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

I continue my synopsis of some of the most compelling insights, straight from the minds of the best and brightest in the social media, sports, and business industries. It has bee a great four years and 100 episodes, so let’s keep learning together. See part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 here, and stay tuned for more! Here is part 4:

  • Fans want to know you feel it with them

    Multiple conversations over the years have centered around emotion, namely that it’s ok for team social media accounts to express and convey emotion. In good times and bad. In many ways, the official account can be the voice of the fans and fans won’t trust an account that treats everything as honky-dory when it’s not, nor will they appreciate when an epic moment sounds like a matter-of-fact report from the social voice. While it’s a given these days that team accounts need not sound like formal press release robots (the additional arguments around omnipresent snark, notwithstanding), there are still teams that don’t experience the highs and lows with their fans. This is a lost opportunity to make genuine connections.

  • Good partnerships involve KPI’s and effort on both sides

    Successful sports corporate partnerships aren’t easy. They’re not supposed to be. If the goal is to come out of a partnership feeling like both sides have won, it takes a little work from both sides. Make sure each side knows what success look like, and establish the goals and KPI’s. And determine what each side needs to do to assure that success. When both sides pull their weight, it’s obvious. It’s so much better for the organization, the sponsor, and the fans.


  • Sponsorships must not operate in a silo; it’s gotta be across channels

When there are innumerable ways to reach fans, it’s not just naïve, but perhaps irresponsible to restrict a partnership to a single channel. Brands are demanding it now and sponsorship teams are becoming better equipped to package, activate, and sell that way. A partnership can be built around KPIs and a goal, and each channel can be effectively tapped to further those objectives. It’s an omni-channel world now!

  • Athletes have the platform to transcend sports

    One of the salient and interesting trends of the last several years has been the rise of the athlete as a cultural icon. It led me to a conversation with Heather Zeller, who is part of the burgeoning intersection of pro sports and fashion. Sports Illustrated just came out with its most fashionable athletes list, the post-game NBA podium is now must-see TV for fans of basketball and fashion alike, and many sports stars on looking at apparel lines and more beyond the field or the court. With social media giving a direct line for athletes to share their lifestyles and the clout to move and mold many minds, the opportunity, too, is incredible now for athletes to further just about anything.

  • Social is an overall marketing message, and sales can happen when done right

This sentiment summarizes a big part of the social media ROI conversation so well. Social media – the ability to reach fans every day with news, content, messaging, and conversation – IS marketing, even if not a single click to buy is ever made from the platform. We used to have pay for attention (save your nostalgia or the old-days of easy massive organic Facebook reach), to budget for any opportunity to reach fans. While this is still an aspect of sports biz, simply being part of the conversation and thoughts of fans every day is a hugely invaluable win for marketing. The trick is to use the ad platforms on those channels, where fans expect to see more direct sales messages, to then turn that love into transaction. There is no marketing:content ratio, it’s 100% always an indirect form of marketing, of making fans love you more.

  • Learn from content performance on social and apply it across channels

    Social media is a treasure trove of important insights. And, when applied well, such insights about the content that is moving and affecting fans, can improve every department of the organization and every fan touch point. Did a graphic really take off on Twitter, a video go viral on Facebook, a player who’s consistently driving big reach – don’t just use it for social media strategy, use and share that knowledge for all aspects of the team. For emails, for posters, for radio ads, for TV ads, for sponsor campaigns, and, well you get it. Social media is a free focus group where fans tell you what they like and want to see. Use it.

  • The importance of a unified voice

    There are so many message being disseminated in so many places in so many ways when it comes to social media and sports. Whether it’s one of several teams at a university or one of many accounts for a pro team or even a website, in-game, and social media presence as a combination. The organizations that have that consistent look, feel, sound, tone, and brand reinforce how well a fan can connect with and appreciate and understand it. Years ago, it may have been common to not even have consistent social handles, let alone everything else. But the value of a unified voice is now unquestioned and spreading.

  • Data and analytics are only as good how well the insights are communicated

    Whether it’s deeper stats to augment fans’ understanding of the game or a dive into content performance and sales efforts, data and analytics can penetrate, and in many ways have, all parts of sports organization, on and off the playing surface. But it’s no secret what the key is to an effective analytics presence – communicating it to inform and inspire action based off of it. This has been a common refrain over the years and why a data analyst who can also write, speak, and present is essential. And that anyone acting based on a data-infused insight can understand why.

  • Anticipate what fans are looking for

    When it comes to social media as a second screen, this idea remains on the minds of pros in the space as they seek to supplement, not regurgitate, what fans are watching. This is a combination of preparation and reaction – whether it’s lending context to a play, augmenting the story behind a player, or giving fans something share-able in the moment – it’s the job of the social media person to listen, react, and come prepared to help make the experience of being a fan more fun.
  • Make it easy for fans to find you

    You want to get your content in front of fans? Don’t make them come to you, go to them and earn their attention. There’s something to be said for having fans want to come to you, but it’s far better to know where your fans are spending their time, to know how to create content on those platforms to engage on it, and to understand where your fans o tomorrow may be. It’s why teams are embracing mediums like mobile and OTT, and they’re innovating with more convenient, more effective ways to get their content to ans.

