sent the now-deleted missive.
If that person stays employed, they’ll be better off than Chad Shanks. He was fired in April from his job as Houston Rockets social media director after his own experiment with Twitter emojis during a playoff-clinching win over the Dallas Mavericks.
Shanks tweeted an emoji of a pistol pointing to a horse’s head and suggested the Mavericks accept their fate.
“Shhhh. Just close your eyes. It will all be over soon,’’ he wrote.
Twitter rattled with protests, many from animalrights advocates. The Rockets fired Shanks the next day.
Shanks, 32, who has a Master’s degree in journalism, is now the marketing director for San Francisco-based startup Stat Muse. But he said Friday he still doesn’t know exactly why the Rockets fired him.
“All I was told was, it didn’t reflect the values of the organization,’’ he said.
“I mean, I can guess why they felt that but I don’t know for sure. Was it the gun? Was it the horse? Was the owner an animal-rights lover? Was it because the Mavericks thought we were disrespecting them? Was it a combination of everything?
“I don’t know the person who runs the Sounders account or their situation, but I’m sure they were in the same situation I was. Just saying ‘It’s poop emojis, it’s sophomoric, but we’re just having a little fun and fans are going to enjoy it.’ ’’
Shanks says the Rockets encouraged an “edgy tone” when he was hired in 2012.
“It was always, ‘engage the fans, push things, give us more followers,’ ’’ he said. “You can do that for years and be successful like I did. But then you get that one that goes over the line and it’s like ‘Whoa, whoa! Let’s hold up. That’s not what we intended.’ ’’
Last year, Shanks and his staff were honored for having the league’s best social media team account.
“You go from being told you’re the best in the business at what you’re doing to being gone a bit after that,’’ he said.
Richard Torrenzano, author of the best-selling book “Digital Assassination: Protecting Your Reputation, Brand or Business Against Online Attacks” says older team executives often lack familiarity with Twitter and don’t adequately instruct employees about upholding company values.
He referenced a line in his book that states: “Age needs to appreciate technology with greater skill, while youth needs to appreciate technology with greater wisdom.’’
Torrenzano says business values haven’t changed. But anyone can now instantly see values “mistakes” on Twitter with no way to erase it.
“People tend to write things out on their computer blogs or iPhones and not think,’’ he said. “They don’t think about the dimensions of what they’re saying or the repercussions.
“And people are going to make mistakes,’’ Torrenzano added. “Where possible, they should be reprimanded. But at the same time, you can’t just fire people and not give them parameters and training, especially if they’re social media directors. They need to know what they can say and can’t say. Where they can go and can’t go.’’
Shanks said the Rockets never set such parameters.
“There is no rule book,’’ he said. “Everyone has a different viewpoint on it.’’