Instead of Getting Fans to Just Engage With You, Build Community and Let Them Engage With Each Other

The whole is greater than the sum of individual parts.

You’ve heard that saying before and it’s true for sports fans, all supporting and following the same team. You may have hard of Red Sox nation, or nodded in recognition of someone dressed in the same team’s garb as you. Social media has amplified the ability for fans to show their fandom, to the nth degree. Message boards, social networks, communities.

All of this conversation and content centers around the orbit of the team. There is no better deed you can do than help these fans connect with other who share their passion, The coolest moments are when fans come together, having conversations, forming relationships, fueling each other’s passion. It’s like playing matchmaker.

This rang true in a recent conversation I had with Josh Decker, CEO of Tagboard, which aggregates conversation and content from across social media. Rather than trying to dictate conversation, throwing gasoline on the fire of organic conversation can be even more effective.

“For us, it’s about creating something that brings people together, breaks down those walls and creates one larger community,” said Decker. “We believe, by breaking down those walls and bringing people together, you create this dynamic that has amazing results…”

Social media, as fragmented as it can sometimes seem across the big four – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat – has allowed communities with similar beliefs, interests, passions, conversations, all come together to form a bigger, more connected and engaged community. By fanning the flames of conversation and sharing, through whatever methods, teams can stoke the fire of these fan communities and build them to be bigger and stronger.

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But throwing up a random hashtag on a billboard or website or video board isn’t exactly an effective way to elicit genuine community and conversation. It’s about finding something that represents what the community cares about, is talking about, is doing themselves, is interested in. Authenticity is the cannot-be-overstated key — it’s hard to go wrong with fans and with what’s working.

“Don’t force it. Don’t try to come up with something that is not organic already,” said Decker. “You have enough fans out there, that they;re going to tell you which hashtag to use. Keep it authentic, keep it real, and you’re going to be surprised at how much better off it works for you than when you try to force something in and it doesn’t fit with your community.”

There is so much visibility into fans these days and so much opportunity to identify and help unite all these fans. Making fans feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves, as cliche as that may sound, is invites them into a family they’ll feel a part of for life.

Baseball Winter Meetings: Advice and Info for Young Job Seekers

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Before I started my current job, I attended the Baseball Winter Meetings to take it all and to seek a possible job. I decided to share my observations and insights, as well as info learned from the speakers and panels there. Read more below!

Advice from the MLB Winter Meetings #SportsJobs Workshop

Some excellent tips and insights from the Jobs Workshop at the Baseball Winter Meetings, from tons of pros and execs from Major League and Minor League Baseball.

Atlanta Braves VP of HR Lara Juras With Sports Job Interview Tips

Great perspective from then-Atlanta Braves head of human resources, Lara Juras, on what they look for in job candidates and how to represent yourself as a good fit and qualified candidate in interviews. (Note: There are TONS of job interviews that take place at the Winter Meetings!)

An Inside Look at the Baseball Winter Meetings #SportsJobs Fair

What does it actually look like, how does it work, what kind of job opportunities are there, and how can you make sure you are prepared? Get a look and feel for what the winter Meetings Job Fair is like.

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me via Twitter or LinkedIn.

PS: Also check out an inside look and annotated tour of the Baseball Winter Meetings Trade Show.

Episode 81 Snippets: Josh Decker and Tagboard Are Fostering Fan Communities

On episode 81 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Josh Decker, CEO at Tagboard.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

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Dolphins Deliver With Visually Stunning and Player-Facing Content

The Miami Dolphins are located within an empire of eye candy. From beaches to babes, there is no limit to the visual panoply of pics that command the attention of fans living in South Florida.

The Dolphins clearly prioritize their visual content — from real-time photos to touched-up pics and even video montages of photos peppering their content and telling their stories. This is all underpinned by a desire to endear individual players to fans and serve as a strong second screen and content supplement to the plays taking place on the field.

I caught the Dolphins at a good time, as they earned their sixth consecutive win to get into the playoff picture, beating the San Francisco 49ers at home fairly easily. Each of the big four platforms was utilized, with only Snapchat feeling a bit under-served, and the Dolphins delivered again and again throughout game day Sunday with eye-catching visuals that were attractive whether you were cheering Fins Up or not.

