At the turn of the century, when the Phillies were as bad as they were in 2015, there was an Internet. There really was.
Sure, go ahead and laugh now, but you could get it, perhaps only after installing it using all the telephone jacks in your house and all those Prodigy and AOL CD-ROMs that you now use ironically as drink coasters these days, while vaping and discussing your wearable tech results, new code strings, and personal #brand strategies (God, you Millenials disgust me sometimes). But it was there.
And while the Internet was in its public-consumption infancy, and the Phillies were wretched, they also had particularly odd and die-hard fans who did wacky ur-user group/microcasting stuff like this:
You may have been one of them, and God bless you for it. Those teams hardly deserved you, and really: that's not saying much for you, so don't get so swell-headed about it. These antics simply passed the time on sultry summer days, while the Phillies were going nowhere in their fetid, neglected, city-owned concrete feral kitty litter box.
They soon moved to a better stadium, got better while doing it, and seemed to have an interest in maintaining this newfound, youthful hipster enthusiasm in their new team. Behold, they even did more stuff like this:
A new young team! A new stadium! Youthful exuberance! A recognition that the city is awash with college types who, with the proper deep discounting, can be persuaded to part with their money for vast amounts of their time, and a recognition that they might too become adults, someday. And those college kids are all up in that there Internet! And not just copying term papers, either.
But sometime around then, the Phillies' outreach to the yutes and their social media kind of ended, and we can really only speculate why. Partly it's because the Phillies got good, and those seats were filled with fans paying the full freight for the better part of the decade. Young social medians retreated to the fringy rooms of their parents' houses to follow the Phillies online, and quickly came to prefer to interact with each other than with the actual Phillies. Even Phillies beat writers, and I mean even the older ones - were a ton more fun to play with on social media than the actual team. We celebrated it then, and it bears repeating:
When your Twitter game is getting hammered by Jim Salisbury (and hey, let's leave him out of it, he's great - I mean, hell- when your Twitter game is getting hammered by me) clearly social media was clearly not part of any serious strategy, and got folded into the traditional - and traditionalist - PR strategy aimed to appeal to - as best I can figure it, anyways - anodyne fans and that subset of nuns with permanently rosy outlooks on life and a complete absence of an edge. Surely they exist - and hey, they're fine people and everything, but I tend not to stay long or interact much with such folk. And, while I'm not privy to the Phillies' market analyses, I don't believe this subset of fans represents either a majority or an early-adopting tech-savvy fan growth sector (sorry, sister).
All this is a long way of bringing us around to Phillies social media of recent years. While a Golden Era indeed on the diamond, complementing it on the Internet was both a velvet glove of a milquetoast online presence (implicit strategy: "Sure, why not?") and an iron fist of cease-and-desist orders for derivative fan art and works that were, strategically, targets to be obliterated rather than, say, co-opted for some future rainy day when the wins went away. Phillies social media - despite garnering top eyeball measures for SEO - was among the worst in baseball, while other teams experimented with online happenings, interactive events, silly contests and the like - to say nothing of in-game reporting and commentary - that is commonplace now. We've noted that on these pages multiple times, and criticized the team's continued blog-unfriendliness. In the absence of any kind of personality/distinct voice/non-committee-driven contrivance, Phillies social media and some of their promotional campaigns (hello, Apostate #RedPhanatic) became, simply, easy to make fun of.
But lately, perhaps, it's time to give some credit where credit's due. Now that the seats are again mostly empty, a few flowers of innovation seem to be sprouting over @Phillies. Starting mid-season in 2015, some new presence(s) on the handle (@TimStoekle was hired in late July) started adding some long-overdue whimsy. Here's one from last week:
And the weekend - obligatory blocking-and-tackling timely media stuff these days, but 2010 Phillies Twitter wasn't into this kind of inter-fan-action so much:
We had a lot of great entries today! Thank you to everyone who participated! ☃ pic.twitter.com/MgG30YzR7t— Phillies (@Phillies) January 24, 2016
Here's another from yesterday, a bold attempt to interact with the local masters of "hip social media presence for a really bad team":
.@Sixers more like a Jahbblehead, right? We’ll show ourselves out.— Phillies (@Phillies) January 25, 2016
Eric Chesterton has done a nice job on these pages covering some recent offseason Phillies Twitter happenings, like Aaron Nola, Aaron Altherr, and, timing glitches aside, Pete Mackanin, which point to not just changes with the social media crew, but changes to the Phillies themselves. Those who remember Twitter chats with Pat Burrell and Chase Utley as being kind of meh non-events may have had equal parts to do with the players' attitudes toward promotional stunts (Ben Revere, by contrast, was really fun to follow around) as much as the organizational Standards and Practices censorship inclination; truth be damned, it's at least helluva fun to imagine the behind-the-scenes story.
With the younger players, and even - behold! top prospects!
entering the fray, there's a real effort here to make the players available and interact with fans. Good stuff.
Like the team itself, it's hardly transformative work yet, mind you, and the humor isn't quite edgy yet, but like patiently indulgent parents with youngsters who bravely try out new schtick, let's applaud gently and give credit where it's due: It's directionally correct, and bears watching. One of the team's challenges moving forward (as well as mine and the blog's) is to transcend language barriers, especially Spanish (I mean, Odubel Herrera's Twitter game is artistic top-shelf; I just can't read Spanish well) - an opportunity to interact with many more fans who love the game in all its forms.
Nice work. Keep it up. If I could encourage anything - with the full realization that gaffes on the Internet are forever - it's to tell the team that this is also sandcastle art, really, easily forgotten by most, and a form of art, of sorts, even in its corporate personhood, that is truly just beginning to be stretched. Would that it didn't take the team's utter collapse on the field to result in these green shoots, but alas, that is all spilled milk. Should the young baseball team continue to evolve, I hope for more of this from the Phillies' social media team.