A year is far too long to reflect upon or to project these days. I mean, who are we kidding? Mediums and tech and data and attention spans and content delivery and consumption and fan preferences — they all change seemingly every day. So save your 365-day theses.
But one thing stays the same, regardless – the challenge persists. The challenge to keep up with the fans and the social networks, to keep up with your peers, and to keep up with the evolving business and revenue models.
2018: The Year Of ______
2017 was the Year of the Platform. The year we all read more official blogs from the social media big four (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat) than ever and stay tuned to TechCrunch and the Twitter feed of Matt Navarra (recommended follow) with watchful eyes. Almost every week saw new tweaks, new ways to create and present content, new forms of interaction and engagement, different ways to promote and target and advertise, and even new (and, usually, better) data at our fingertips.
But 2018 can be different. Sure, the challenge and the change won’t go anywhere, but instead of obsessing over it every day, shift that focus to the fan. If 2017 was the Year of the Platform, 2018 is shaping up to be the Year of the Fan.
Fans love to boast, but they love even more to post. They want those likes, they want to share something to the masses that conveys their love for the team to their friends and followers. And, in case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of talented fans out there. So what does this mean? Empower them — with content, with opportunities and capabilities to create awesome content themselves. The gates are starting to fly open on the platforms to co-create content, and teams and their fans can benefit and produce mutually beneficial and beautiful content together.
But the expectations of fans are increasing, too; this is a good thing. They expect teams to know them and anticipate the type of product, content, offer, and service they want and need. One-to-one communication is becoming more important not just because fans are spending time on these platforms and services, but also because that level of intimacy and attention is the expectation. Teams, in turn, are starting to realize that creating a few amazing experiences yields a better net result than tons of mediocre ones. Individual engagement has long been underrated, but is growing.
And we can’t take such intimate fan attention for granted. Whether we know they’re watching our content or inside our mobile app or at our game — that attention is currency and needs to be respected. Could 2018 be the year when disruption at least starts to diminish as a monetization tactic? Fewer pop-ups and pre-rolls, no meddling with mid-rolls or banners, less insertion of display ads in-between and calling it a ‘native’ ad. To say that’s what is best for the fan is a specious argument, at best, and we can all strive to do better. Because, we have to….
Earn and Respect Fan Attention
It feels like the early movers are starting to understand this point as 2017 comes to a close — quality is better than quantity. It’s easier said than done, but teams must resist the temptation to go for the vanity metrics, the ones that give nice pretty charts at the end of the month and the bosses may like, and to demand better. Because it’s only a matter of time before the brand takes a dip, before fans come to expect sub-standard.
There are too many other choices for fans. Too many other sites or accounts or apps they can go to to get their fix of content related to the team/player/sport. The only way to keep fans seeking you out, to make sure they’re clicking on your Story or engaging with your post (and keeping you on the right end of the algorithm) is to deliver good content consistently. Every. Single. Time. Maybe you’re allowed a miss 1 out of 100 times, but you simply can’t take for granted that fans will keep tapping on your content day after day. Cut out the noise, the one-word posts, the ambiguous cheers during a game – make every piece of content matter.
It’s a powerful thing when fans seek out your content, when they look for your story or app or video when they’re killing time on their iPhone or Android. There has been a renewed vigor around owned audiences – fans whom you can reach without having to pay to promote, necessarily. In the Year of the Fan, focusing on building those owned fan communities, who habitually want to consume and share your content. But don’t forget they don’t all want the same experience….
Audiences Deserve Attention
The default answer to every question seems to be whichever reaches the most people. But the content and strategy that is most effective for this insular objective doesn’t always align with what’s best long-term. It may seem like a good idea to pepper out every offer on every channel because if one more person signs up or buys, it’s worth it. But does that seem to jive with putting the fan first?
The fan base is not a single persona and to think there is a magic bullet with each and every piece of content offer is not only naive, it’s irresponsible. It’s something easy to preach, but fewer practice. If fans expect teams to know them, teams have to study their fans — some want to attend games, some just want to watch videos; there are fans that want longform and fans that want X’s and O’s; fans looking for an affordable night out with the family and fans looking for a premium asset.
We’re starting to value relevance over reach, and that’s a winning formula for the fans. More of the kind of content and messaging they want in the form they want it. That sounds like good to me. Many tend to value engagement over reach, which seemed like an evolution. But engagement can be a broad term, and it’s past time the term gets the scrutiny it merits…
Teams and media are getting more skilled at the game of engagement – learning how to play the platforms to drive engagement rates, so the numbers stay high and rising, and their team can rise the social media ‘rankings.’ You know the usual list of metrics – likes, retweets, comments, video starts / video views, shares, and the list goes on.
But what if we started focusing less on the biggest numbers and more on the most meaningful in 2018? If a Snapchat or Instagram Story or a video is good, why shouldn’t completion be the goal? There’s no magic metric that can help compare one post or platform with another, no unanimous definition of success, but calling it a success that fans are seeing just the first frame of a story or first three seconds of a video is no doubt deceiving.
The winners at the end of the day may not be at the top of the weekly engagement leaderboards and they may not have the most video starts or likes, but we’ve all begun to not just appreciate, but practice, the notion that social media is a marathon not a sprint. Focus less on chasing vanity metrics and more on meaning – it’s not an impossible task. Track the leads coming from social media, close the identity loop of social media engagers and fans that spend or that interact with sponsors, and don’t treat the last touch point as the primary piece of monetizing a fan.
This is not a plea to forget about the so-called vanity metrics nor is it about doing away with so-called ‘shallow’ engagement — fans wouldn’t tap or click if they didn’t want to — but it’s not being married to those metrics, and realizing that meaningful engagement, well, means more. It goes back to that quality > quantity conundrum. It’s why those with the talent to produce quality day after day are now valued and needed more than ever before…
Create Awesome Content
The best social media managers in sports are either equipped with amazing design and video production skills, or they’re friends with those in the organization that are. From the smallest college athletics programs and minor league teams to the biggest pro and college teams in the world, the bar is as high as ever for content. But it doesn’t mean every piece of content needs to be a masterpiece.
There is also a great deal of value in consistency and well-executed content, two factors that are coming on strong as the calendar flips to 2018. When fans can recognize your content from a mile away (or scrolling at a million miles/hour], that’s brand strength. And when content doesn’t feel like it was repurposed from another platform and another box was checked to throw it on this social network or that one, that’s the right way to do things. It all takes time, it takes effort. But if we all start to accept the quality>quantity notion, it all starts to make more sense.
We may be immersed in a world of wins and losses, but it’s not so simple in social media. Instead of being obsessed with the game, obsess over the fans instead – what they want, what they value, what they bring to the table. Don’t just preach fan-first, practice it. Let that sense of thoughtfulness and value go into every campaign, every piece of content, every post. 2018 can be the Year of the Fan, at last.