While many tend to take it for granted, the Dolphins did a great job of feeding fans on Facebook with an array of content to engage fans with visuals and player-focused content. As is the case with most teams, the Dolphins got a lot of sponsored content ‘out of the way’ in the day and hours leading up to the game, with content-laden posts/graphics/links tagging and including a sponsor. They also re-purposed some of their creative over this time period, but it was likely not noticeable to fans, with likely only a handful seeing all the posts from the Dolphins Page at this time. Also notable was an evergreen Facebook cover image, differing from some teams that will change week-to-week to promote that week’s game.

The Dolphins had an impressive array of video content leading up to the game, from talk with a commentator, hype videos, and an excellent 360-video allowing fans to look around the locker room and the field in the hours before the game. Once the game began, the volume decreased, but I was struck by the end of quarter score graphics — not just static graphics (and not sponsored), but score update VIDEOS that showcased not just the score, but some awesome shots from the game action during that quarter. A great way to (likely) drive more impressions and engagement, and to make the most of the Dolphins’ sweet collection of photos from the game.

As the game went on, the Dolphins shared some additional photos besides the score update videos (and each of the photos were nicely branded with a ‘Miami Dolphins’ pennant logo. After the game, the Dolphins shared some great, short videos featuring players personally speaking to fans and one player talking about how great the home crowd was. It doesn’t get much better than that! Like others, there was no native video highlights from the game (and not much pushing website traffic to view clips, either). The game day ended with a couple sponsored content posts to cap off a fun day for fans on Facebook that had them exposed to tons of appealing content in many forms.

Of course, the busiest platform for the Dolphins, and one where we saw more visual storytelling and player promotion, was their Twitter presence. We saw the typical hype videos and preview content on game day, but we also saw player arrivals (typical to what most teams share on Snapchat) with some well-done (not amateur) photos of players arriving and preparing. By singling out players one at a time, particularly out of their pads and unis, it really served to individualize them effectively for fans. And even the sponsored content (presented by Bose) were fantastic visuals that felt very organic for Bose, typically showing players using Bose gear. Their video content of pregame arrivals and prep were labeled Bud Light Quick Hits, an easy way to insert a sponsor with content the team knows fans will love and want.

The Dolphins were mostly consistent in effectively tagging players (and even their venue) in tweets — an easy, but oft-overlooked way to get more engagement and users for these accounts. There was a heavy volume of quick visual content to get fans ready before the game started…and the next tweet was a 49ers scoring play. I did appreciate that they gave some info about the play (Kaepernick to Hyde) and also tweeted out lineup and player health info themselves (no RT’s of a PR account or team reporters).

When the Dolphins began making big plays, the team whipped out some creative, retro-feeling (like Nintendo classic-ish, which is all the rage on social) GIFs to celebrate big plays. They all looked very similar, but were personalized (and it looked great) for specific players, at times. These GIFs were also used for scoring plays, as there was no special [or sponsored] graphic for scoring plays. Each was then followed up with an image (branded with that Dolphins pennant logo), giving some stats about the drive. The team also did well to share some highlights from the NFL Snappy TV account, quoting some NFL tweets. Each quarter update was given by a graphic (same as the first frame on their Facebook videos),. but no video here, as that was Facebook-only [do not mind that, at all].

Staying with their propensity for pics, the Dolphins continued to supplement our game-watching experience with fantastic photography. In lieu of play-by-play, the Dolphins used text sparingly and let their photos speak for them – showing a sick catch and celebrating a big play. They did continue to provide scoring updates (including the opponent, which is refreshing), but did stay silent for the last 15-20 minutes of the game as fans sweated out a last-minute drive by the 49ers with a chance to tie the game. When the clock hit zero, the Dolphins came out with a final score graphic, exhaling along with all the fans. Some teams try to articulate the emotion of the moments of a tight finish, with language and emoji, but the Dolphins opted to let fans focus, celebrating in the end (and then serving up post game content).

