Alessandro Gasparro on the Importance of Understanding How Fans Speak and What Engages Them

On episode 113 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Alessandro Gasparro, Director of Social Media Strategy, Endeavor.

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

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The Making of March Madness: Chris Dion Dishes on Digital and Social for the NCAA Tournament

Welcome to March Madness. The annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has now been a staple on the sports calendar for decades. But only in recent years has digital and social media become an integral part of the tournament – allowing more channels for storytelling and reach than ever before.

Last year, I had the opportunity to discuss digital and social strategy for the NCAA, particularly around March Madness, with NCAA Assistant Director of Championships and Alliances for Digital and Social Media Chris Dion. [listen to the interview here]. Below are excerpts from our conversation, discussing social media voice, content strategy, March Madness prep, analytics, setting goals, and more:

On the content and messaging mindset of the March Madness social media accounts

The March Madness account is probably 80% basketball and 20% off the court brand stories…that is not because we choose to not put (off the court stories) there, it is that there seems to be more of a desire to talk just about basketball…

One of the ways we pride ourselves about the brand is we try to mix as much messaging in there, so that the casual fan starts to consume NCAA branding and messaging without really knowing that they’re doing it…We present them a nice story and, before they know it, they’re consuming NCAA content.”

“We live and die by analytics”

We live and die by analytics…I use analytics to help guide my team [and] guide my choices. If something is not working and the numbers show that, there is no reason we should continue doing it. If it’s a resources discussion…we have to make better choices, based on analytics.”

The fans are part of it, the other part of it is what story are we trying to tell?…We start with goals…and then we build measurable goals. If you can’t measure the success of a good feeling…let’s not put good feelings as goals. Let’s put things that are measurable…Then we’ve got an opportunity to say if we’ve had success or not.”

From goals and assets to platforms

We work on a strategic story for the year…Then we start to talk about a content mix. What is our content going to look like? What are we going to try and find later? Then what are we going to try and innovate? We always try to innovate something new every year…to the best of our ability…

Lastly, our strategy comes down to platform…the last thing we think about is platforms. Goals lead the conversation and platform comes last.”


Measurable goals that matter

“Our measurable goals are really simple. It comes down to audience growth. It’s important for us to understand that year-over-year, we’re growing…Followers should never be a key goal, but it should be a good barometer of the health of the community…Engagement is number two…What are our video views [and] content engagement, link engagement, standard engagement?…Then, lastly is reach. Reach is something that allows us to compare ourselves to TV or other media. It’s one of the ways that allows us to comparatively have conversations that don’t fall under social…Reach allows us to have a metric that allows us to compare it to print, to out-of-home, TV, to radio…It’s not a true measure, but it’s close enough that we can help people understand what we’re trying to do.”

March Madness prep starts long before March…and a lot of it can get ‘thrown out the window’

“We spend so much time planning…one of the ways we do that is with content calendars..shot lists…and daily production content…We don’t know (daily results)…what we do know is we have to be ready for every single outcome…The way we do that is we go over a game…and we throw it all on a sheet of paper and then make sure we have (all assets and content we need)…our March Madness prep started in…September. We turn that dial up to eight or nine in January…Now (Februrary), we’re at about ten…

We’re planning with our broadcast partners, with all our corporate champions partners…our media coordination and statistics team…We’re not just telling the story from the day the brackets are released, we’re telling the story from the first conference tournament…I think you have to be a planner in social…and you have to be prepared to throw that plan out the window. When you throw that plan out the window, that is when you become a better person in social. Because then at least you have that remembrance of the road you were trying to travel down.”

It all comes back to getting fans emotionally invested

The NCAA is full of awesome stories. Not to mention what happens on the field…There so much emotion…For a lot of student athletes, this is the farthest they’ll achieve in their sport and what they put into it deserves to be (hyped)…(We want to get) people invested in the story.”

Episode 108 Snippets: Carl Schmid helps Cincinnati Athletics Convey a Unified Message On and Off The Field, Through Social Media

On episode 108 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Carl Schmid, Director of Digital for University of Cincinnati Athletics. 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

Episode 104 Snippets: Justin Karp Balances Social Media KPIs and Fan Emotion for Pac 12 Networks

On episode 104 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Justin Karp, Senior Manager – Social Media, for Pac 12 Networks.

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

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