It’s the dawn of a new year. Of course, in the world of digital and social media, we age in a more dog-year like fashion, and what social and fan engagement looks like today will be different from how it looks in February, in May, and who knows what is in store for the next 12 months.
But despite how far we’ve come and how good many have become, there is still some WTF in social media, in general, and in sports. So hear me out (and please disagree with any of the forthcoming points, it’s all about conversation!), it’s time to make social media great again.
Don’t get seduced by shiny new toy syndrome…but don’t get left out
Ok, I get it. Being first to try the newest platform feature is fun. And, yeah, first mover has some value and cachet. But if being first is the only reason you’re jumping on to something, then something is wrong. Don’t get seduced — get it TESTED.
T – Try it out yourself. On your own accounts or a test account. And please check out how others are using – friends, influencers, other teams, randos. E – Evaluate. Is this useful for the organization, does it allow for unique delivery or type of content? Does it fit in with resources/time/manpower (and, if not, should it replace something else)? S – Strategize. How is using it going to fit in with the content and brand, as well as fan development and even sponsorship and analytics and in-game strategy? Be specific. Think of examples. T – Test and trial. Go to work and put the plan into action! E – Evaluate. Yep, look at the results. What worked and what didn’t work? Do some more trialing. D – Data and discuss. Now that you have at least some data coming in from shiny new platform/toy, organize it, so it is presentable, useful, and actionable. And discuss with every department in the organization. Teach and talk about how it can relate to their content and their objectives.
Make it social, dammit
Let’s make sure we put the ‘social’ back into social media. If there’s only one-way communication, if nary a single piece of user-generated content sees the light of day, if fans have no idea if anyone on the other side is listening…change that. Do a deep dive and see how ‘social’ your social media presence and platforms are now. Be an active social media participant and amplify fans. One of the most gratifying things you can do in social media and sports, too, is to build a community and to connect fans. When two fans who were previously complete strangers can have a conversation about the team they love, well…it’s a beautiful thing. So, don’t make me say it again — be social on social media.
So if there was one word to sum up the previous point, it’d probably be everyone’s favorite catch-all term — engagement. Consider an example – team A averages 25% of followers ‘liking’ their posts on Instagram, team B averages 5% of their total reach per post deciding to ‘share’ on Facebook, while team C leads the league in Twitter retweets, and team D gets a high % of screenshots per snap on their Snapchat. So, uhh, which team has the best engagement? Which engagement is most meaningful? And how can anyone in their right mind use the same word to describe all those different types of activity?
Ultimately, engagement tries to capture whenever a fan takes some sort of action with the content – viewing, sharing, liking, commenting, etc. Start defining meaningful engagement. If you have the tools and the wherewithal, start tracking engagement at a more granular level — you just might (most likely will) learn something! No more patting oneself on the back for a great ‘engagement’ rate, and more looking at effective engagement. Engagement that matters.
Have a strategy
This may seem a bit (crazy noises), but – every single piece of content, every gosh darn post, should have some sense of strategy behind it. Even the way a simple score update is written, a transaction presented, an image chosen, and certainly the content, campaigns, contests, etc. all should trace back to an overarching strategy that guides the look, the feel, the voice, the overall presentation. And, yes, this very much relates to everything else in this article — KNOW YOUR WHY. Is that a bit cliche? You’re damn right it is, but too many say it, but don’t practice it. Be able to articulate the why for every platform, every post.
Don’t get addicted to routine
You got your strategy. Now you’re executing. One post at a time, dipping into a well-planned bank of templates and manning the usual battle stations or real-time coverage and content. The routine of game days, practices, promotions, and the content calendar can make days turn into weeks turn into months. But don’t let social media content and strategy get stuck in a rut. Surprise and delight. Be creative. Try something new. Try something another team did, but a different spin on it. Just don’t necessarily do the same thing today that you’ve done tons of yesterdays before. Avoid satisfaction with the status quo.
