4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 2

I continue to look back on four years and 100 episodes of gleaning knowledge from some of the best and most thoughtful social media and sports pros,, doing my best to sum up key points. It is an attempt to give back to the community that continues to give so much to me. See part 1 here and stay tuned for parts 3 and 4!

  • Brand perception can start on social media and then go beyond; articulate your personaIn many ways, social media is the front porch of the organization. Where fans most frequently and consistently encounter the team and engage with it. It is, therefore, the place where a personality is perpetuated, a brand is built, and a look and feel is fostered. The power of the platform must be acknowledged and utilized. The best guests I talked to could clearly and thoughtfully describe the voice and the brand behind who they wanted to be on social media. Can you?
  • Make content easy to consume and digestTake the time. Take the time to eliminate any effort or friction for your fans, when it comes to content consumption. (Well, everything, really) That may mean using the proper specs for images, not squeezing in text that necessitates a pinch and zoom, not making a 5-minute video that would be better as a 45-second video. Those that take the time to consider this with their content are making it easier for fans to engage.
  • Your players are your brand ambassadors – issuing mini press releases dailyThis came from my conversation with Kevin DeShazo, who is thankfully leading the crusade against social media fear tactics, while espousing the need for us all to realize the power of the platforms, for good and bad. Whether it’s the 10-year veteran in the pros or the freshman hotshot in college, everyday players are representing their team, issuing mini press releases, as DeShazo put it in one response on our podcast. This is not something to fear, but to be harnessed.
  • Focus and foster the good on social, don’t use fear and focus on the badThe above very much relates to this concept, as well – the perils of the platforms are vastly outweighed by the good and the value. This idea, in many forms, has come up in my conversations over the years, and oftentimes, like in social media, it comes back to stories and FOMO. Convey to those uneasy about the power of social and win them over with examples – stories of how others are using it (and how you can) and instilling a little FOMO can move the needle in the office, too.
  • Focus on use cases and the path to winsIf there’s one piece of actionable advice for any social/digital and sports pro to take from many of my podcasts, it’s this one. You want to prove social media is worth caring about and investing in? Show it. Because not everybody ‘gets it,’ and not everybody can believe in metrics and reports that are new to them. Celebrate the small wins, showcase the success stories, and boast and brag when something blows up in a good way.
  • Teams are providing content fans seekThis seems so simple now. But it wasn’t that long ago that teams were still mostly glorified PR houses. Then the content improved, but in many ways still remained ‘close to the vest’ [and still does in a lot of places]. But a fascinating trend from teams has been them becoming the primary content destinations for fans. Many realized they were losing engaged eyeballs to other sites that were willing to entertain reports and rumors, and content that wouldn’t typically come from a team. Some hired insiders, others aggregated links. It’s one thing to produce awesome content, another to be a resource for fans, too.
  • Novelty doesn’t last longRemember when Snapchat revolutionized social media with ‘Stories?’ Or when Meerkat made it so easy to go live on mobile? Ever wonder why it feels like nary a month goes by without a new feature being introduced to your favorite platform or app? Fans expect incremental improvements and newness now. They expect ‘updates’ all the time. It’s no longer good enough to bank on a singular innovation, a culture of progress and improvements and breaking things quickly prevails now more than ever.
  • Capture data to provide valuePerhaps no field has grown more in social and digital in sports than data and analytics over the last handful of years. All of a sudden it became feasible to collect all sorts of fan data. But the theme that prevails among the best in the business is that data is not just a source for measurement and quarterly charts – it leads to adding value for the fans and for the organization. It’s important to diagram it out and design the path from data to action to value, and not just ‘doing big data’ just to say you are.