After the game ended, the Dolphins told the story of the game with more awesome photography, to go along with graphics and some player retweets, as well. The team also went live on Periscope (they are among the best on the platform and their Monday presser with Head Coach Adam Gase had over 40,000 viewers) for post game press coverage. They had the same two videos of players addressing the fans on camera right after the game that we saw on Facebook. Again, love this. The only link in any Twitter post came late in the day, with a link to a game recap. They also included a sponsor on one of their photo tweets, but it fit right in with all the great visuals we saw throughout the post game and throughout the day from the Dolphins on Twitter.

Of course, the Dolphins and their dedication to eye-catching imagery, was impressive on Instagram. The pregame window featured a collection of pregame shots and on-field warm-ups, along with a hype video and some sponsored content. The Dolphins would continue posting during the game, with some sick content all branded with the Miami Dolphins pennant logo, as well as end of quarter score updates.

The Dolphins did not rack up a ton of interaction with their posts, but the visual ‘wow’ content continued, with some strong raw images and well-applied edits or filters.There was n re-purposing of video post game, but just some additional photos, particularly close-ups of players, building that identification with fans.

The Dolphins are among the few NFL teams to utilize Instagram Stories, and the product is a stunning collection of imagery. Not necessarily a cohesive narrative, but a well-curated photo offering. They had a nice branded intro to their game day Story and then featured the build-up to the game with an awesome array of images. It makes it easy to quickly consume a visual story of the Dophins pregame.

The Story did not end once the game began, either. More thoughtfully selected images that showed game action and exuded emotion kept Instagram users engaged as they tapped on while watching the game. The Dolphins utilized Instagram Stories to feed more of the Instagram content they love to fans; not so much a unique and compelling use, but I enjoyed, and no doubt other fans did too, seeing a steady stream of stunning visuals throughout the game day, fit for the Instagram platform.

The Dolphins dedicated themselves to incredible imagery on their platforms and do not spend as much time on Snapchat, which, of course, is more about ephemeralness and rawness. The Dolphins had three pregame posts, including some shots of their sweet throwback jerseys for the game and a quick personal word from a player, and utilized the game day pregame filter. Not sure if they have a home stadium geofilter or not.

 

Following the Dolphins’ social media on a game day is a visual delight, with iconic photography and both real-time and prepared content. The player imagery showcasing their individuals is second to none and they create opportunities for fans to fawn over (and engaged with) players. They are also prime Periscope users, dedicated to the platform (and their numbers reflect it).

The Dolphins may still be working to reach their potential on the field, but they know and showcase their strengths on social media, capturing the eyes and emotions of fans, one image at a time.

Postscript: On Monday, the Dolphins shared a marvelous montage of fan videos showing their perspective and the ambient atmosphere on the final decisive play of the game, which cemented the win for Miami. Very cool!

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Sports Teams Start Using Snapchat Spectacles and Make Fans Feel Part of the Team

Another day, another new toy for social media and sports, as Snapchat’s Spectacles (remember, Snapchat is a camera company, not a social media company), have arrived on the scene. It’s like Google Glass + GoPro, but cooler and more intrinsically connected with social media and a network for distribution.

This past week, two sports teams — the Minnesota Wild of the NHL and the University of Miami Hurricanes football team — got a hold of some Spectacles and became the first major sports teams to start creating content with Snapchat’s new product. No best practices, no tried and true concepts, just pure experimentation and using the Spectacles to deliver new content in new ways to fans that they could not do without Spectacles.

The best part of Snapchat has been the raw, uncut access to teams fans have gotten, and Spectacles allows fans, through the lens of the trusty social media manager, to not just be in the room as an onlooker, but to truly feel part of the narrative, part of the team. These were the moments that stood out to me for both teams, when it felt like the fan watching was part of the pregame walk past all the cheering fans (for the Canes) or another member of the circle kicking around the soccer ball before a game (as we did with the Wild).

Just like there’s no comparison to the goosebumps induced when a player makes eye contact with the fans or speaks directly to them, Spectacles offers the opportunity for immersion. The behind-the-scenes content, in and of itself, is highly effective, but is taken to another level when fans feel like an active participant, instead of a passive onlooker. It drives that deeper engagement and connection that teams are after in their social media efforts.

