Digging Deeper in Digital and Social Media in Sports in 2019

A year older, a year smarter.

That’s the mantra to which we all try to hold ourselves accountable. And we’ve seen this play out over the years in the dynamic field of digital and social media in sports, which often changes by the day, let alone the season and the year. We started out with vanity metrics – followers, page likes – graduated to the nebulous term ‘engagement’ – clicks, likes, comments, shares, which also brought upon the even more nebulous ‘reach.’

And then the progress kind of, well, stopped. We didn’t sit on our hands during this interim, we were just overwhelmed by new platforms – mobile, Stories, GIFs, videos, looping videos, organic, promoted – and we pivoted to try and fit those well-worn metrics – reach and engagement – to these new forms of, well, reach and engagement.

But we can’t stop now. The digital and social space will continue accelerating at a breakneck pace – in 2019 and the years beyond, and the evolution – nee, the revolution – that has started to sprout, and must blossom in the months and year ahead is that of context. Asking more of the metrics – the ‘so what?’ and the youthful, inquisitive cycle this still-burgeoning ecosystem demands. In 2019, let’s go further and ask for a little of the following:

Context For Metrics

How do you evaluate performance? Maybe you look at gross engagements, views, reach – and then check the league rankings or the national or industry-wide averages. It’s time to question and clarify the context in 2019.

There’s no single prescription, but it’s also not a black and white equation where it makes sense for the league champion to have reach or net engagement rate equal to that of those at the bottom of the league. And yet doesn’t it make sense, the thinking would go, to compare teams with teams, schools with schools, etc., since it wouldn’t make sense to do more localized comparison? But one wouldn’t expect one of the local major pro teams to compare with other local businesses, or even other local major teams, which are in different leagues. So where does that leave context for our metrics?

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The best piece of advice I’ve been given numerous times on the podcast and in conversations is to benchmark against oneself. We may not know what it all means (more on that later) – the engagement, the reach – but the way the platforms performed today, all things being equal – should hopefully be better than yesterday.

But, uh oh, all things being equal. Again, we’re in need of more context. Was last month better than this month across metrics? It’s always more nuanced – were there more home games, more primetime games, exciting wins, blowout losses, uniform unveilings, breaking news, were there work holidays, etc. etc.? We’re getting to the point where a number of variables can be captured and accounted for, but even in the absence of such a data fire hose, we have to remember that context is key when evaluating performance. Oh, but what about performance – what does that mean? We’re just getting started…

Context For Results

So how’s your engagement rate? I hope it’s high. Higher is almost always better when it comes to these things. But is it? Well, it depends on the context.

Engagement[s] are often touted as a KPI in digital and social media in sports. But we all know that including an Instagram double-tap in the same equation as a Facebook share or a Twitter link click – well, that just doesn’t make sense. Yes, the more interactions – the more active your audience is, the better. It’s some proof there’s someone there on the other side – they hear, they see you. But Facebook comments don’t pay the bills.

Sure, there’s value in the increased reach, the bump via the algorithm, it’s increased awareness [all pub is good pub, yeah?], but seeking more context means looking at what comes next. That’ll leads us closer to the more tangible ROI we all seek.

Are these engaged fans, when isolated and targeted with ads, converting at a higher rate or spending more? Are these engagements resulting in revenue via ads or viewership of sponsored content? What did fans do after they clicked on the link?

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Think outside the box, too – are there new entries to this engaged audience (are new fans engaging with us in whatever way)? Are certain types of posts resulting in more new fans engaging for the first time?

Consider the sweepstakes — a common activation in the digital and social sports space, whether sponsored or in-house. Sweepstakes A was run on Facebook and got 2345 entries. Sweepstakes B was run on Twitter and received 3500 entries. Clearly Sweepstakes B was more successful. It’s not so simple – dig deeper.

Was 2400 of the 3500 entries in B simply retreads from a previous sweepstakes while A was 2000 names/emails your database didn’t have before? Was one sweepstakes for tickets to a game while the other was an exotic vacation? Did they both collect the same info? Did the sweepstakes for tickets add to a retargeting audience that later converted with sales? One can keep going. The good news, most of the time the answer exists in some data or in the engineering of the content or sweepstakes.

Thinking beyond the business results, though, is the way our content and platforms connect with fans.

Context For Content

Just a quick word on content, as it has become increasingly complex and overly clever, at times. And that’s not a bad thing.

But as we start to share the number of miles a player ran during the game or the speed of that pass, it means nothing to fans without context. Is it more or less compared to the player’s previous games? Is that faster than the average player in the league or on the team? How would the average person rate? It’s not just context for such advanced stats, though, it’s also being as clear as we are clever.

Look, for example, at team hash tags, some of which even bring up emojis when used on Twitter. Maybe they’re sayings, taglines, nicknames, mantras. Outside of the strategic use of hash tags to finish off a funny tweet, hash tags upon which one hopes to build a community and a brand should be celebrated and embraced. Make it easy for fans to do this (and some do), by adding context. What does this content mean, how does it look, why should fans rally around it, how does it reflect the team?

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The above example addressed a team slogan, but it can also apply to sponsor integrations. It’ll help brands if their ‘integration’ is a simple tag on Instagram. Give more context fans and it may just result in a better experience and outcome for all – why is the partner sponsoring this content (i.e. enabling it to be made for fans) and why is the team partnering with this brand? We’re all part of this unspoken agreement – sponsor pays team, team pays employees, employees produce content fans want and enjoy – and yet it’s often in the elephant in the room covered up phrases like ‘presented by’ or sometimes just random tagging on posts. It can be better in 2019.

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What this all comes down is the desire to dig deeper, to demand more from your digital and social data. There should be a method to the madness, a reason for making decisions and allocating time and resources. Embrace the inner little kid and ask questions ‘Why?’, ‘So what?’, and ‘And then what happens?’.

It’s always a good thing when one can articulate the reasons they do what they do. And digital and social requires, perhaps more than any other area, a depth of knowledge of the organization, and how the sausage gets made, because it’s the front line to fans, often the first and most frequent touch point.

Go beyond sports, too. Digital and social ultimately is about how individual people – interact on these platforms and why they do it. And, from there, why and how they want to interact with your content. Don’t fall back on trends and best practices; instead, study and consider the underlying reasons for the trends and what they say about interaction, engagement, and people.

Let 2019 be the year the next step is taken, when the meaning of the metrics matter more.

 

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