  • Start with objectives and reverse-engineer; empowerIt’s always easier to define social media ROI when you ask the question about the factors that comprise the ‘R.’ A major reason a lot of the pros I spoke with have success in their roles – they talk to their colleagues. They determine the objectives of every department in the organization, they learn what others value, so they can use the social and digital tools at their disposal to help and create and drive that value. Particularly in the college space, where there are several teams and hands in the social media cookie jar, along with coaches that each their idea of objectives, it’s just as important to empower others, teaching them to use the tools.
  • Value the deep connections and engagementEngagement as a catch-all terms has always given me pause. There are so many varying degrees of engagement that it all can’t be captured with just a single word. But it’s easy to recognize a deeper connection with a fan when it happens. Something you know will stick with them and become a part of their identity. Chasing the deep engagements can be just as valuable, if not more so, than trying to maximize that nebulous engagement rate. Cultivate super fans with deep engagements.
  • Social has led to more thirst for content and information, led to 365 nature of sportsI’ve had the chance to speak with folks in the media about how social media crept up on them and then vastly changed and amplified the way media and content producers live and work. When it became easy to get the score, fans wanted stats and play by play and audio. Then headlines came with a click, so fans wanted to know the rumors and the instant reactions and analysis. Then that came about, so fans wanted video and even more details into the dealings of the day and the lives of athletes. If it feels like pro sports are all relevant 365 days/year, that’s because they are. The content firehose of social media has made it such, because fans always want more.
  • Not every team has the same goalAsk three social media managers for sports teams for the list of goals on social media and there’s a good chance each will be different. It should be. The teams that turn the lights on and fill out a stadium or arena have far different needs than the team constantly under pressure to put more butts in seats. It’s so important to realize that, and to operate and learn and emulate appropriately. The key is to appreciate and understand the objectives and to realize that, as one’s career or the team’s status quo grows, the goals will change, too.
  • It’s hard to get an increase from ‘free’ when it comes to sponsored socialIt’s really not that long ago when social media sponsorship meant deals that included ‘x’ number of Facebook posts (yes, that generic) over the course of the contract. Social media was, and for some still is, a throw-in. The icing on the cake for a partner already paying plenty for more traditional inventory. Well, a common theme and lesson is that it’s easy to dilute the value of social media when one treats it as more a bonus than an asset.
  • Leverage social and UGC to amplify the team’s own brandCreating a brand is not just coming up with a catchy slogan and hashtag. It all doesn’t amount to much unless the fans get it and if the fans propagate it. That’s a big reason why user-generated content is so integral. Fans trust real fans, and are affected by them, so much more than brands and the official team account (though that is evolving, too). When you can drive a fan to participate, to proselytize, and to perpetuate, that’s a brand being built.
  • Twitter is a snapshot, not the entire universeWhile it’s so cool to be able to hear from fans, it’s important to realize that the social media sentiment on each and every platform is a subset and a small sample. That doesn’t make it insignificant or not insightful, it just means, you have to remind yourself, that is only a fraction of the whole. Small things can seem like a big deal, generalizations can be made from a couple tweets. It’s important to find the balance of following what active fans are saying and doing on social media, and studying the fan base as a whole on all platforms with which they connect, engage with, and encounter the team or the story or the brand.
  • Social media gives everyone their own distribution channel 