Measure real metrics
Make 2017 the year you’re transparent to a fault. The vanity metrics and the highest # to report is always gonna be tempting (and, I hate to say it, can be useful), but listen to the voice in the back of your head that’s telling you you’re not REALLY getting 300,000 viewers of that video; just because your reach on that tweet was 12,000, it doesn’t mean 12,000 fans actually read it (or even saw it, TBH). Sure, it is difficult to define and measure a true ‘social media ROI.’ But you should be trying. Are fans connected on Facebook spending more money with the team or attending more games? (I bet you have the data to deploy to answer that question) What are fans arriving via the website from ‘x’ platform doing on the website from an engagement, activity, and sales perspective? And if you work in social media and do not have at least an informed understanding of paid social, you gotta change that now. For realz. (Start with each platform’s 101/FAQ’s, check out Social Media Examiner, and YouTube can be your best friend, too).
Lots of people pay lip service and claim they are practicing respect in social media. But it’s one thing to talk about and another to walk the walk. This means respect for the platforms – (cliche alert) it’s better to be amazing at a few platforms than half-assing with a few. It doesn’t mean you have to confine content, it just means figuring out the best way to present content to fans on each platform. They deserve that. Which comes to another area of respect – people. Don’t talk ‘at’ fans, don’t fill their feed with organic content that looks more like a commercial. Put yourself in their shoes and consider the experience and the feel. And that all ties back to respecting your purpose. Every post on every platform can have a why and a so what to answer. Don’t disrespect the platforms and people by posting without a purpose.
Don’t have tunnel vision
It’s easy to get so focused on the 24/7, day-to-day nature of the work in social media and sports. But, geez, there is a whole world of activity going on around you. We are peppered with practices and creativity from the community of teams, fans, and brands all day every day. It’s downright dangerous (kinda) to have tunnel vision and not check out what others are doing, trying out different ideas that are working in some form elsewhere, and learning from the plethora of samples freely and easily provided to us all across each platform on a daily basis. The even cooler part? You can reach out and ask the others about what they’re trying, how it’s working, and what they’re eyeing next. Yeah, we’re pretty damn lucky.
Use what you got
It’s getting harder and harder to differentiate and offer something novel or unique these days. Part of it is so much content from so many sources and part of it is fans taking for granted the incredible access offered today that was unthinkable a decade ago. This underlies the importance of realizing the value of the access you have and content you can create to go beyond what ans are getting elsewhere and to think about what they would enjoy and what would make them say ‘Wow.’ What can you do, where can you go, what relationship can you leverage to create or deliver something others cannot or will not. (And then make sure the packaging is proper for each platform).
It’s Not About You
React and create according to what fans want and speak according to how your brand and your team sounds. Social media in sports is so much bigger than the individuals behind the handles (who are extremely important and talented), but let the fans and the organization guide more than anything.
How can you expect to understand social media strategy, content, and use, if you’re not utilizing the tools, yourselves. This doesn’t mean to spend all day perfecting personal presences, but if you’re not playing with stickers on Instagram, scrolling through a Facebook feed, posting and interacting on Twitter, and tapping through Stories and posting your own (it doesn’t have to be that often), how are you ever going to learn about what fans experience every day, how they discover your content, and how it looks and feels from their point of view. You can’t think like a fan if you don’t act like a fan.
While amusement and entertainment are laudable aspects of social media and sports, communication is crucial. In a number of ways. Again, it shows fans someone is listening, the organization cares enough to listen, and it is one of the best ways to get insight and answers to important organizational and fan experience and content questions. But wait, there’s more. It’s about communicating openly and widely to everyone in the organization in a no bullshit kind of way.
It’s okay to not just be the social media fly on the wall. The more communication there is between the social/digital team and the rest of the organization – from PR to players and everyone in between, the better off EVERYONE and EVERYTHING is. It won’t only help with getting content done and messaging on point an amplifying organizational objectives, it’ll also develop genuine relationships. That’s a win for everybody.
Don’t get me wrong. I love social media, fan engagement, and sports. I am blown away every day by the creativity, foresight, strategy, and fun that comes from all over every day. But we can’t let progress get in the way of what made social media so great in the first place. Make social media great again in 2017 and beyond. One post and one day at a time.