The rest of the content seen from these teams’ first forays with Spectacles gave a different, first-person POV into the game day experience. The Hurricanes took fans on the field pregame (but this was understandably less participatory than the previous content), while the Wild got creative in trying to find other unique ways to give fans a perspective they hadn’t experienced before. This included seeing what it’s like to have a view on a ZAMBONI ride and even put us behind the t-shirt cannon with the mascot, firing shirts into the crowd. There is a lot of experimentation left to come, and teams will get to spread their wings of creativity to see what works well with Snapchat Spectacles.

More teams will get their hands on Spectacles and, no doubt, we’ll continue to see more novel and new ways to use them to produce compelling content. The biggest takeaway, for me, from these initial uses is to, like with any new toy, consider what Spectacles allow teams to do than they couldn’t do before. For Spectacles, the ‘whoa’ moments came when the Spectacles made fans feel like another player on the team, not a fly on the wall, but another participant. I imagine it’ll be awesome when a player dons Spectacles at practice, inside a pregame huddle, etc. In this sense, it’s like a more accessible, ore social version of GoPro, complete with features that make Snapchat different, too, like filters, quick video edits, quick sharing to the masses, and, eventually, the integration of player-generated and fan-generated content to weave first-person POV stories unlike ever before.

Social media has allowed teams to create everlasting connections with fans more than ever before – driving emotional investment with the team and players. Spectacles offers a new way to make fans feel a part of the team, to build attachments that new tech like VR and AR promises. Delivering the content and telling the stories is now easier than ever, the next step is to make fans feel like they’re not just watching the stories, but part of them, feeling the emotion, seeing the little gestures and idiosyncrasies that social media managers take for granted, and making these larger-than-life figures come to life. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead as Spectacles re-define spectating and fans will feel ever more connected and engaged.

Adapting and Experimenting the New Norm for Social Media and Sports

The two most frightening words in the English language — status quo.

In an age when content and news is absorbed and delivered instantaneously, when industries are disrupted seemingly overnight, and when consumer behaviors evolve just when we were catching up, flexibility is essential. The team at West Virginia University Athletic has embraced and executed upon a mindset of being in control of their own digital destiny, and eagerly exploring encouraging avenues.

One of the first steps in this direction was deviating from just about everyone else in the country by making their website an internal project, eschewing the SIDEARMs and CBS Interactives of the world, in favor of more control and more self-serve customization and ability to adapt and change on the fly.

“(Having our own website) is really the flexibility of doing what we want when we want to do it…,” said Grant Dovey, Digital Media Manager for WVU Athletics. “The website I look at is CNN.com. If you look at CNN, sometimes it won’t look the same… Right now (on our website)…if we win something, maybe I change it and make the whole top of the page one column (for example, instead of thirds)…”

It may seem subtle, but jumping onto the back-end of the website and revising the overall template and presentation to account for the news of the day or the newest feature or social feature of the moment offers impressive flexibility. It’s more than website administration, though, it’s an attitude of looking for ways to optimize and to get better on a daily basis.

Social media and sports pros are often in an advantageous position in which representatives from the social media networks are eager to work with them to get their massive audiences active on their platforms, as well as sampling and maximizing their newest features.To be sure, many are too busy or succumb to a suspicion of more work or resources needed to try something new, possibly at the expense of something tried and true. But the only way to discover something great is to find a way to try it., before the season’s hours turn into days and months, and you blink and it’s the last week of the season.

“I am all about trying new things,” said Dovey of working with social media networks to help WVU Athletics get the most out of them and work with newer features. “…If (social media platforms) have something new they want to throw our way, I’m all about it…Just continuing to try anything new is what we’re down for.”

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Yes, there is shiny new toy syndrome. But there is also the opposite (insert witty name here). The best are always keeping their eyes and ears open, though, looking at everything they’re doing, digitally and socially, through the lens of their fans. It’s not about keeping up or staying ahead, being the first, or just being different for the sake of being different. We must not be afraid to deviate from the safe and comfortable, and seek to create a better experience or better content or fans. Master your craft, but don’t get so good at your routine that you’re not ready to adapt to what happens tomorrow. Tell your stories, but be prepared to present them in newer and better ways. And don’t get seduced by the safety and satisfaction of status quo.