    This thought has obviously come to the forefront over the last few years, in which players and teams and bloggers and personalities have been able to disseminate their content and messages seamlessly, to a worldwide audience. It means there is a lot of incredible content being produced, it also means there is a lot of “absolute shit” content (as Richard Deitsch put it in our chat) being produced, as well. While the crowd is bigger, the best still stand out. Standing out with quality content is a necessity, even as it becomes more difficult every day.

    More to come…See all podcast episodes here.

Episode 96 Snippets: Brian Wagner is stoking and engaging Michigan Athletics

On episode 96 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Brian Wagner, Digital Strategy and Creative Lead for Michigan Athletics

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn

What Stood Out at the NACDA Vendor Showcase

There are only so many things in which a team or athletics program can invest. And the vendor exhibition at the annual NACDA conference is a visual manifestation of just that – from compelling new products to nice-to-haves to innovations, and enough to stretch the budget of even the boldest behemoths.

I love these things. Because, if nothing else, it is a showcase of what college athletics folks, in this case, want and need; and at what those out there think they want and need. (Except free booze; always free booze).  It is also an opportunity to identify pain points for college athletics programs, because these businesses should, in theory, help solve a pain point or at least enhance or streamline a strength.

With that in mind, here are eight of the most common solutions and types of vendors I saw pitching their services to the college athletics folks (in digital, in marketing, in development/fundraising, in ticket sales, in operations, in media relations, in external relations…all over) at the 2017 NACDA Conference vendor showcase

Branding companies

Everywhere you turn, there is a new and novel way to propagate your brand. While digital is growing more and more, there is still a lot of faith, and a lot of value, in physical, visual branding. From logos on the carpet to branded accessories to wrapping a bus, and just about anything you can imagine, there is a way to find a branded version for anything, a way to make sure the school’s logo is front and center all over. Colleges are getting more and more savvy and self-sufficient with graphic design, but sometimes you need someone that specializes in pool tables, corn hole boards, or gymnasium floors.

Lockers

You may have heard about the University of Texas football program’s new $10,000 lockers. Not sure there any that ostentatious, but there were plenty of locker companies and displays there that could no doubt make them. Lockers aren’t just a utility anymore, they’re an attraction and a sign of brand and grandeur for a college athletics program looking to impress recruits. It is another cog in the arms race and vendors pitching the latest and greatest and most innovative and visually appealing lockers were not in short supply at NACDA.

Digital / Video

With the proliferation of social, mobile, and digital among fans (and, well, everybody), colleges know they need to have the digital and video capability and output of a colossal conglomerate. Content is key to affect all departments in athletics, and video and digital offers the youngest and largest audience, and the best bang for the literal and figurative buck, in many cases. These companies help hook up complex camera and video / video replay systems, offer streaming solutions across platforms, streamline the transfer of content from phone or camera to social or web, allowing any associate SID to provide amazing content, that gets disseminated, at the drop of a dime. The mind is ahead of the body for some athletics departments – they know what they want to do, but may lack the resources, bandwidth, or knowledge to make it happen. That’s where these guys seek to come in.

Architecture

There’s nothing college athletics loves more than scaffolding. Perpetual construction connotes shiny new facilities or additions, a sign of financial health and progress for their athletics programs. And I was struck by the number of architecture firms specializing in sports facilities seeking to catch the eye of attendees to design their next new buildings funded by the next successful campaigns. There is indeed big business here, and a number of firms were there trying their best to stand out as best-in-class, most trusted, or most creative.

Turf

There were also a handful of artificial turf companies, which seemed fairly indistinguishable. There is still demand for the product and therefore an opportunity to win market share (maybe someone has?) and seek to stand out through innovation, creativity, and/or relationships.

Digital Signage

Screens, screens, and more screens. Society has a surfeit of screens, and there are solutions that want to help fill and organize those screens, and other digital signs of all shapes and sizes. There is opportunity to expose more fans to more content, more marketing, and more sponsors. It’s not easy to serve and organize all the content across those screens, and measure it; let alone come up with the physical signs and screens themselves. Another case of knowing what one can and should be doing, and seeking a solution to make it happen.

Fundraising

Digital has certainly penetrated content, ticketing, marketing, media relations, and operations. But fundraising, a major part of college athletics, have yet, it seems to reach full digital maturation. There weren’t a ton of solutions targeting this space, but there were some. Solutions helping to marry technology, data, and digital with fundraising and donations. This is a unique space that no doubt catches the eye of the development folks there, as these businesses seem to have things streamlined and figured out to make donation via digital both optimized and in compliance with the oh-so-many regulations.

Ticketing

While many can name the major players in ticketing for college athletics, there remains opportunity for a number of smaller players to get a small piece of the pie. Almost every program needs a ticketing solution and there is increasing demand for digital, for mobile, and for data among every one of those programs, of any size.

 

In the end, industries will evolve by seeking to make things better, easier, more successful. The vendors that win the value prop equation and have feasible, actionable solutions will capture college.

16 Sportsbiz Things from the #PacNet17 Conference

In February 2017, Spectra / Paciolan held their annual conference, bringing together thought leaders and pros in the world of college athletics and venues for discussions on ticket sales techniques, fan engagement, digital and social marketing strategies, and more.

