Turner Sports is following the lead of Time Warner sibling CNN by diving headlong into social media.
The cable network is weaving Facebook and Twitter into its "40 Games in 40 Nights" campaign to promote its coverage of the NBA playoffs, which kick off April 19. The centerpieces of the campaign are an NBA on TNT Facebook fan page and the use of Twitter by eight of TNT's on-air hosts and analysts.
TNT is setting up Twitter accounts for studio talent Ernie Johnson and Kenny Smith, along with feeds for reporter Craig Sager. NBA TV analysts Chris Webber, Gary Payton, Steve Smith, Eric Snow and host Rick Kamala will also have accounts. The on-air talent begins tweeting April 14 and will provide updates during the games. The tweets will then be shown on the NBA on TNT Facebook page and on NBA.com.
The effort follows Turner's use of Facebook during All-Star Weekend in February. Via Facebook Connect, the network allowed users to stream their Facebook status updates about the various competitions onto a TNT Web page. CNN has adopted Facebook for several events, including Barack Obama's inauguration. The news network has several anchors that regularly use Twitter.
Jenny Storms, svp of marketing and programming at Turner, said Twitter is less an overt promotional tool than a way to keep in contact with fans throughout the nearly six weeks of playoff games.
"We're giving fans much more inside access," she said. "These guys know the players and behind the scenes. We hope that's the way they'll engage with a lot of this talent."
Turner has shot promotional spots to push the Facebook and Twitter initiatives. It will also mention them on air on TNT and NBA TV.
One TNT star not updating: Charles Barkley. Yet he is likely to figure in updates by studio sidekicks Johnson and Kenny Smith. The ideal, according to Storms, is offbeat and interesting updates to gain organic appeal to spread the word of the program. A few NBA stars are using Twitter to connect with fans. The Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O'Neal is one of the services most popular users with 570,000 followers.
The social media aspects are part of a broader campaign to build awareness for the NBA playoffs. Turner also bought a homepage takeover of Yahoo Sports and will run a frontpage video ad on YouTube and overlay ads in sports-related videos. Traditional tactics include local cable spots, radio sponsorships and print advertising.