On August 1st, 2016, as Indians prized trade deadline acquisition Andrew Miller came long-striding in from the Progressive Field bullpen for the first time, the team's Twitter account sent the following:
In some ways, it is the perfect tweet, so in tune with Internet meme culture and the Twitter lingo of the moment that it could've been sent by that friend of yours who spends more time trying to craft a fire tweet than writing that essay to keep him from failing Philosophy. But it wasn't. It was sent by a 34-year-old dad.
"I am a new dad, and I love dad jokes," said Joel Hammond, one half of the Indians Twitter team and the man that hit "tweet" on the Miller masterpiece. "That whole thing where you go back and forth, that whole 'Say no more, fam,' I just love those. That just kind of came to me when (Miller) was getting ready to come in that day."
@Indians is littered with examples of a mastery of the social media vernacular that many other pro sports accounts refrain from, or are simply afraid of, engaging in (one needs only to scroll through the rest of the AL Central division's timeline to see what a vanilla ice cream cone in tweet form looks like). The proper use of Twitter speak like "lit" and "tbh” litter the team’s timeline. Their GIF game is on point and almost immediate, thanks to MLB Advanced Media in New York that that can chop video of whatever the social team needs in a matter of minutes. And keeping one eye on sports and pop culture has led to some of their strongest work, like when they tweeted out a photo of Tim Tebow photoshopped into an Indians uniform, then followed it up with “oh no that wasn’t supposed to get out.” The Tebow tweet is one of the team’s most engaged tweets ever.
But it’s Hammond’s, and his co-tweeter Missy Perez’s, fearlessness to interact with fans and egg avis alike that have made @Indians one of best follows on the ‘Net.
“I think (responding to people) helps people want to get engaged with us because they know we’re going to engage back with them,” Hammond said. “99 percent of the time that’s positive engagement, but every now and then, that’s firing back at somebody. I think that’s helped us, too. That was a goal of ours and something we made a major focus of our efforts. We want to be in the conversation and we want to talk to our fans and I think that’s helped us grow our follower base.”
Hammond and Perez’s willingness to tweet back is enabled by a deep organizational trust. The two wield almost complete autonomy behind the keyboard. Indians president Chris Antonetti isn’t sending morning e-mails with subject line “I don’t understand this meme.” They don’t need higher approval before letting a tweet fly. Still, Hammond knows the perils of trusting in the Internet’s facade of invincibility (see: the Houston Rockets), so any time he feels himself nearing the border between "that's hilarious" and "um, what were you thinking?" the rest of the social media contingent is brought in to confer.
For example, when Hammond wanted to tweet a photo of Kobe Bryant in an Indians jersey after the Black Mamba announced his retirement, he had to make sure everyone felt it was as clever as he thought it was.
"We ran that through the department, the original idea and then some plusses and minuses," Hammond said. "What are the risks and what are the benefits of doing this? It’s funny, but people are going react. What if Kobe responds and says, ‘I will never play for you'? Stuff like that.
“It’s our job to know when something we want to do is going to come close to the line of trouble/no trouble, good taste/bad taste. And if it’s going to come close to that line, then it’s on us to run it up the flagpole.”
Part of the Indians social team’s secret to being one with Internet culture is their reliance on the younger interns that rotate in and out of the office to know what’s popping on the Web, like dropping a Pokemon Go reference or grabbing a photo of Usain Bolt smiling after winning a race at the Rio Olympics so the team can photoshop speedster Rajai Davis’s face onto it.
When all of those factors come together, it creates social media performance art, like when the @Indians were in straight up IDGAF mode the night after clinching the AL Central for the first time since 2007. The trio of tweets below is the embodiment of what makes the Tribe’s account so damn good.
A subtle shot at the Detroit Tigers for thinking the Indians try and steal their signs? Check. A humble brag about winning the AL Central? Check. A perfectly-memed response to a hater? Check, check and check. That's what being good at the Internet looks like.
As with anything involving the world wide web, though, there’s downsides of making your living on a laptop. You're publicly scolded for everything from rain delays to lineup decisions. Maybe you clap back at a certain Cleveland sports radio personality when you should've just let it go. But worst of all, Twitter, and social media in general, doesn't take time off. Thus, Perez and Hammond don’t really get to unplug for very long, either.
“The job is difficult. You’ve got to know what's going on, and it’s a 20 hour a day job,” Hammond said. “Missy and I will split it up. I’m up early and she’s up late, so we’re probably a combined off the grid from 1 - 5 am. But it’s rewarding and part of being on all the time is knowing what’s out there and using it to your advantage.”
And yet, the "always on" part of the job description led to one of Hammond's favorite moments, when he had to abruptly pull off on I-90 on a Sunday morning and tweet the news that the Indians had officially acquired Miller.
"I’m on the side of the road, it was such a shock," Hammond said. "I just wrote, 'Hi. We’ve acquired Andrew Miller,' and his stats, which are incredible. That will be a fun story that I’ll tell people for a while."
With the team's first playoff appearance since 2013 looming, you already know Hammond and co. will be stepping up their Twittering to another level. So please, don't @ them unless you're ready for a quick response.