The Indianapolis Indians are Minor League Baseball's reigning attendance champions, having drawn more than 637,000 fans to Victory Field last season. But that's not the only realm in which the team is tops, for it's also the leader among followers.
@IndyIndians, the team's Twitter account, currently boasts some 35,500 followers. This is approximately 5000 more than the next closest team in Minor League Baseball (the Memphis Redbirds) and 10,000 more than any other International League club.
That the Indians operate in a comparatively large Minor League market accounts for a portion of their Twitter success, but that doesn't tell the whole story. It's a team effort, as the account is run throughout the day by a small team of front-office staffers. Communications manager Brian Bosma is among them.
"I'm more the direct information guy, just promoting the team," said Bosma, as he was giving me a tour of the ballpark prior to July 21's ballgame. "But [communications coordinator] Chris Robinson is in charge of the game side, and it's pretty easy to tell which tweets are his. From Zoolander to The Office, he's the one always throwing in the pop-culture references."
When Robinson is commanding the Indians' Twitter account, the tweets often split the difference between informative and ridiculous. It's a fine line, and Robinson has become adept at riding it. I caught up with him a bit later in the evening, and though he was happy to talk about Twitter, he did attempt to cultivate an air of mystery by only posing for a photo in which his face was obscured.
"I think the key word is 'engaged,'" said Robinson of his Twitter strategy. "I'm excited about what's going on here and I try to keep the fans excited -- as excited as I am, if that's possible. You can write 'this happened here' and 'this happened there,' but it's so much more fun to get people's reaction. You can start a conversation that goes back and forth, and from there you can have fun with the aspect of being a Minor League team."
Here, Robinson is referring to the informal nature of social media communication in the Minors, at least as compared to the more conservative world of Major League Baseball.
"I play off that," said Robinson. "[Parent club] Pitsburgh's guy will tweet at us and say 'Pirates need a fifth starter, so they may dip into the Indy Indians rotation.' I'll respond from our account, 'Hey, c'mon man!' So, it's corny sometimes but it's about having as much fun with it as you can while still giving information. It adds a flavor to it and people have responded really well."
The Indians began the season with 22-year-old uber-prospect Gregory Polanco on the roster, and interest in Polanco's exploits resulted in increased followers and notoriety for @IndyIndians.
"I think my claim to fame is anything related to Polanco and his handle of @El_Coffee," said Robinson. "When he hit a home run in Pittsburgh, we were getting no-hit here in Indianapolis, so I took a picture of a generic guy holding a coffee cup and said 'We miss our coffee' and it just blew up. The one response I loved just said 'Indy Indians, never change.'"
"So you're saying El Coffee tweets are one of the 'perks' of the job?" I asked Robinson, shamelessly reveling in a lazy pun.
"See, you're cut out for this, too," he responded. "There is a method to it, for sure. It's about having fun and being serious at the same time, but always making sure to never take yourself too seriously."