We’re in the remix era of social media. Trends, memes, duets, reactions — a powerful seed of content begets a tree, which can turn into a forest. Content snowballs, with creators from across the world, in different communities, and from various subcultures, with original POVs, adding their unique take. No snowflake is alike, to complete the analogy, and AI-infused feeds seek to deliver the precise snowflake that’s perfect for you, the content that seems targeted to an audience of one — you.
So what’s a media behemoth, a decades-old brand like ESPN to do in this space, where they’re one of many voices on social, working with the same sports content and stories everybody else is? There’s no easy answer, but in many ways ESPN is spreading and discovering seeds, helping plant the trees across an array of diverse sports fan communities. I loved the way ESPN’s Senior Vice President, Original Content & ESPN Films Brian Lockhart put it on a panel at the ESPN Edge Conference [click to watch] in October 2022.
“How do we open source [a] story,?” he said. “Maybe deliver this to a different partner that has an authentic voice on a different platform. “That same piece of IP can have new life breathed into it and hit different for different audiences.”
For much of social media, user-generated content provides a lot of seeds. Whether it’s home videos, serendipitous discoveries of content, memes, and everything in between — fans are planting seeds all over. ESPN Vice President of Social Media Kaitee Daley applied a perspective related to Lockhart’s ‘open source’ idea in describing how they activate user-generated content and inviting diverse voices to put their spin on it.
“Nearly half of all media consumed is user-generated media,” Daley said. “This notion of someone down the street from me went and filmed their kid doing something incredible in the backyard and that’s going to perform as well on our channels as a really well-done highlight. When you think about how we approach that, sometimes I think people go ’Well that’s not innovative at all because anyone can do it.
“But what we’ve started to do on TikTok in particular is bring voices like Omar Raja to those moments. So we’re storytelling user-generated content in a different way and it’s made for that audience. They consume and they think ‘this is for me’ And that speaks to that inclusivity as well.”
So, yes, create your content and serve your fans. But also invite others to build off the content you produce or curate. When platforms like TikTok strive to deliver the exact right content to the tiny, exact cohort of users for which that video is a perfect match — trying to be everything to everyone is a losing battle by design. There are too many segments and sub-segments, communities, and sub-cultures — the forest is appreciated for its trees.
That’s one of my own key takeaways from hearing the insightful conversation on the ESPN Edge Conference panel.