I had the opportunity to attend much of this great conference down in Newport Beach, CA, and picked up countless nuggets of wisdom, as well as insights from the presentations, stats, and examples and case studies presented. Here are 15 of them:

Fans are looking for tickets on mobile, but more of the money is still on desktop

There are 483,000 searches or live event on Google EVERY DAY. While other digital channels and ads have certainly grown, fans are still most inclined to search for something they want, especially on mobile. In fact, 64% of Google’s ticket sales queries in 2016 came via mobile search.
The one caveat, however, is that conversion rates and overall sales revenue remain higher on desktop. The reasons why are not entirely clear, but a supposed combination of a different mindset of the mobile user and the so-so mobile purchase flow on most platforms. But it’s growing and improving. A compelling stat from the conference revealed that, for the first time ever, mobile comprised the majority of overall ticket sales (by quantity) at 52%.
Broad lesson: Make sure you’re thinking ahead. If you’re posting a link on Twitter, where most user are mobile, are you linking to a mobile-friendly page? Is there a better way?

Personalization is prime

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It may be a bit more convenience and novelty to click on a merchandise link and see that offer personalized with one’s name or favorite player. Such personalization is becoming more of an expectation on the consumer side. But it has only just begun and will only grow, but is only as effective as the data collected and the nuts and bolts to execute it.

UVA is getting the most they can out of social media

Many marvel at the social media of a handful of college athletics programs, often citing Clemson as the best of breed. They have a talented, sizable team that helps create such content and experiences. Greg Driscoll, Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing and Promotions at the University of Virginia, noted the Cavaliers have a social media hub/team staffed with ten students. The students are unpaid, but UVA rewards them with experience and opportunities to network and learn. With a focus on driving fan engagement through user-generated content, Driscoll noted that, especially for video, Snapchat drives more UGC to use than Twitter or other platforms.

New fans are tougher to come by than retaining old fans

The keynote speaker to open the conference was former NFL player and longtime college athletics and pro sports leader Oliver Luck. He was quite charismatic and offered a notable opinion that developing younger fans is more important, even at the expense of worrying about alienating older fans [because they’re hard to alienate]. Younger fans need to be excited to go to a game, to an event, and won’t just go because there’s nothing better to do, combined with a sense of loyalty.

Groups getting easier

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In an age of Venmo, Messenger, and group communication and experiences, streamlining and improving the group buying experience is an exciting opportunity for new sales  and facilitate games becoming fun social outings. It’s less about group leaders and more about making it easier to invite a few friends to a group and each individual pay their way. The key is to mind it or mobile, too.

Michigan is mixing marketing with excitement

Many of us can appreciate the moments when fans are on an emotional high, when they’re most likely to want to eagerly anticipate seeing their favorite team[s] play. The Wolverines seek to capitalize on the excitement of football season starting, by packaging along with them, hockey and basketball. The result – 93% of multi-sport student season tickets are sold in single sales to students. When your biggest fans are ready to buy, one can anticipate their future possible desires, that’ll give them more of that excitement and emotion.
Michigan also wants to incentivize early arrival, so has a points system that rewards fans for arriving earlier, which affects their priority for seat selection the next year.

Mike Veeck says fear of failure can’t hinder innovation and creativity

Longtime baseball marketing exec (and son of the famous Bill Veeck) Mike Veeck was a delight and full of great knowledge gleaned through decades of experience and growing up in the space. His first piece of advice was to “Hire braves souls who aren’t afraid to fail.” Tying that to embracing creativity, he exhorted us all to ‘hold creative meetings with the same respect we hold sales meetings.’
It means treating creativity and innovation like it’s part of your job. It is! It’ also important to not be afraid of a bad idea or failure, lest one’s creativity and thirst to innovate is stifled.

