4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 1

A labor of love. Building connections. Learning from the best. It has been four incredible years of the doing the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, now up to 100 episodes and counting. It’s hard to put into words the gratitude I have for those willing to speak to me. My goal has always been simply to learn, to have great conversations, and to hopefully help share the insights and lessons with others.

This is part 1 of the lessons and insights that stuck with me over the years of doing the podcast and chatting with some of the most talented people in digital and social media and sports. [Listen to podcast episodes here].

  • Social media ROI goes beyond numbers 

    Social media is the most consistent, authentic way to reach and hear from fans. There is great ROI just from gleaning the insights of listening and of conversations that can inform and improve all aspects of the organization. There is true value there when it’s harnessed and communicated well.

  • Interaction in any form is the name of the game 

    Ever had a celebrity or star athlete or team ‘like’ your post on Instagram or Twitter. Ever felt the rush of having a star you look up to reply directly to you? The smallest engagements and interactions can increase a fan’s avidity from surface-level to emotionally transcendent. And it can happen with a single click.

  • Re-allocate resources based on goals 

    Social media didn’t really exist 20 years ago. For decades, teams had established departments, responsibilities, budgets, and manpower. Then social came along and teams either resisted or adapted. But then some started to realize that what used to feel like obligations years ago weren’t the best use of their resources today. Changing times means evaluating whether your allocation of resources is best suited to get bag for the buck, given how things are today. Fight inertia.

  • Build brand ambassadors – superfans 

    Not all fans are created equally. There are a select few that, while not employed by the team, might as well be. They’re always talking about the team, talking them up, suggesting others go to the game or watch the game. The more super fans you can build, through engagement and empowerment, the biggest your base of brand ambassadors can become. Focus on fangelists and you’ll have voluntary marketers all over talking up your product. And they’re not on the payroll.

  • Collaborate with data folks 

    We all now realize that data can improve decision-making, processes, and outcomes in just about every aspect of the organization (from player performance to your most recent post on social). But it’s not easy. The key is to be willing and ready to welcome those that do analyze the data and be willing to listen, even if it’s not what you expected or wanted to hear. Data don’t lie.

  • Make the team cool 

    This is a goal that was true four years ago and remains true today – you want to build a brand that fans want to be associated with. That fans want to be proud of. You want to be cool. It’s one thing to say it, it’s another to actually execute. Being cool means having confidence, not attacking others, associating with other cool people and things, and creating stuff that fans would describe as ‘cool.’ Then, fans will want to come hang out with you more often!

  • Earn the right to market to fans 

    This sage statement came from James Royer, who now oversees digital and social for the Kansas City Chiefs. Social media is not a marketing channel. It can serve marketing goals, but fans don’t follow you or come to you to be marketed to. That right must be earned by winning trust. Give fans content they want, first and foremost, and don’t undermine the value of their attention with blatant marketing messages. Fans know how to buy and that’s not the first thing on their mind when they’re flicking through your feed.

  • Embed social throughout the organization 

    Remember, it’s not about being good at social media. It’s about being good at business and using social to help do that. Look at every department of the organization, enumerate their goals, and figure out how social media can effectively help serve those goals. Fan development, sales, service, sponsorship, CR, game operations, PR, marketing, and the list goes on. Social isn’t a tactic, it’s a new way of doing business.

  • Partnership = all parties win 

    The word partnership often gets used interchangeably with sponsorship. But there are clear differences. A sports partnership is one in which everybody benefits – the team/organization and their fans, along with the partner. If an activation doesn’t satisfy these criteria, then reevaluate it and adjust it until it does. That’s how you can pile up partnership wins.

  • ROO is just as important as ROI 

    We always focus so much on ROI, return on investment, and not enough on ROO, return on objective. These are two distinct things, yet are often treated as one in the same. It’s not always a tangible, set number and equation. Focus on the ‘goal’ of the partner or the campaign and how you can help accomplish that objective. We are getting increasingly better at quantifying, well, just about everything, but the important thing to be cognizant of is that an objective is not just a number.

