4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 5

I continue to be amazed at the insight and foresight offered through conversations on the podcast over the years. It has been a privilege and pleasure to connect with smart, seasoned pros, and my attempt at summarizing at all keeps going. It is my best attempt to distilling down four years and 100 episodes of the podcast.

See part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 herepart 4 here, and stay tuned for more! Here is part 5:

  • Find opportunities to increase engagement and consistency

    One of my favorite podcast interviews was with Tom Halls, then with British Tennis and now with esports conglomerate Gfinity. He has helped multiple organizations mature digitally and part of the strategy was around creating engagement for fans, which informed future content and engagement. Fans of any avidity level are interacting with teams in innumerable ways on countless platforms – this represents tons of opportunities to drive engagement. Even better is to create consistent relationships, which can transform of a casual fan to a superfan.

  • What can we provide that others can’t? What unique value can we offer?

    Information used to be the currency, but the speed of social media and the democratization of, well, everything, has meant it’s harder to attract fans to your channels. So the question becomes what you can offer that does stand out from others. This can come up with a team late to the party after finally being able to announce a trade, an official entity competing with so many others. But there’s gotta be a unique value proposition, find that and you’ll win fan attention over time.

  • Different ‘conversions’ for different fans

    It’s hard, often overwhelming work managing tons of different fan journeys and fan demographics. The challenge and the important truth is that these journeys are diverse and divergent – not every fan engaging on social or visiting a website or opening an email is the same. It’s vital to study, understand, and map out these journeys, to optimize them ending in goals – moving fans up the spectrum, one mini goal at a time. With the increasing ability to personalize through digital, optimizing the journey is easier than ever for those that practice it.

  • You support us, we support you

    It’s an interesting time for the dwindling sports industry media (though far from dead) because advertising is not as tolerated and ‘free’ content is easier to come by. But the ability of fans to recognize and appreciate quality content remains strong and growing. And fans are willing and wanting to support those producing content they enjoy ‘for free.’ This theme stood out in my conversation with Ross Tucker, an ex-NFL player, who, among other endeavors, has built a sizable, engaged fan community through his writing and podcasts. And he has built such loyalty in the community that they want to buy things through his partners and some even make a straight donation to Amazon. In exchange, Tucker keeps churning out content and constantly converses with his fans, a two-way street in so many ways.

  • Know who you’re talking to on each platform

    We’ve come a long way over the years and for, for many, this idea is now a given. But especially for those that use a social media management platform, it’s just so easy to check off the box and send the same content to several platforms. It’s naïve and borderline disrespectful, however, to think your fans are homogenous across platforms. The best are studying, and can articulate, the differences of their fan bases on each platform, and know the voice, presentation, content, and promotions that will work best on each. Can you do this?

  • What can this new platform allow us to do that we couldn’t do before?

    As platforms emerge, and as others come and go, one of the interesting topics I’ve discussed is how social media and sports pros treat the shiny new toys. How they know when it’s worth the investment of time, content, and resources. A great piece of advice that consistently came out is the idea of what unique value or opportunity it presents. Many practice, not quite as many preach, about wanting to be good at every platform they serve, not mediocre on all (but at least on all). Whether it’s a unique way to present or create content, a new audience, a new way to engage – there has to be a reason to jump on what you think may be the next big thing.

  • Plan your stories and events

    Over the last several months, stories have become ubiquitous – starting with Snapchat, then Instagram, and then WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger, and even Skype. And the social media and sports pros I’ve been lucky to learn from are all master storytellers. The trick is, well, creating a story. It means building a narrative, even storyboarding, in advance of the event. The shots you’ll want, how you’ll get it, the graphics you may need, the copy you want to have ready to paste. That doesn’t mean you’re not ready to react and create in the moment, but the best stories are thoughtful and thought-out.

  • Know your social media game plan and priorities

    I always swoon when I hear a pro clearly lay out their priorities for each platform and fan touch point, and know how they want to use each. It’s a simple, but powerful exercise to actually write it down. What does each social platform mean to you and mean to your fans? Which is most important and why? If you could invest more in one, how and why? Because, when amazing happens or big news breaks, you have to be ready to go, and it could cause one’s head to explode if they don’t which platform to hit first and how.

