St. John's puts new twist on tweets

Peter Robert Casey has a credential and a seat on press row this season for St. John's Red Storm men's basketball home games.

Yet, he won't be filing stories before deadline. Or jotting down quotes in a notebook during the postgame news conference. He won't be shooting stand-ups for a nightly newscast, either. He won't even be blogging. So how will Casey cover the team this year?

He'll be tweeting. That's it and that's all.

"I thought they were joking around when they called," Casey, 28, said. "I was like, 'Are you serious? You want me to do Twitter?'"

They were indeed serious.

"I kept running into the name Peter Robert Casey everywhere on the Internet," said Mark Fratto, St. John's associate athletics director for communications. "LinkedIn, Facebook requests, his blog. Peter's marketing of himself really brought him to us."

"It's a different way to connect with basketball fans and St. John's fans and just gives them a different perspective on the game experience."

Fratto's choice of Casey was wise. In only 10 months on Twitter, he's amassed a serious following: 50,102 users at press time and counting. Part of that has to do with the amount of people he follows -- a whopping 41,464 accounts -- but Casey is also a talented marketer and self-promoter, and tweets out good, relevant content.

And don't mistake St. John's reaching out to Casey as an inside job or a stunt by a PR flak. The assistant director for student activities and programs at Columbia University's teachers college grew up a St. John's fan, but Fratto said that wasn't why he went after him. Casey does all his basketball writing and blogging in and around his day job. He is not tweeting from an official team account. Instead, St. John's has asked him to be an independent news outlet, micro-blogging from his own Twitter account.

"Through Peter's efforts, he's built up this following on Twitter," Fratto said. "The last thing I want to do is dictate content for him. He's already proven to be the expert. I want him to do things his way with this."

We've seen NFL teams such as the Miami Dolphins and Washington Redskins put a ban on reporters tweeting from practice -- which has been met with much justifiable criticism -- but St. John's is doing the opposite. It's not only saying yes, you can tweet, but it actively sought a Twitter enthusiast with a huge following who knows what sort of content connects with the platform's audience.

"That's how we view social media," Fratto said. "It's part of the landscape now. Why not embrace it instead of standing on the sidelines watching it go by?"

Instead of shutting out information from inside Carnesecca Arena and Madison Square Garden this season, St. John's is inviting you in. Instead of swimming against the social media wave with odd explanations and near-sighted polices, it's riding that wave straight to the shore. In a month where we've seen the SEC's first go-round with social media fall flat, it's refreshing to see St. John's not only understand social media but also use it to the school's advantage.

Social media is about growing your brand; it's about marketing. St. John's will see an uptick in exposure from having Casey cover the team in this fashion, and plenty of mainstream outlets (as well as blogs) will be writing about this progressive decision. Unless Casey flies off the handle, there is nothing to lose.

Yet, for a fan, social media boils down to one thing: content. The better the content, the more engaged fans become with their team, athlete or league of choice.

That's where Casey hopes to shine. He says he doesn't plan to do live score updates from the stadium; there are other places online that provide that information. Instead, Casey will focus on giving fans locker-room tidbits, quick quotes from players and coaches, remarks on the environment and crowd atmosphere, and photos off his BlackBerry.

"It's going to be a case study -- it's brand-new," Casey said.