In the mid-2000s, Nilay Shah often heard the same bewildered question from his party-hardy college buddies at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. They’d playfully jaw at him as he jumped into the driver’s seat of his Mitsubishi, yanked the door shut and drove 20 minutes to serve as an uncompensated Web intern for the New York Giants. “They used to say to me, ‘What are you doing? You’re not even getting paid,’” he remembers.
Fast-forward to 2012 and game day with the Super Bowl XLVI champions. Shah roams the team’s home-field turf at MetLife Stadium, wearing a tailored suit and taking iPhone snapshots of the team coming out of the tunnel. With a quick review of his work, he tweets the best shot to thousands of eager fans. Shah then positions himself on the 30-yard line, where star quarterback Eli Manning is warming up, throwing underneath and sideline routes to wide receivers Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Close enough to intercept those passes, Shah snaps multiple pics, again tweeting the best of the bunch.
“That is what this is all about—giving the fans access they cannot get anywhere else,” he says, exiting the field prior to Big Blue’s Aug. 24 preseason tilt against the Chicago Bears.
Shah is part of a new class of digital executive: the social media manager. Young, tech-savvy go-getters like Shah are increasingly playing an integral role for brands and media companies, serving as a liaison between marketers and consumers, as well as a human face of corporations.
Consider Shah’s role compared to that of sports reporters on the Giants beat. Scribes for The New York Times, the Newark Star-Ledger and other New York area papers are largely barred from watching the team practice each day, limited to a peek at the beginning of practice before being corralled inside an all-things-Giants building that serves as the anchor of a complex including one indoor and four open-air fields. The sports journos are restricted to speaking with players and coaches after the workouts.
Shah, on the other hand, is right in the middle of the action, taking photos of each practice and tweeting the best images in almost real time.
Meanwhile, before the games Shah can be found perched above midfield in the MetLife Stadium press box. Minutes before kickoff, while the TV audience watches a spot for Toyota or Bud Light, Shah tweets the names of team captains (which vary game to game), which team won the coin toss and other information not found on the tube. The Giants’ 327,000 Twitter followers eat it up.
Not too shabby for a guy who had planned for a career in IT and whose first job after college was an entry-level position at DoubleClick. The Giants hired Shah in 2007 when Facebook was just starting to toddle toward critical mass and a few months after the debut of Twitter.