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A Twitter Trailblazer’s Advice . . .

More and more sportswriters are using Twitter, but Peter Robert Casey is different. He covers St. John’s men’s basketball, sitting in press row for games and attending post-game press conferences, but never writes a game story. Instead, he uses Twitter exclusively – the first person, it’s believed, accredited by a school to do so.

For Saturday’s game between the Red Storm and Villanova, Casey offered his first tweet bearing a #stjbb hashtag at 10:22 a.m., as he headed for Madison Square Garden. He began with a note that St. John’s would be without Justin Brownlee, who was attending his grandfather’s funeral, then moved to analyzing the history of the teams’ rivalry, soliciting questions from fans and retweeting comments.

During the game, Casey monitors online conversation by using the hashtag and a grid of search terms relevant to St. John’s and its opponent. He offers very little play-by-play, instead opting for a mix of in-game stats, analysis (the Red Storm were stymied early by sloppy passing), you-are-here observations (a fan trying a half-court shot at halftime was booed), pictures, and responses to St. John’s fans tweeting messages of their own. On Saturday, Casey wrapped up his coverage with a final tweet at 4:18 p.m. (Villanova prevailed, 81-71.)

“The hashtag works because it lets my friends know I’m in game mode, and makes finding the right conversation easier.” Casey says. “Pictures and videos also get a lot of mileage, as does conversation … real-time quotes add value to fans at home because their TVs are not picking up on it."

What doesn’t work? Play by play.

"The game is too-fast paced, and most people are watching the game on TV or the Internet," he says, adding that "commenting on what was good or bad about the play works. It’s amazing how many people multi-task on Twitter while watching a game these days. … There’s a lot of armchair coaches.”

Casey says other members of the press have been open-minded about what he does – he taught one newspaper veteran, initially a skeptic, how to output his blog’s RSS feed to Twitter. “It’s where we’re going, and media members get that,” he says. “It has to be frustrating to some, but with new technology comes new distribution platforms. The beauty of Twitter and other social media is that people can now talk back and choose to opt in or out depending on if they see value in your content.”

Mark Fratto, St. John’s associate athletics director for communications, found the 28-year-old Casey through his tweets (Casey is now closing in on 56,000 followers) and his other social-media outposts, and suggested the unpaid arrangement. Fratto calls it “a win-win for Peter and St. John’s. His insights and analysis on the games, in addition to his mastery of social-media platforms, have really helped us engage our fans and cultivate new ones. Peter’s Twitter account has become an interesting, interactive way for college hoops fans to experience St. John’s basketball, and Peter’s widespread Twitter following has been instrumental in telling the story of our season, and also building a good-sized following for our own official accounts.”

Casey’s advice for journalists and bloggers trying to make the best use of Twitter? "First and foremost, listen…. Be honest, be authentic, be human, and always be useful. Don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit — share quotes, articles, opinions and analysis. Give credit where it’s due through retweeting quality content and citing the original source. Don’t create noise. Use direct messaging (DM) in lieu of public @ replies when necessary. Lastly, be active and interactive. Tweet daily. Don’t just broadcast. Twitter is not a bullhorn to blast your marketing messages. It’s a pool of online conversations with real people."

While Casey may be a trailblazer in terms of credentials, he doubts he’ll be alone for long. "Teams/leagues/programs are starting to realize that they need to adapt their guidelines and standards for being considered a qualified media agency," he says, adding: "Almost every fan has a mobile phone where they can publish to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or their blogs. Anyone can have an outlet now. The only things that separate a fan from the credentialed media today are access, credibility, reach and resources. The teams/leagues/programs control the access. Credibility is earned. Reach — circulation — is also evolving as we start credentialing Web sites and social properties."

Looking ahead, Casey says micro-blogging (his preferred term, in case Twitter is supplanted) will remain an important part of the flow of sports information, whether what’s broadcast is text, audio, photos or video. Journalists and fans have already taken to it; he predicts athletic programs will follow suit, seeing micro-blogging as a way to break news, interact with fans, build awareness and seek sponsorships.

“It’s important for athletic programs to show the human side of their organization,” he says. “I would challenge programs to be creative in [marketing] activation, but to keep the focus on getting fans engaged and enhancing their experience with your team’s. I would recommend Twitter-specific promos for tickets/contests and breaking news on Twitter. Don’t just duplicate your messages across other social channels. Make your Twitter presence unique.”

Jason Fry is a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y. He spent more than 12 years at The Wall Street Journal Online, serving as a writer, columnist, editor and projects guy. While at WSJ.com he edited and co-wrote The Daily Fix, a daily roundup of the best sportswriting online. He blogs about the Mets at Faith and Fear in Flushing (www.faithandfearinflushing.com), and about the newspaper industry at Reinventing the Newsroom (www.reinventingthenewsroom.com). Write to him at jason.fry@gmail.com, visit him on Facebook at  www.facebook.com/jason.fry, or follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jasoncfry.
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