Indianapolis Colts Turn McDaniels Mess Into Social Success

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The picture that helped fans know that this one was for sure. (Photo via the Colts)

When you work in social media you’re well aware every time you hit send you’re putting your job and brand on the line. When you do it tens of thousands of times the nerves dissipate. You learn to trust your instincts. Sure, there are times where you might write something that’s slightly outside your brand voice, tweet something from the wrong account or post an image that is misinterpreted and fire up a slight amount of anxiety. But if you’re good at what you do, you can usually justify what happens to those in charge.

But what if one of your posts was fully approved and vetted by everyone and still goes horribly wrong? How would you handle that?

It’s the position Amber Derrow, Social Media Coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, found herself in a few weeks ago. As the team officially announced the “hiring” of New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels via social media, ESPN’s Adam Schefter was reporting via the same medium that McDaniels had rebuffed the Colt’s overtures in favor of returning to New England. What would you do? How would you react?

Derrow reacted quickly despite the shock of the situation and followed the Harvey Danger rule of social media and ran it up the flagpole to see.

“I honestly found out like everyone else did that evening. I saw Schefter’s Tweet, was in disbelief and reached out to my supervisor,” Derrow said. “Immediately we started communicating with ownership and our PR department on what our next steps would be. Once we had confirmation that the reports were true, the McDaniels content was pulled from all platforms and we released a team statement.”

Despite the quick action, Twitter reacted with the exact amount of understanding and compassion as you’d expect. Absolutely none. Luckily for Derrow, she realized that, in order to work in social, you have to have a memory shorter than Muggsy Bogues.

“At the end of the day, we have to remind ourselves that there are certain things just out of our control,” Derrow shared. “ As a club, we were confident enough to share the news that McDaniels had agreed to terms. The internet wasn’t all that forgiving, but we just had to remind ourselves that bad days happen and better days are ahead. The sarcasm/jokes were more from Patriots fans than our own, which was something we wanted to focus on when trying to decide how to react to the situation. Our fans were hurt, upset, frustrated, etc. That evening wasn’t the place to make light of the situation.”

Understanding your fanbase in a situation like that is key. Fan is short for fanatic for a reason and emotions run high. A post or response that came off as tone deaf would have done more damage than the original post ever could have.

That same understanding though can lead to some amazing social media moments as well. Derrow, the one-person social team in Indy, tapped into that and created social media magic when the team finally hired their head coach Frank Reich a week after the McDaniels debacle.

“Going into the contract signing, I thought we could have fun with the original situation since enough time had passed that it was appropriate,” Derrow said. “When the news broke that Frank Reich was going to be our head coach, the fan sentiment was immediately positive. Since they were pleased with the signing, we knew we could have some fun with the announcement. We also made sure, as a club, that we would not announce ANYTHING until Frank’s pen hit the paper. I personally watched him sign the contract and left the room to send out the official announcement.”

So what do you create if you’re Derrow to make light of the original situation? First, you get photographic evidence that it actually happened and then you take it to another level to troll the trolls.

“I didn’t use the photo of the contract signing as the ‘announcement’ photo on Twitter because I knew what the responses were going to be following our initial Tweet:

“WE NEED PROOF!”
“PICS OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN”
“ARE YOU SURE?!”

So, we let the steam build on the initial post and finally released the contract signing photo with the eyeballs emoji. A simple gesture that says, “Hey, look over here…is this what you want?!”

“What came next wasn’t planned. We didn’t anticipate fans needing MORE proof. (Why would they?) We had the contract signing photo, and we even included a framed map of Indiana in the background so people knew Frank was in Indy for the signing! However, with Frank’s sense of humor, he obliged to my request of holding up a newspaper to prove the date and location of the signing. Our Owner, Jim Irsay, was right there with him showing his excitement for the evening.”

The moral of the story? While you likely won’t have to use the hostage newspaper approach to fix a situation, you should always have thick skin, stay in tune with your fans and never be afraid to have a sense of humor even when it comes at your own expense. It just might pay off in a big way.

“People will never forget what happened the week prior, but our fans were ready to move on,” Derrow said. “The evening of the contract signing was a fresh start and a new outlook on what’s to come. We got the right guy, and that’s all that matters. We’ve shown more personality on social since the contract signing because of the positive response, and I think it’s something we will continue to grow and work on as a club.”