  • Learn from and collaborate with others

    This is simply a way of life for the social media and sports community, and it was one that has been reinforced again and again. There may be healthy competition to outdo each other on social in the sports community, but the collaboration is unlike any other industry. Innovation is applauded and it’s best practice to, well, learn about practices. It’s why this podcast has been so valuable and has been key to those with whom I’ve spoken. Be the person that reaches out in your industry; to learn and to share.

  • Be prepared for success

    We always talk about how it’s impossible to control what happens in the games. The wins and losses may affect social media metrics and strategy, but it’s simply another factor to account for. But good times full of wins or titles do happen. The best know how to maximize the pot when they’re dealing a winning hand, they’re ready for it. This piece of advice has stuck with me and rings as true now as it did then. How will you be ready for your moment in the sun?

  • Getting your fans more engaged through transparency

    Picture the superfan. The one that wakes up thinking about that night’s game, who wears the team’s apparel a few times per week or more, and the one anxious to see whatever video or picture you post next. The question, then, is: are you serving the superfan and cultivating the next one? This intriguing topic came up in a conversation over transparency with fans with Jesse Agler of the San Diego Padres. They shared the (reputable) publications putting out reports on them, even if the official Padres media wasn’t reporting it. Fans that care the most are thirsty for the rumors, the stuff the team can’t or won’t spread, and if the team isn’t serving it, fans will go elsewhere. It’s a slippery slope, but if fans come to trust your channels as being the only destination they need to worry about, more fans will come and more superfans will develop. It’s not so black and white, of course, but it’s an idea worth considering.

  • The fan experience on game day is a series of (connected) moments

    We used to think about making every aspect of fan experience the best it can possibly be. And while that of course remains the goal, the difference nowadays is we think about the journey that comprises the fan experience. Game operations and venue designers are now thinking about how one part connects to the next, and increasingly using data to tie it all together and make it progressively more precise, and even personalized. So don’t just prioritize optimizing ingress, set fans up for the next step in their journey, about what they will want and will need next.

  • The stadium is a social epicenter, full of peripheral activity

    I remember going to the Detroit Tigers new Comerica Park back in the early 2000s, and being awestruck by the mini carnival, complete with a Ferris wheel and merry-go-round that was inside the stadium. Now going to a game is even more about having a unique experience worth talking about and sharing – other activities, unique food and drinks, opportunities to mix and mingle. There’s so much more going on while fans are watching the game now, and this will only continue.

  • Know who your promotion is trying to reach

    When a promotion is conceived, it’s sometimes tied to a sponsor, sometimes to a celebrity appearance, a holiday, and sometimes just out of a brainstorm meeting. Promotional nights are a key way to drive attendance, especially for games on weekdays or against lesser opponents. But the secret behind effective promotions is to know who you’re trying to reach with each promotion. Then, tailor the message and even the audience and the platform. In other words, if you’re promoting a Social Media Night or a Star Wars Night, know who your target audience is.

  • ABC – Always Be Creatin’

    A recurring theme among some of the best social media pros I’ve talked to is that they’re constantly creating. Whether it’s a new media form or celebratory GIF, personalized visuals for players, or capitalizing on a meme (or creating a meme). Content and currency and if you make a commitment to it, it pays off in spades. And if a piece of content works well – see how you can iterate it, extend the idea to other players or part of the game day coverage and experience. Keep creating and you’ll build up some valuable folders that’ll keep fans loving your [fire] all year long.

  • Take pride in genuine engagement

    Just about everybody measures engagement. But everybody also understands that the term ‘engagement’ can be a bit of a nebulous term. Sure, tout the engagement rate, which equate double taps with comments and 3-second views with completions, with likes and with retweets or shares. Bu we know genuine engagement when we see it, so pay attention to the content pieces and themes that elicit more of that true engagement, that gets fans’ juices going.

  • The advanced level of social media is to tie it to business goals

    The best in social media understand the end goals of the organization and know how success in social can tie to it. The social platforms, themselves, are increasingly taking a larger role in helping teams map social media and integrate it translate to measurable goals. This is the value proposition offered by the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, so as they command more of the budget, it’s important that marketers can justify the spend. Every goal can have KPI’s that can tie back to social media. Start with the goals and understand the metrics that the team values that contribute to those goals.

  • Twitter has a unique power to bring influencers together

    Most social media and sports pros will say Facebook is their MVP. Instagram is the shining younger star that’s moving toward the top of the ranks, too. But with influencers and celebrities dominating social media, there is no platform that showcases and allows for direct communication between better than Twitter. It’s where an athlete can quote Donald Trump with a snide comment, where an All-Star learns a celebrity is coming to their game and is a fan so they make sure to hook them up with a jersey, where major power brokers connect via DM. While many say Twitter is kind of stuck in neutral, no one can deny the power it has to connect everybody, including those with great influence.

The most valuable use of social media is building relationships

It’s easy, in the midst of chasing reach and engagement and clicks, to forget about the power of social media to build relationships. But the majority of the interviews I’ve had originated from a Twitter relationship. Many guests have talked about meeting others and learning, or getting their jobs, through social media. This is not just a valuable use for any pro seeking to advance their career and enhance their skills and knowledge.  It’s also reverse-engineering relationship building when thinking about cultivating communities of engaged fans. What comprises the foundation of a relationship? Mutual interests, easy communication, fun, personalities clicking, etc. etc. Consider how those same factors can be fostered with fans.


More to come…See all podcast episodes here.

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