Experience their experience

Another sage piece of advice delivered from Veeck was to have staff live the fan experience, to experience the pain points, and to just walk a day in their shoes. Sitting in traffic around game time, instead of arriving hours earlier, and attempting to leave after the game ended, instead of long after the lots have emptied. Surveys, studies, and social can give clues to fan experience, good and bad, but there’s nothing like just experiencing it onself.

The difference between creating demand and meeting demand

The Ottawa Sports & Entertainment Group has some games and events to promote that are seeking to get fans to buy tickets — when there is a need to create demand. Other OSEG events are highly desired and, therefore, the objective seeks to best meet that demand, and capitalize on it. The strategy and tactics for each goal are different and, while you’re still promoting an event and excitement for it, the two distinct scenarios necessitate different actions.

Keys to hiring right, from Disney

I was struck by the simple, succinct points around what makes for the best job candidates, according to David Millay of Disney. They look for people that truly buy into the mission of the organization, and such belief seeps through. They care about the organization and purpose, not just the job. Another good note was to seek people that can communicate well. I have yet to notice any role and any job that isn’t optimized by the ability to effectively communicate.

If you’re resolving pain points, make sure the people who need to know, know

Fan experience and taking active steps to improve it are laudable considerations and goals. But communicating those improvements, especially to the people whom it affects the most, is essential. Communicating the fix/change/improvements is just as important as making the improvements itself.

Data is useless without strategy and organization

Every year, sophistication of data collection grows and grows. Some organizations are just starting out and not as far along as others. But there were some great lessons presented from a panel at PacNet featuring speakers from Turnkey Intelligence, SSB, and USC. The initial consensus was that a full-time data person was needed to pull it all together and interpret and communicate it effectively. USC Senior Associate Athletic Director or Development Tim Martin noted the importance of having an internal champion behind putting the data into action.
When actively deployed through messaging and content, there is no more spam, it’s tailored and, therefore, welcomed, said Steve Hank of data warehouse and strategy group SSB. He emphasized the need to find ‘early wins’ to earn the buy-in to the use of such big data. Erika Gunerman of Turnkey added that data strategy needs to be well-organized (consistent nomenclature, for example) and that all data, just about, CAN be used, even if it’s the more ‘dark’ social and engagement metric, to separate the casual fans from the potential diehards; the leads with better ‘scores.’
Regarding the future of data deployment, Martin foresaw it all becoming more dynamic (responsive and reactive) and progressively more personalized (smarter with each input). An exciting time ahead!

Stanford is making it easier on mobile

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Stanford had an impressive strategy presented, revolved around a synergy of search, social, and optimizing purchase flow as much as they were able in controlled environments. They utilized microsites, mobile landing pages, Twitter cards, and Spectra’s integration with the Facebook Events API to, as much as possible, cut down on clicks to confirmation [of purchase]. Even if each little step isn’t going to explode the sales, each step together will move the needle and will result in better, more effective fan experiences on the platforms and place they’re spending their time.

Authenticity has a look…and it’s not highly produced

On a panel discussing digital marketing, content, and advertising strategy, an oh-so-simple, but oft-overlooked insight was reiterated — younger audiences want authenticity. And, for digital and social content, authentic has a certain appearance that shows it’s real, it’s in the moment, it wasn’t carefully prepared for its advertising audience. Along with that, too, was the a-ha to repurpose content that garners social proof (and proof of success among the consumer base) from social to other creative channels. Social is your focus group that will be real and respond when you keep it real and authentic.

Fan Development and Feverish Fan Development

Everybody is out to add more to their fan base. But identifying and cultivating more avidity among current fans can be just as valuable. It was interesting to hear Ole Miss makes this point, with the success to back it up. They appreciate on not just creating customers to come out to games, but fans that live and breathe the Rebels brand every day, and feel a part of something bigger than themselves. When fans can think about you daily, that’s powerful. “We want to turn fans into followers…[so that] It consumes you,” said Jim Hanauer, Assistant Athletic Director for Digital Strategy and Analytics for Ole Miss Athletics.

