Amara Baptist's cool sports job: Grizzlies social media producer
Long before Amara Baptist would become familiar with power forwards and the pick-and-roll, she was wearing pointe shoes and mastering pirouettes.
From the age of 11, Baptist danced ballet. It was her first love, and it took her to Moscow for study and to a professional position with the Pacific Ballet Dance Theater in Los Angeles, where she often had lead roles.
But chronic back problems became too painful, and she had to retire from dance after 12 years. At 23, she had a college degree in psychology -- earned while dancing -- but no specific goal other than to explore a career in sports, one of her main interests. (She grew up a Lakers fan and interned twice at Kobe Bryant's basketball academy.) Two months later, in 2013, she had a job with the Los Angeles Dodgers in game-day marketing. From there she moved to Fox Sports in L.A., where she was a social media producer for a live TV show before becoming a content creator for the company's digital operation. In October, the Memphis Grizzlies hired her to be their social media producer.
She's responsible for the team's links to the public through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. Baptist is part of the Grizzlies' four-person content-creation team called Grind City Media that also features Michael Wallace, a former ESPN writer; Chris Vernon, a podcaster who also contributes to The Ringer; and Alexis Morgan, a digital content reporter who previously worked for SLAM and Bleacher Report. "Being part of that from the ground up is exciting," Baptist says.
The days can be long, and she's always connected to a screen, but she can't believe her good fortune. At 26, she feels blessed to have found a career as exciting to her as dance.
"It's cool that I was able to find that same passion after dance as well, because sometimes you have one passion and you think you won't find that again," she says. "But I found it working in sports."
During Grizzlies games, she'll tweet a constant stream of information. "If we're winning, I will tweet throughout. If we're not winning, I tend to say on the quiet side," she says, laughing.
Here is Baptist's story in her words:
A bridge to fans
My purpose is to connect with fans and get content to people they wouldn't have otherwise. I spend a lot of time building relationships in the organization, just trying to get the best content. We want people to get a look behind the scenes. For example, before every game the guys say hi to fans, and Marc Gasol in particular always finds the one who's the biggest fan, and spends time with him or her -- genuine time. I like to capture that because it shows the guys aren't doing it for attention or publicity. It's stuff that I see.
My road to Memphis
I never had any professional social media experience, so the job at Fox was really eye-opening and kind of really directed the path that I wanted to go. I didn't even know that was something I would be interested in until I took that job.
My particular favorite (social medium) is Twitter. I like the instant reaction you can get, especially when watching games. It feels like you're with a bunch of friends watching the game at a bar. All social media have their strengths. We like to tweet out highlights of really cool plays, if someone has a milestone, live-tweeting different things people at home may not see.
This All-Star voting has been an experience. We're pushing to get Mike Conley and Marc Gasol into the game. That's been kind of our focus now, and it's fun because you see the work these guys put in. To be able to have an impact in some way, to try to get them to the game, has been fun.
One night Vince Carter hit a buzzer-beater to end the third quarter, and I tweeted out the video and was like, "This Vince Carter guy has a future in the league." Then I thought, "I hope he's not mad." But he commented later with like a crying-laughing face, so I was like, "OK, he liked it."
Interacting with fans
It's awesome. The Grizzlies have a really loyal fan base. They're very vocal, and they watch every game, and it's fun to interact with them. You kind of get to know the Twitter handles. I see the people that tweet a lot about the Grizzlies, and it's fun to connect with them and make them feel like we're all in this together.
Yes, I deal with trolls. What's the internet without trolls? Usually I ignore it. There are times I want to respond, but obviously you can't. Now I just mute them because it's usually the same people over and over. If you mute them, you won't see their comments.
A day in the life
On game day, I'll come in about 9:30 a.m., and it's just getting out pregame content. I'll usually go to the shootaround, then the media scrum, and push all that content out. Alexis Morgan usually has a one-on-one (interview), and we get that out and the pregame coverage. Then there's the game. I don't finish until around 12:30 a.m. On normal days it depends what's on the schedule, but my days are like 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. or so. But I'm on call, so it varies.
Social media evolution
Something new is always coming along. ... Virtual reality is something I feel a lot of people are experimenting with. Also, 360-degree video -- that's something I need to delve more into. Some cool things are on the horizon.
I follow a lot of blogs about updates in the social media world. There's a thing on Twitter called #SMSports, Social Media Sports, to see what other teams are doing, just so we can be on top of things and to appreciate what everyone's doing. Like the night of Clemson winning (the College Football Playoff National Championship). They have an amazing social media team, and they create really good content. It's nice to see what other people do because when it's just one person, you kind of get stuck in your bubble.
Basketball has always been my favorite sport. I played a little. I had a short stint, but I was dancing ballet as well, and I kept getting injured playing basketball, so my mom was like, "OK, you're not playing basketball anymore."
I knew this job was cool when ...
The video team made a video of Vince Carter and D.J. Stephens -- he was in our training camp and he's an amazing dunker, and obviously Vince is one of the best of all time. They did a video where they watched each other's dunks and critiqued them. It was the coolest thing. I was sitting in there watching it, probably 45 minutes, listening to Vince tell stories of his crazy dunks and what he was thinking while dunking. It was unreal. I kept thinking, "I'm just sitting listening to Vince Carter tell stories." That was my third week on the job. It was crazy.