Think about one of your favorite sports teams to follow on social media. How would you describe them? Which traits do they embody as an overall brand, which adjectives come to mind, what are their values, and what differentiates them from other sports teams?
In a time when consumers care what the brands they patronize and support stand for and how those brands come off, sports fans are also cognizant of whether their favorite teams and athletes mesh with their personal identities. And social media, in all its forms, is the most powerful mechanism teams have to develop and activate an identity. Every one of the hundreds of touchpoints teams have on these platforms with fans each week, every graphic and word — it all coalesces into how fans perceive the personalities and values of the team.
By the time Kurt Gies arrived at the Philadelphia 76ers, the team knew who it was and how to express it on social media. Luckily for Kurt, the brand of the 76ers was ‘Philadelphian’ and Kurt just happened to be a born and bred Philadelphian. So when he took over the keys (the social media posting) for the Sixers, he appreciated what his predecessors had built and sought to grow it further, along with the emerging personality of the team as embodied by its charismatic players.
“That [Sixers] account is not talking in just this plain voice, it’s talking as if it’s a Philadelphian, and Philadelphians appreciate that so much,” said Gies, who today is the Director of Social Media and Influencers for the LA Rams. “You look at the makeup of the team too…Joel Embiid especially in his early days was such a personality and it was like how do you take that huge personality and try and replicate that? Because at the end of the day, if you’re a sports brand account, you probably want to take on the voice of the people on your team…
“So having somebody like Joel Embiid is a huge piece of that and [the Sixers social media managers before me] did a great job emulating that and it just really opened up the doors for me as he started to play and become even more popular of like, ‘Hey, Joel is trolling people, we’re going to troll people too’ or we’re going to take on that similar voice.”
The Sixers were (and still are) one of the more distinct voices in social media and sports, and their originality and success continued, whether it was people named Max, Sandro, Kurt, Alli, Andy, or others behind the keys. It felt so organic for the Sixers when Kurt was there, and having guys like Embiid fueling the fire only made the direction all the more logical, sensible, and almost facile. So it was a new challenge when Gies left the comfy confines of the city of brotherly love to head to the LA Clippers, which had its own distinct brand identity and goals.
The Clippers were in the midst of a reinvigoration. The brand had been ascending, but with the arrival of newly acquired NBA stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George coinciding with Gies’s arrival, there was a salient opportunity to mold the brand and perception of the Clippers and its newly bedazzled roster. But to seize that opportunity meant paying attention to every detail, to ensure those hundreds and thousands of fan touchpoints all furthered an intentional narrative, Gies explained to me.
“When [his Clippers colleagues Sandro Gasparro and Charlie Widdoes] started they didn’t have Kawhi and PG [Paul George], but they did an incredible job of crafting that narrative and sticking to that narrative to help build that brand up from what it used to be,” said Gies, who had connected with both Gasparro and Widdoes from their time at the Sixers. “And then, you know, you get somebody like Kawhi and PG and you’re title contenders and everything was very calculated.
“That was probably one of the biggest I learned of many things from working with those guys. But that’s something that I always go back to, just there’s always a why behind what it is that we’re posting and what it is that we’re creating, and making sure that it’s achieving what that narrative is.”
Gies went on to describe what, exactly, that narrative was the Clippers sought to build. The ‘why’ to which every piece of content and post should connect.
“For the Clippers, it was, ‘Hey, we’re a blue-collar team. We’re a gritty team. We’re not this superstar team,’” he said. “So we want to show that we’re always putting in work. We want to show that we’re not afraid to roll up our sleeves and here are the specific players that we want to highlight and the keywords — so just really calculated and determined what it was that we were highlighting in the content that we were creating.
“We weren’t just creating things to create them. We were creating things and crafting copy — there are so many things that go into it. But we were doing all of this with meaning behind it.”
Thoughtfully crafting a brand doesn’t always equal virality. Sure, it’s great for every post to hit big numbers and social media teams will always try to convey the desired meaning or value in the best way possible. But when it comes to activating different aspects of the brand, it may mean not every post will ‘blow up’ on social. If every post were to go viral, it’s probably a sign that the narrative is not well-rounded, the full brand picture is not being presented. Gies talked about the importance of balancing trying to win the internet with content that connects back to organizational goals, and did so more eloquently than this author ever could.
“Focusing on engagement, that doesn’t necessarily mean that can’t hit both [goals],” he explained. “Saying something that’s like, ‘Hey, this is a meme, but that still ladders back to a goal,’ which could be engaging in internet culture because that’s going to help hit fans that aren’t fans of the Clippers; or the complete opposite of that of like, ‘Hey, community is really important and showing what we’re doing in the community is really important for our narrative,’ but that stuff might not necessarily perform that well. There are ways to make it more creative, but that’s still really important to our narrative.
“So understanding that sometimes things that you’re doing might not necessarily be for the engagement or for the impressions but are still really important in telling that story.”
Our reputations and personalities are the sum of every micro-interaction and impression we have with others. A perception is neither formed nor changed with a single engagement, let alone a single social media post. Over time, everything adds up and it’s integral that every word, each creative piece, and every post has purpose and precision. Brands aren’t built in a day, but they can last a lifetime.
LISTEN TO MY FULL CONVERSATION WITH KURT GIES