Exposing Some Sports Social Media Misconceptions


This post is co-written by:
Aaron Westendorf

Neil Horowitz

This is a co-authored post with a friend and peer of mine in the social and digital media in sports industry – Aaron Westendorf. He previously coordinated social media content and marketing for the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League and has his own website analyzing sports and social and digital media, Digital Sports Voice

Aaron and I have thrown some general sports and social media “truths” out to explain why they may not be so factual. This post’s goal was to be a helpful resource for those seeking a profession in sports social media, learning about the field, or for any of those Digital Managers out there like us who want to email your friends and family what exactly it is that you do. Aaron’s comments are marked AW and mine are indicated with a NH. Enjoy!

Anyone can do social media in sports:

 AW: Look at your Facebook and Twitter timelines. Do all of your friends, family members and ex-boyfriends know how to appropriately use hashtags, post photos and write well? Probably not. Social media combines marketing, journalism and creative writing all in one. It’s quick, so it requires a savvy thinker. More and more people with business backgrounds are pouring into social media, attempting to sell sponsorship or drive ticket sales through the roof. Depending on the team, you may only have one or two people to accomplish all of this. To summarize: you need to be a journalist, marketer, creative thinker and a businessperson, all in one.

NH: Unless you’re the CEO, perhaps no other position in the organization touches more departments in some way than the social media manager. Whether it is marketing and sales, corporate partnerships, community relations, game operations, media relations, fan development, facility operations, account servicing, and the organization’s brand voice, social media truly penetrates all parts of a franchise. It is involved in the bigger picture, long-term strategies, as well as the day-to-day communications, servicing, content, and messaging. Social media informs and amplifies just about everything a club seeks to do. Read that twice and respect the position (aka Klout score isn’t your best qualification).

Social media is nothing but writing: 

AW: Social media is becoming more and more analytic-driven. A Digital Media Department will spend all week measuring success rates of campaigns, online ticket sales, clicks and even individual tweets. It is an all-inclusive process. The manager of an account has to know what is working, what isn’t and where they may expand on previous success, all while watching a live sporting event. There is also a lot of content preparation: graphics, videos, contests, hashtags and now even GIFs. Everything has to be pre-packaged, pre-approved and ready to go before the game even starts.

NH: Agreed on all counts – it is social media, meaning all forms of communication and content mediums. And, as you said, planning in advance is key and helps connect all the dots of integration across departments and not surprising anyone.

A social media manager must be able to answer the following questions – what is the most popular content in terms of x, y, and z metrics? Defining and tracking those variables means you’re doing it right: creating, curating, and disseminating content that fans consume and delivers macro and micro results for the organization.

Social media is easy for sports and teams: 

AW: By now, most teams make it look easy. Yes there are thousands of fans that will follow a team no matter how bad the season is or how poorly managed their social media accounts are. The rest (majority) follow because you share meaningful content, connect with fans and supply a steady stream of interesting news.

NH: It’s the beauty of the Internet and social media, Aaron – there is little to no barrier to entry for anyone. And, for teams with built-in fan bases it is easy to accrue numbers off the bat. So, yes, it can look easy, and any team can be on social media, but far fewer use it well! One could write an entire book (and some have) at the latent value upon which several teams on social are sitting, but, like you said, it ain’t easy making it happen!

A team has to be like the LA Kings to be successful on social:

AW: False. Ask if the Kings are successful at social, and I’ll say yes. Ask who is my favorite team on social, and I’ll say the Kings. But there is a misnomer that teams have to emulate the Kings to be successful. What is so special about the Kings and their Digital Manager Pat Donahue is that they team selected its voice and executed it to perfection. There are other top-notch digital accounts throughout the NHL, as well as all major American sports leagues. For example: Columbus Blue Jackets are the best at fan generated content, the San Jose Sharks make amazing infographics, and the St. Louis Blues showed they could have fun with TJ Oshie’s cover vote videos. The teams worth following are those that have created their own unique personality and continue to execute it with consistency. What teams should gather from the success of the Kings is their ability to interact on a personal level with fans, and enhance the hockey experience both inside the arena and throughout the country.

NH: A well-balanced, insightful way to state it, Aaron. At the end of the day, it is consistency in voice and brand (across all fan touch points/channels) and cultivating an active social media presence that facilitates the club’s goals. The Kings want to stand out in the crowded market of LA and, no doubt, they have achieved the attention they sought. Their on-ice success has helped, of course, but their season ticket sales and sponsorships have gone well. The bigger questions remain long-term and big picture – is this generating valuable attention and these fans will remain avid when success on the ice wanes? Will they be able to maintain this unique brand voice when Donahue is gone? And in what ways does it all affect the perception of their organization in the eyes of premium partners and event promoters?

A sports career in social media is fun:

AW: This is a fact. Not myth to debunk here. However, I would like to add that it isn’t easy making a career in sports social media. The field is still evolving, many executives still don’t know exactly what they want from their digital department and they sometimes tinker with jobs. It can be stressful not knowing if your job will be there next season, or what roles you might acquire on top of your already busy schedule. It is a 24-hour job that doesn’t take off holidays, birthdays or anniversaries. My girlfriend still hasn’t celebrated her birthday or our anniversary on the exact dates because I have had games. Despite all of this, it is the most rewarding and fun job you could ever dream of having. Ten years from now we will all look back in agreement that it was the most fun we could have ever had, and sometimes you need to remind yourself that.

NH: There ain’t nothing like it, Aaron. The hours are long (and quite close to 24/7, with the nature of social media!), but the passion, the excitement, and the enthusiasm far exceed it all. It is a gift to work in sports; it is a business, but it is truly a unique business that is a dream for many. It’s a job so treat it like one – learning analytical skills is better job preparation (usually) than watching the third straight hour of SportsCenter.

And, as the above myths reveal, nothing is as simple as it first appears.

Thanks so much to Aaron for putting this together and sharing some of his thoughts and wisdom. Check out his website, Digital Sports Voice

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