When I launched the CFL’s social media presence in 2009, I did so because I loved talking football with people. I never considered myself a ‘community manager’. I was just another CFL fan, engaged in another conversation – only my computer happened to be located inside the league headquarters in Toronto.
Fast forward three years later and I would have never imagined in a million years what kind of an impact I could have had on people while in this role. Based on the feedback I received Thursday on Twitter, it was a profound impact – hence the tears as I sat alone in a park outside my office reading each and every heartfelt reply.
It took a bit of digging, but I discovered David’s sentiment (and comparison to the soon-to-be biggest CFL free agent) was based on a phone call we had a couple of years ago.
He had reached out to me on Twitter to learn more about working at the CFL and what it would take to land a job with his favourite league or team. I gave him my personal number and told him to give me a ring. He called and we spoke for a decent amount of time. That would be the first of many times I gave out my phone number to a fan who had a question.
At the time, I had no guidebook on how to “do” social media. I simply followed my instincts which were based loosely on what Four Seasons hotel pioneer Isadore Sharp calls the ‘Golden Rule’.
I would always try to do what I felt was right – like the time I sent Kent Ridley a CFL fact book and ate the cost of postage because the main bookstore in his city decided it wasn’t going to carry the book and Kent didn’t want to pay the shipping charges from the online store.
Kent was a big supporter of the CFL on Twitter in the early days (when you could do one-off gestures like this), so I mailed him the book and put my faith in him that he would mail a cheque back for the cost of the book. When the cheque arrived it was accompanied by a five dollar gift card to Tim Hortons and a note that read, “This is why the CFL is the best league in the country.” My colleague, Sean, would later scribble ‘community builder’ onto the card that still sits above my desk today as a reminder of the importance of fans to OUR league.
As far back as I can remember, my father always pressed upon me the importance of treating people equally and fairly. He was the ultimate consensus builder and I tried to improve on the lessons I learned from him before he passed away far too soon from leukemia in 2006. He remains my guiding spirit when I require strength to make difficult decisions – such as the one I made this week to leave the Canadian Football League after four seasons as the League’s Manager of Digital Media.
When you reach another turning point or milestone in your career, I think it is beneficial to look back and figure out why you are where you are.
I never planned on a career in social media. If it wasn’t for the urging of my wife’s two colleagues back in 2008 – Renee Mellow and Danielle Restivo – I don’t think I would have signed up for Twitter that winter. Both insisted that I try Twitter, because they felt that my personality would lend well to the medium. I guess they were right.
But no roadmap existed for acting as the head of social media for a large brand. Thankfully I was able to blaze my own trail with the support of the Commissioner, Mark Cohon, who had the foresight and vision to realize the important role that social media would play in growing the fan base of the Canadian Football League. He told us to, “put the fans at the centre of everything that we do,” so that’s exactly what our team did and we created CFL Twitter and CFL Facebook pages. The rest is history.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few social media leaders to whom I also owe a huge debt of gratitude. They worked on brands similar to the CFL where they invented new models of engagement that served as a source of inspiration for my methods.
Greg Hounslow remains someone I look up to in the social media world. I learned a ton from watching him care for WestJet customers through the social space. The effervescent Jon Sinden, from MLSE, captured my attention the first time I met him, when we sat together on the SportsConnectTO panel. He is always a valuable resource for integrating partners into contests and promotions – not to mention he simply ‘gets’ people. Rob Jack from the Toronto Blue Jays also sat on that panel and his knowledge of in-stadium social activation is a source of pride within the City of Toronto and beyond.
Amber Turnau taught me a ton about location based marketing through Whistler Blackcomb’s outstanding Foursquare program while Nicole Van Zanten and Derek Jory have shown me the ins and outs of endless online-offline engagement programs that they run for the fans of the Vancouver Canucks.
Last, but certainly not least, is Gloria Chik, who is one of the reasons why ING Direct even came across my radar as a great place to work. I met her for the first time at an ING Direct Meet and Tweet at the Dark Horse Espresso Bar and subsequently became a huge fan of her live events. In fact, I would say that her work had the biggest impact on how the current Grey Cup TweetUps are structured.
I may not have told many of the aforementioned social stars how much impact they have had on my success, but it is important to recognize that in such a new and emerging field, one does not succeed on their own. The best recipe for success is to observe and learn about what works and then take the best pieces from each situation and create your own way of doing things.
It also helps when you are a part of an amazing team. I was fortunate to work with some outstanding people at the CFL, including my direct team, which played a huge role in the success of our online engagement. Geeps, JD, Joe Italy, Bobby, OP, Obrand, Murph, Ruth, Mitch and others helped drive the bus, all under the leadership of Matt, whom we affectionately called “dad” because of his fatherly wisdom and advice.
This leads me to the CFL way we created, which would not have been possible without the input of the greatest fans in the world.
CFL fans are passionate and they are not afraid to tell you what you are doing right or wrong. Just ask Janice Sutherland who built a reputation as one of the fiercest combatants on the CFL Facebook page. But I will never forget the moment at the 2010 Grey Cup in Edmonton when I heard someone yell, “Hey! Is that Jaime Stein,” from the other end of the hotel lobby.
Somewhat stunned, I turned to see a woman decked head-to-toe in Rider green running across room in my direction. She stopped two inches in front of me and extended her right hand.
“Jaime Stein,” she said. “I’m Janice Sutherland.”
I took one look at her and said, “I’m not shaking your hand. Give me a hug.”
We embraced like two family members reuniting for the first time in years. Only, we had never met in person – just through Facebook where I would have to send her direct messages to remind her about the CFL’s fan code of conduct on our page.
As I walked away following our conversation, my colleagues who were with me asked why I had family at the game in Edmonton. When I explained that that was the first time Janice and I had met, they were stunned. But in a way, we were family. Just not the kind where you are related by blood.
I will never forget what Janice said to me as I walked away: “If I had known your were this nice in person, I wouldn’t have caused so much trouble on the Facebook page.”
While I try not to play favourites, Janice holds a special place. As does Spitzka – follow his tweets to me and you’ll know why.
I could spend another 1,400 words going on about stories like this, about the people and the things I will miss most about my time at the CFL. Fans like Brian Wawryshyn who devotes countless hours to supporting his team and his league. The unexpected Christmas card from Cliffy D or the first-class tailgate experience from Connie, Tanya, Belinda and others in Calgary or the quest to find the origin of the watermelon helmet with Norm in Regina. But I think I have made my point.
The good news is that even though I’m moving to a new position with ING Direct in a role where I will continue to be able to make a positive contribution to the lives of Canadians, I will always be a part of the CFL family. As anyone in the know will tell you, it truly is a family – it is much more than just a community.
So this is not goodbye, but just a chance to explain to everyone why Twitter made me cry on a Thursday afternoon.