  • Identify ownable elements and assets 

    It used to be easier with sports sponsorships. You have so many billboards and media timeouts to fill. But now social has forced us to kind of blow up the rate card. But old habits die hard and most brands and salesmen find it understandably difficult to go out and ‘sell social.’ But there are content and activities taking place every day in sports. The key is to identify and enumerate these things. Then you’ll have something for a salesman to sell and for a sponsor to eye.

  • Go beyond the score 

    It’s always funny to see a score go final or an injury get announced and tons and tons of social media feeds all echo the same news. Information is more accessible than ever, but more transient and diluted in value than ever. The trick for a sports media is to go beyond just the information and give something more – context, fun content, multimedia. It’s so much more than just the stats and scores.

  • Dominate a couple places > stretching thinly everywhere 

    It’s hard for teams and media not to want to chase every channel. The more eyeballs the better, right? The answer is not so black and white. It’s certainly not the case if it means more eyeballs on substandard content. One is better off being known as great or the best on a couple platforms than being seen everywhere, reeking of mediocrity. It sound logical enough, but many still find it hard to resist the siren call of being, well, everywhere.

  • The goal is not to turn every fan into a STHer 

    We know season ticket holders are the most valuable fan to a brand, in the most basic sense. But it’s simply not feasible for every fan, for every sales lead to become a season ticket holder, whether for lack of time, money, or imply being located too far away. It sounds simple, but too often the sales process and sales spectrum still aspires to turn that single game buyer into a season ticket holder. Focus on the optimal outcome for each fan and each lead, informed by data, and not some arbitrary goal that is not appropriate for all.

  • Fan data goes beyond that tied to sales and numbers 

    We’re deluged with data, and that’s a beautiful thing. But that just means the non-quantifiable “fan data” is more valuable than ever. It’s great to know that a fan went to ‘x’ games last month and usually buys beer at every game. But how about knowing their kid is about start playing soccer at college next year or their wife is allergic to gluten? It’s the type of “data” we take for granted in every day relationship with friends and family that can vastly enhance the relationship of fans with the team (and their account reps).

  • Tech as a differentiator and revenue producer – more screens, more integrated techWe’re in the midst of an arms race when it comes to stadium and arenas – more and faster WiFi, more screens, and more apps. A key factor is to consider how tech CAN differentiate your experience from the alternatives, how it can make your team stand out for the better. The difficult maze continues when it comes to not making investments in tech in a silo – make it integrated into more aspects of the fan experience, to add value. More integrated screens and tech can optimize sponsor activations, as well – more extensive and effective takeover, a greater ability to enhance the fan experience, and the chance to reach more eyeballs and leave an effect on fans.
  • Social holds the keys to what fans want the most, it has the most consistent eyeballs – monetize it 

    The revenue pie hasn’t changed as dramatically as the fan attention pie has. But the ones trying to stay ahead are paying attention to this shifting paradigm more and figuring out how to effectively monetize. This was an early insight four years ago and one that is more acknowledged, if not fully realized today.

  • Promoting promotions in an engaging way 

    Marketing/promotional messages and engaging, quality content for fans do not have to be mutually exclusive. All those content:marketing ratios can be thrown out the window when content exists to get fans excited about the players, the teams ,and the games.

  • Understand the platform audience and the culture, across the world 

    It’s easy to click once and cross-post on all social media channels all over the world. But it’s naive to think these audiences are all the same, consume content the same, way, and even get excited about the same memes. The stories and messages can remain consistent, but it’s not just important, but more effective to post the way fans on the platform want to consume the content and how they speak to each other. These principles remain important as teams expand their social media to foreign audiences on Sina Weibo and WeChat.

  • You can crush it between 7pm-2am if you want it bad enough 

    Gosh, this sentiment and line from my chat with Peter Robert Casey (which he was relaying) has stuck with me. While it’s tempting to binge on Netflix and sit back and relax each night, there is nothing stopping you from working toward a passion and a dream.Stay tuned for more parts of lessons I learned in four years of doing the podcast!

    Listen to podcast episodes here.

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