A little mobile can go a long way

Everyone at PacNet (and everywhere) knows that mobile is growing and growing in importance. But one stat stood out from one of the panels, coming from Ticketpop – a primary ticket provider based in Puerto Rico. One year, they had a website not too friendly to mobile users and no app presence. One year later, thanks to a mobile-friendly website, a mobile app, and a focus on putting ad dollars behind mobile platforms on search and social, they saw, well, massive growth. Ticketpop had a 742% growth in transactions on mobile and 615% growth in revenue from mobile web and app ticket sales. Impressive.

 

There was tremendous insight and knowledge shared at the Spectra-Paciolan conference, as there is every year, and it’s clear that innovation continues, that digital and social is  becoming more important and more sophisticated, and, more than ever, folks are walking the walk, and not just talking the talk, when it comes to putting fans first and considering their needs, their personalization, and their experience.

Episode 85 Snippets: Reva Labbe and ESPN College Football a Fun, Engaging Companion for College Fans

On episode 85 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Reva Labbe, Social Media Producer for ESPN College Football.

What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn

I Went to the UCLA-Arizona Game, But Nobody Knows

I was lucky enough to attend a highly touted game between Pac 12 powers UCLA and Arizona in late January. But, outside of some Tweets and Snaps, I let no trail behind.

I was the anonymous fan.

A friend has two tickets, using the “Pass” option, which guaranteed him two seats to every conference game, at a flat rate, with seat location dependent on availability, and sent to his mobile app 48 hours before game day. (This innovation merits another article altogether). Upon entering, the two bar codes in his app were scanned and UCLA only knew the identity of one of us attending.

Before the game started, I ventured around the concourse, with food options and sales tables abounding. My only stop was to purchase a bottle of water, for which I paid in cash. Again, my anonymity remained. En route to my seat, I logged on to the free, non-gated WiFi. The WiFi was money and, while my app and browsing activity was certainly tracked, my identity, for all intents and purposes, remained unknown.

The game was fun, the atmosphere electric, and it even included a halftime ceremony honoring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to go along with the posters handed out to fans upon entering Pauley Pavilion. UCLA lost, I returned to the parking garage (for which I had paid cash to enter) and my incognito day was complete.

There is so much retargeting, digital marketing, CRM, data warehousing, and the like than ever before. While the reams of data produced by social media, by Google searches, and by website visits allows for precision targeting and marketing on those channels (none of which applied to me in this case), the fans in the building are the ones actually consuming the product. There is no hotter lead than the fan in the building yet to be added to the database. I had a great time at the game and, no doubt, UCLA would welcome the opportunity to remind me of future games, to get me to come back.

But they don’t know who I am, remember?

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The anonymous fan continues to keep sports marketers up at night. Whether it’s my situation, accompanying a friend who had bought the tickets, using tickets from a school or community event, going along with a group and getting tickets from the group leader – these are all missed opportunities to add new fans, new potential future ticket buyers, into the database and marketing and engagement funnel.

There no easy panacea, but there are some potential solutions that exist. The next step is testing each of them, evaluating effectiveness, minding the lead source to fully appreciate the value of that lead, and investing in a thoughtful approach to capture the identity of these heretofore anonymous fans.

There are enter-to-win sweepstakes, data exchange or WiFi, a free ticket or souvenir or concession deal that requires giving information to receive, various calls to subscribe or follow or download.

There is no one size fits all, but one thing each organization successful in this space has in common is they recognize the problem and put time, thought, resources, and effort into discovering a good solution. Every business has a cost per lead, a cost to bring that new fan into the funnel, into the CRM database. We pay for search ads (not just to sell tickets, but to drive traffic and purchases on owned platforms), for social media ads and resources, and for all sorts of other channels and attempts to acquire a lead.

Would I have given over my email address for a free bottle of water instead of paying up $4.50? You bet. Would I have paid with a credit card to save $1? In a heartbeat. A lead has a value and it behooves organizations to invest in adding as many fans, especially those in the building at their games!, as possible. It may cost a little money, but that’s the cost of doing business.

You know the problem, so put resources toward solving it. It’s time to introduce yourself to the anonymous, and give them a reason to identify themselves. Everyone can win, then.