If you like pro football and you're on Twitter—and if neither of these things apply to you, well, Jesus, get over yourself; who are you trying to impress?—you've experienced the following scenario:
1. A player you like has an acccount!
2. You click "Follow," for you are interested in what he has to say.
3. Said player tweets incessantly at strangers, wishing them happy birthday, retweeting their random platitudes, responding to their embarrassingly servile compliments.
Take our friend Terrell Owens, someone established here as a tweeter of messages irrelevant to the vast majority of his followers. He's amassed more than a million of them, by the way. Some 40,000 more people follow him on Twitter than claim residence in Montana. He has the ear of more folks than the combined populations of Boston and Oakland, and this is what he says:
He's responding to, from the top down: guy who thinks he saw T.O. at StoneWorks in San Antonio, girl who noted Blake Griffin follows T.O., guy whose dad thinks he saw T.O. jogging, hater, same guy whose dad thinks he saw T.O. jogging.
Players do this all the time. Which raises the question: Do players actually respond to everything said to them? Is there a formula for eliciting a response? Really, what's the best way to troll an NFL player on Twitter? I present to you my case study.
I created a fake account with a picture of a cute girl whom I found on Google images. I wanted her to appear more sweet than sexy. (I believe my search was, "FUN SWEET GIRL SMILE.") An ethnically vague surname, Chanarsky, helped give her a malleable identity. If anyone looked at her profile, though—and some guys on an LSU message board did, which is pretty funny—he'd see she's an utter nutjob who claims she is from roughly every major city in the country, about to graduate high school, a recent college grad, pregnant, and in possession of about 40 players' jerseys. She's never used proper grammar, apparently ever. She is also unsure of how to spell her last name.
While of course you should treat a player you want to troll as an individual—Nate Burleson, for example, likes when you Photoshop pictures of him—I found six reliable ways of getting retweeted: saying it was my birthday; talking about buying that player's jersey; repping his college; talking about his team or recent performance; trying to relate to something he'd tweeted earlier about his non-football interests; and simply asking for a retweet.
Of the 200 players I tweeted at, 50 hollered back by either retweeting me or responding to me with an @ mention. If I used just one of the above methods, it had a 20 percent sucess rate. Two bumped it to 24 percent. Three was a phenomenal 37 percent. Not a single player responded to me if I used four or more of those tactics. "I got your jersey and it's my birthday and I went to your college and I love your team" comes off a bit desperate, I guess.
Another trick is to prompt the player—either ask him a question or straight-up beg for a retweet. Thirty-six of my successful tweets prompted a player for a response. More than half my failed tweets were plain statements containing no questions. The ideal method, then, is to use two attention-grabbers, followed by a question.
Let's drill down a little further. Players respond well to fans' birthdays, but it's not a slam dunk. Out of the 33 times I mentioned a birthday, I got 12 responses (36 percent). Mentioning a player's college carried a 32 percent success rate (10 out of 31). Talking about a guy's team or recent play worked 38 percent of the time (14 out of 37).
So it would appear the ideal tweet should mention a birthday and the player's team, then ask for a retweet. And you know what? I did this specific combination only eight times, but it got me six responses.
Your tweet doesn't even need to make sense.
A few other notes:
There's also the "I just bought your jersey/I'll buy your jersey if you respond to me" card. I went 10 for 39 on these, in line with my overall average.
By far the riskiest maneuver is to try and relate with the player on a personal level. That had a paltry 19 percent success rate (24 out of 125 tries). But that's a pretty broad category, so let me break it down:
• Don't ask for advice, especially about good restaurants in his area or how your imaginary little brother should go about getting into the player's fraternity. Maybe pro athletes fear stalkers: I was 1 for 10 on those.
• I went 4 for 12 when expressing earnest, generic fandom for the player in question.
• Of the five players I found who had their children in their profile pics, I asked each about their kid. Three responded. My guess is it would be a sound strategy if more players put their kids up there.
• I saw two players talking about their Zodiac signs as if they were a real thing. When I went all "OMG your a virgo that makes so much sense lol" on them, they didn't bite.
• The biggest no-no, and maybe the most surprising, is mentioning a player's side projects—his foundations, his bands, his business ventures. I made 12 different attempts at this, and not a one got a response. Not from Derrick Mason about his radio show, not from Shawne Merriman about his ... energy drink? Not even from Drew Brees about his goddamned Jimmy John's.
I should also point out that, despite the reputation Twitter has as a way for athletes to pick up side chicks (scroll down to the phrase "unreal slew of hoochies"), there was none of that with Liza. Two players sent me direct (private) messages, but not a single player hit on her, despite her enthusiasm for each and every one of them.
There is a lesson in all this, if I may extrapolate from my admittedly small sample. Twitter gives fans only the illusion of intimacy with their favorite players, even the famously mouthy ones. Get too personal, and you get ignored. The ideal tweet mentions the guy's team or his recent play and never breaks that fourth wall. This isn't anything new. We've just taken the uneasy dynamic of the autograph line and put it on the web.
Kevin Collier is a writer in New York. His last post for Deadspin was a guided tour of the West Virginia bars in which football coach Dana Holgorsen reportedly got shitfaced. He tweets at @kevincollier.
Top image by Jim Cooke.