  • Be the go-to source for fans

    There are so many places a fan can go for their news, content, opinions, and insight. It’s something that not just writers and bloggers face, but teams and leagues, too. A great theme that has emerged in many conversations was the need to be the place fans go when something is happening or has happened – they want your stats or commentary during games, they know you’ll have an informed column after a big transaction, they simply enjoy getting the news delivered from your voice more than others – make the fans want to come to you, over all others. This also applies to teams almost never being able to break big stories – when you finally can announce a deal, what additional content or insight, in your special seat and view, can you deliver that fans can’t get elsewhere?

  • Social media following and engagement is the new Q-Rating

    Going back to Babe Ruth, athletes have always held a certain sway over society. But social media has empowered athletes more than ever before, and follower count and engagement rate is the new social capital. Athletes are seizing opportunities more and more, chiming in on conversations on the platforms, and working with their teams to maximize their social game. There is a related market growing of agencies and platforms to connect athletes to endorsers and the way teams and media and league are utilizing their athletes and alumni are becoming more creative and strategic nowadays.

  • Timelines are as constrained as ever

    If there is one element that has become even more important over the last four years in social media and sports, it’s speed and real-time. It’s not just in sports, but for all social media marketers. But it doesn’t mean you just react in the moment and rely on instinct. The best teams are using tools to streamline their content creation and preparation, brands are preparing campaigns on timelines that are a fraction of what they once were, and real-time video, GIFs, and clever graphics and one-liner are ruling the day. It’s an awesome opportunity, but it’s not easy.

  • Translating stories effectively to social is essential

    Sports creates stories every day, by nature. There are also tons of athletes with incredible stories that transcend what they do in competition. The trick for a social media and sports pro, and the content team, is to effectively take a great story and turn into something powerful and digestible and engaging on social media. This is an acquired, practiced skill that must be honed over time, and it’s why social media and sports pros need to have storytelling skills (writing helps), creative skills (watching YouTube tutorials help if you’re a one-person team), PR skills (know how to spread the story and the desired messaging), and curiosity (to go and uncover the best stories). This theme comes up especially in college – with so many great stories of student athletes and the importance of the message of the university.

  • Building a portfolio is easier than ever

    It used to be much harder to build a portfolio of work. But the platforms on digital and social now allows anyone to publish their content – images, videos, written work, quantitative analysis, qualitative analysis – and to prove you got some chops. Many folks I’ve talked on the podcast got started with self-publishing or blogging. And NHL hockey photography legend told me he’ll gladly check out the flickr or Instagram account (no filters preferred) of an aspiring photojournalist. There is nothing stopping anyone from building an online portfolio and get their own experience and work to show off.

  • There’s a difference between Vicodin and vitamins

    The last four years have seen the sports business progress with incredible speed. There are so many innovative companies coming up in this space, and it can be a whirlwind to make sense of it all. I had an interesting conversation in which my guest, Anthony Vassallo, used this analogy. Vassallo played a big role with Dodgers Accelerator, a collaboration between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the firm R/GA, and their work was a study in identifying companies worth investing in and paying attention to in sports. The analogy Anthony invoked was meant to illuminate the difference between solutions that alleviate pain points (Vicodin) and those that just make you a little better off than you were (vitamins). It’s an important consideration as you think about where to invest that innovation budget – is a Vicodin solution only going to be temporary? Is the vitamin go to pay off in the long-term enough? Important questions to ask as we all seek to innovate so rapidly.

It’s essential to maximize your space

One of the less talked about, but still interesting and evolving space are the stadiums and arenas themselves. Setting up your venue for a valuable, social, versatile experience I all the rage. It’s multi-purpose buildings, community areas, social media photo opps, areas for sponsor activations or kids activities, and table tops to a rest a drink while charging your phone. The building itself is an avenue for fan engagement.


More to come…See all podcast episodes here.

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