How FIBA 3×3 Constructs and Executes its Social Media Strategy to Build and Engage a Global Fan Base

You spend all that time in school learning proper English and how to write an academic paper — only to realize proper punctuation can be triggering and you can say more with a timely meme than anything too intellectually inspiring.In the world of social media, fluency doesn’t mean knowing the correct verb tense, it’s more important to know the slang that your target audience uses, the colloquialisms that are part of their culture.So when Esteban González was handed the reins to the digital and social strategy for FIBA‘s upstart 3×3 competition, he knew he had to school himself on mastering the language of basketball on social media. Not far removed from learning English, González studied the esoteric language of basketball on social. But it was more than that. FIBA, which governs the sport of basketball globally, has an international audience that spans countries, cultures, and communities all over the world, so the challenge transcended language and culture. González looked to other media outlets that seek to engage global audiences for inspiration, appreciating the challenge that lay before him. He cited the sports media brand Overtime as an outlet worthy of emulation.”[They have] Overtime Spain, Overtime France, and Overtime India — and every one of them has a different tone of voice to be identified with the audience from that country,” said González, who was born and raised in Spain. “Because at the end there are tons of jokes that some people could make in Spain that you would never understand because you don’t have that background or you are not following the most popular streamer in the country and in the end, they are the ones dictating this new vocabulary or these new ways of communicating with the audience.”González emphasized how vital it is to study each country where they seek to engage the fans. When you’re publishing for a fan base in a different country and language, it’s instructive to understand and appreciate the difference between translation and localization. Translating copy is easy enough, sure, but translation falls short for social media. Localization means understanding what resonates, what’s happening in pop culture there, and the slang that’s peppering the language — all of which Google Translate can’t give you. González cites an example of creating content about the South Korean team for fans concentrated in the country thousands of miles away from where González lives and works in Europe.”Before every event, we also try to look at what are the different trends in the part of the world that we are going to,” he explained. “For example, if we have a team in South Korea, we have a nice South Korean team, I need to go and check, okay, what are the best K-pop bands? So then I can make some references in the captions and these kinds of things.”González and his colleagues at FIBA aren’t just thinking about their audience and fans in terms of language and culture, there is also context to consider. The different experiences for local vs. remote fans is something any sports team or league can understand; NBA Commissioner Adam Silver often cites how 99% of fans won’t ever attend a game (as is the case for most pro sports leagues). So while FIBA 3×3 takes great pride in its dynamic, fun-filled live event experience, González recognizes that the gameday experience for the 99% of fans taking it in at home is different. They seek to deliver a meaningful, fun experience for fans in both contexts, whether they’re chatting with fans in the seats next to them or chatting in the rapid stream of messages on YouTube. And these fans are different, González described.”We are convinced that the people who would follow the event online might not be the same person that would like to go to an event on-site because the experience might not be the same for them,” he said. “They are not listening to the commentator, they are not interacting on the YouTube chat, they are not putting a comment on Instagram. And this is something that is really important for us is the community aspect of 3×3.”The community aspect is part of the 3×3 narrative and experience that transcends platform and context. FIBA 3×3 is building something special that fans and players and staff feel a part of, so it’s important that that comes across at all touchpoints, whether in the feed or on the floor. This is where attention to detail and adherence to a cohesive, cross-platform strategy comes into play, when talking the talk turns into walking the walk. It’s great to make fans feel at home when you welcome them to an exciting onsite experience filled with music, food, fun, and 3×3 basketball — but it’s just as valuable to activate those values on social media platforms, too. González described how this plays out for FIBA 3×3 on social, ensuring fans everywhere understand that FIBA 3×3 is a ‘family.'”This family aspect of 3X3 is really important for us and we will even go and trash talk to the comments on social media,” said González, who has been with FIBA 3×3 since 2015. “If we see that someone is criticizing our players or they said ‘Oh I could do this,’ we would say ‘Okay, it’s open to everyone, why don’t you go and try to qualify?’”So, if you come to social media also to try to embarrass our players, we got their backs and we are going to also fight for them and try to protect them on social media to build this family atmosphere.”There’s an intimate feel cultivated along with that familial brand. But the bar for fandom doesn’t mean FIBA 3×3 wants to keep that family small and insular, the goal is to grow the sport and the engagement and awareness around its competitions and content. FIBA 3×3 certainly loves sharing its awesome highlights that capture the attention of fans, casual and avid, across its digital platforms. But there is an emotional connection fans can make with such a global sport, a pride that fans feel when a top player from their country is thriving with FIBA 3×3 or a team representing the country is competing for a 3×3 World Cup title.This is the fun part where the strategy and the study come together. González and his colleagues recognize the opportunity brought forth when the spotlight is shining on a given player and/or country. They can step back and appreciate these opportune times to tap into a given country and spike growth and engagement among fans there.”For example, if we see that we have a lot of or we have the Serbian team is winning a lot of events, we are like okay, let’s think how can we try to boost more people from Serbia,” González said. “If the team from the United States is winning? Okay, how can we amplify the noise in the US? This is the thinking process there is behind this side of the strategy and I think it happens a lot when you have this global sport.”The international nature of the sport means those opportunities do come along when a national team is winning. It also extends more granularly, and more powerfully, through the players. Every player brings along with them a local, and often regional or even national fan base (and social media follower base) that FIBA 3×3 can tap into. So while one of FIBA 3×3’s strategic mandates is to maximize its own channels, it is just as important and valuable to build up player profiles and help individual players grow their reach and engagement.FIBA 3×3 is scrappy compared to its giant basketball counterparts like the NBA, so earned media and external engagement via its players is an important part of the picture. But so is, well, everything. Each piece of content, every minute spent must be done with purpose. It’s why attention to detail like knowing the right memes is worth spending time on, hitting the right spot can make a big difference in fan growth and engagement. This thoughtful mindset extends to everything González does in his role and he described the framework FIBA 3×3 uses to ensure they always have the right focus, citing three strategic pillars.”The first [pillar] is to develop stars and help the players build their own profiles,” he explained. “The second one is to get new fans and the maximum reach so that we can bring new fans to the sport. And the third one, of course, is making the partners happy because they are also the ones that are helping us to be where we are right now.”So every post that we put out there has to at least fulfill one of the three key pillars that we have identified for the strategy. If it’s not bringing value to the partners, if it’s not helping us to bring new fans, or if it’s not helping to boost the profile of one of the players, why are we posting this? So it has at least to be in one of those categories for us to create that piece of content and put it out there.”Okay, so I lied in the introduction of this article. Proper punctuation does matter. Proper, according to the platform and audience, that is. Every detail matters. We gotta sweat the small stuff and study the platforms, verbiage, memes, trends, and communities like we’re cramming for a final. Everyone that works in social media is a lifelong student and it’s the most studious that will ace the test on every selected platform, every day, with every post.


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