Social Media Lessons from Tim Wakefield
By Tobin Slaven
What can a social media manager learn from major league pitcher Tim Wakefield? A lot!
Red Sox Knuckballer Tim Wakefield retired from baseball on Friday, February 17th. So what does this have to do with using social media? Well anyone from New England who has grown up with the trials and tribulations of being a Red Sox will know that career of Tim Wakefield deserves a special kind of attention. Not normally the fodder of blogs and articles about the latest apps and social networks that capture people’s attention and a business owner’s imagination about what might be possible with word of mouth on steroids.
First let’s compare with the tsunami of buzz and attention known as “Linsanity.” Seems like every channel that I look at (TV, print, or social) are all talking about the sudden emergence of Harvard graduate and New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin, and his improbable rise to center stage at Madison Square Garden.
But Mr. Lin – you are no Tim Wakefield…
While many social media users change their favorite social networks like they change their wardrobe for each passing season, the basics of how to do social the right way will never go out of style. Social is all about building a relationship between users, between businesses and their customers, between those who give and share value.
So what does Tim Wakefiled have to do with social media and your business?
While the jury is still out about Mr. Jeremy Lin and how he will be remembered for his sports career, one thing we know is that there are several integral lessons to be learned about the career of our recently retired knuckleballer. For instance consider this:
Tim Wakefield and his knuckleball was unique
Baseball is a sport that bleeds history and in its record keeping there are very few but well known names of the throwers of the knuckleball. Names like the Niekro brothers, or Tom Candiotti describe that strange species of baseball pitcher who throws a slow fluttering ball that darts and dives on its way to the plate – leaving the batter feeling like he is swatting at a butterfly.
If it was easy to throw a knuckleball, hundreds would be doing it. Many knuckleball pitchers have thrown – because the soft throwing style is more about finesse than speed – into their forties and have gotten paid professional ball player salaries. And yet at any time there are only a couple true knuckleball pitchers in all of baseball.
In the same way – social media (or at least the stuff people remember) is all about being unique. People don’t share ordinary. And for businesses excited about capturing word of mouth advertising at a fraction of the cost (and 10 X the effectiveness) of traditional media – it is all about giving people something that is so unique they can’t help but share.
Tim Wakefield was always relevant to his team
The same could be said of many professional athletes, especially the ones who enjoyed long careers. But Tim Wakefield was a first baseman who converted to a pitcher as a last resort to save his career. When called upon by his team, he went to the bullpen and became one of the game’s best closers (what fun to watch the final out as the opposing batters went swatting for those butterflies). Later he would be a workhorse starter who could give the other pitchers a rest because of durability – or step up and pitch in the biggest situations. He was even the guy quietly sat by the side when he was not at his best, never complaining about his role as many spoiled athletes are won’t to do.
Marketing is all about relevance. You have to offer something of value that matches the needs and desires of your target audience. We call it message to market match. But what it really means is sharing something people actually care about.
Tim Wakefield was willing to adapt
He had to adapt from a position player to a pitcher. He went from being a closer to an inning eating starter going up against the ace pitchers on the opposing staffs.
With social media you have to be willing to adapt too. Your customers are on Facebook? You better join them. Are they tweeting or using Pinterest? People’s interests change but if you want to be relevant to them, you better go where the fish are biting!
Tim Wakefield was the consummate team player
Yeah – we all hear about this guy or that girl is a team player. What does that mean?
It means that you have to have a big enough ego to compete at the highest levels, but you care enough to check that ego at the door when it comes to taking care of the people who matter. For Tim is was his team – the Red Sox. For a small business owner it means we can’t be out there talking about ourselves, being all salesy and stuff.
It means let’s talk about what the customers think and need. Sure I will share what we can do for you when you are ready – but only because we want to play at the highest levels. But if you are all about you – you are no Tim Wakefield!
Tim Wakefield is transparent and authentic – classic and classy.
Did you know that Tim Wakefield retired 7 wins shy of the Red Sox record for the most wins by any pitcher in their history (the record being held by Cy Young and Roger Clemons). How many times have wee seen players hang on past their time, just to retire with those ego-inflating numbers that would be discussed for generations. What I like best, was Wakefield’s quote about retiring 7 wins short, he said that it “isn’t going to make him a different person, or better a man.”
I think that is a lesson we can all aspire to – to be so real and to have things in perspective that we know what makes us a better person. I don’t think this is just a social media rule (although social is all about relationships – remember) but a way to live one’s life.
He was 200-180 in his career in 17 seasons with the Red Sox (19 overall). Tim Wakefield was part of 2 World Series teams for the City of Boston.
As he retired he also thanked Woody Huyke, the Pirates coach who in 1989 told Wakefield he should try to become a knuckleball pitcher. A first baseman at the time, he was on the verge of being released.
At the end, he thanked the fans.
“You are the greatest fans in the world,’’ he said. “I have enjoyed every minute of every game I’ve played for you. I am eternally grateful for the love and respect that you’ve shown me over the years and I will hold every one of those memories close to my heart.’’
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