Cutting Through the Content Clutter in Social Media and Sports By Owning Niches

The sports content world is crowded. It can be incredibly hard to stand out, especially if you’re an official team presence or even a challenger in the space. But it’s not a hopeless battle of attrition, it doesn’t have to be a daily struggle for the attention of fans.

There’s value in truly owning niches. Become the best in certain areas and command the attention of fans by being unique and providing unique value. For Richard Clarke, who spent years amid the crowded fish bowl of Arsenal and later the upstart Colorado Rapids, part of building a content strategy was focusing on owning niches that others couldn’t do as well as the club.

“What you can do is you can own niches,” said Clarke. “At Arsenal, we had great history, so I would want to own the niche of history. We could do stats really well – that was a niche we could own…

“We made sure we owned any transfer announcement, as well. Because that was somewhere where we were properly creating news…Obviously, with the media in England, when there’s a transfer going on, it’s difficult for the club to comment; but what you do do – is you’re the ultimate rubber stamp…

“Suddenly, you’ve got four or five things where you’re the go-to place for that. You build up an arsenal of niches.”

Right there, Clarke identified niches Arsenal could own, ways they could rise to the surface, not just in spite of, but because of being the official club presence. They not be able to pen overly critical columns or entertain rumors and reports as much as others, but there were things they could do better than anyone.

There’s an extensive content ecosystem throughout sports (and all media, really), but providing something fans can’t get anywhere else, using your resources to your advantage can mark a lot of territory in the battle for fans’ time. The most important thing is still creating content and stories that is worth their time, that isn’t just noise or, worse, a lesser version of what they’re getting elsewhere.

“You’ve still got to give value and, sometimes, it is a matter of owning these niches and building a content plan off of that,” said Clarke. “It’s not perfect, and that’s fine, because we go to different websites and social media accounts for different things…”

Fans maintain a steady diet of content consumption each day, often across a variety of platforms. It’s not reasonable to expect to win 100% of that time and attention, better to target a healthy amount that you can dominate. It’s pretty valuable to be the best at something, and it can start with identifying niches that can be all yours.

Richard Clarke Offers Insights Into Building a Successful Content Strategy for Sports Teams

On episode 112 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Richard Clarke, Sport Digital Consultant and Speaker, formerly with Arsenal and the Colorado Rapids, among others.

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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Preston McClellan is helping to grow the PGA Tour through players, content, and experiences

On episode 111 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Preston McClellan, Senior Brand Marketing Manager for the PGA Tour.

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

Shifting the Focus from Platforms to Fans in 2018

A year is far too long to reflect upon or to project these days. I mean, who are we kidding? Mediums and tech and data and attention spans and content delivery and consumption and fan preferences — they all change seemingly every day. So save your 365-day theses.

But one thing stays the same, regardless – the challenge persists. The challenge to keep up with the fans and the social networks, to keep up with your peers, and to keep up with the evolving business and revenue models.

2018: The Year Of ______

2017 was the Year of the Platform. The year we all read more official blogs from the social media big four (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat) than ever and stay tuned to TechCrunch and the Twitter feed of Matt Navarra (recommended follow) with watchful eyes. Almost every week saw new tweaks, new ways to create and present content, new forms of interaction and engagement, different ways to promote and target and advertise, and even new (and, usually, better) data at our fingertips.

But 2018 can be different. Sure, the challenge and the change won’t go anywhere, but instead of obsessing over it every day, shift that focus to the fan. If 2017 was the Year of the Platform, 2018 is shaping up to be the Year of the Fan.

Fans love to boast, but they love even more to post. They want those likes, they want to share something to the masses that conveys their love for the team to their friends and followers. And, in case you haven’t noticed, there are a lot of talented fans out there. So what does this mean? Empower them — with content, with opportunities and capabilities to create awesome content themselves. The gates are starting to fly open on the platforms to co-create content, and teams and their fans can benefit and produce mutually beneficial and beautiful content together.

But the expectations of fans are increasing, too; this is a good thing. They expect teams to know them and anticipate the type of product, content, offer, and service they want and need. One-to-one communication is becoming more important not just because fans are spending time on these platforms and services, but also because that level of intimacy and attention is the expectation. Teams, in turn, are starting to realize that creating a few amazing experiences yields a better net result than tons of mediocre ones. Individual engagement has long been underrated, but is growing.

And we can’t take such intimate fan attention for granted. Whether we know they’re watching our content or inside our mobile app or at our game — that attention is currency and needs to be respected. Could 2018 be the year when disruption at least starts to diminish as a monetization tactic? Fewer pop-ups and pre-rolls, no meddling with mid-rolls or banners, less insertion of display ads in-between and calling it a ‘native’ ad. To say that’s what is best for the fan is a specious argument, at best, and we can all strive to do better. Because, we have to….

Earn and Respect Fan Attention

It feels like the early movers are starting to understand this point as 2017 comes to a close — quality is better than quantity. It’s easier said than done, but teams must resist the temptation to go for the vanity metrics, the ones that give nice pretty charts at the end of the month and the bosses may like, and to demand better. Because it’s only a matter of time before the brand takes a dip, before fans come to expect sub-standard.

There are too many other choices for fans. Too many other sites or accounts or apps they can go to to get their fix of content related to the team/player/sport. The only way to keep fans seeking you out, to make sure they’re clicking on your Story or engaging with your post (and keeping you on the right end of the algorithm) is to deliver good content consistently. Every. Single. Time. Maybe you’re allowed a miss 1 out of 100 times, but you simply can’t take for granted that fans will keep tapping on your content day after day. Cut out the noise, the one-word posts, the ambiguous cheers during a game – make every piece of content matter.

It’s a powerful thing when fans seek out your content, when they look for your story or app or video when they’re killing time on their iPhone or Android. There has been a renewed vigor around owned audiences – fans whom you can reach without having to pay to promote, necessarily. In the Year of the Fan, focusing on building those owned fan communities, who habitually want to consume and share your content. But don’t forget they don’t all want the same experience….

 

Audiences Deserve Attention

The default answer to every question seems to be whichever reaches the most people. But the content and strategy that is most effective for this insular objective doesn’t always align with what’s best long-term. It may seem like a good idea to pepper out every offer on every channel because if one more person signs up or buys, it’s worth it. But does that seem to jive with putting the fan first?

The fan base is not a single persona and to think there is a magic bullet with each and every piece of content offer is not only naive, it’s irresponsible. It’s something easy to preach, but fewer practice. If fans expect teams to know them, teams have to study their fans — some want to attend games, some just want to watch videos; there are fans that want longform and fans that want X’s and O’s; fans looking for an affordable night out with the family and fans looking for a premium asset.

We’re starting to value relevance over reach, and that’s a winning formula for the fans. More of the kind of content and messaging they want in the form they want it. That sounds like good to me. Many tend to value engagement over reach, which seemed like an evolution. But engagement can be a broad term, and it’s past time the term gets the scrutiny it merits…

Meaningful Engagements

Teams and media are getting more skilled at the game of engagement – learning how to play the platforms to drive engagement rates, so the numbers stay high and rising, and their team can rise the social media ‘rankings.’ You know the usual list of metrics – likes, retweets, comments, video starts / video views, shares, and the list goes on.

But what if we started focusing less on the biggest numbers and more on the most meaningful in 2018? If a Snapchat or Instagram Story or a video is good, why shouldn’t completion be the goal? There’s no magic metric that can help compare one post or platform with another, no unanimous definition of success, but calling it a success that fans are seeing just the first frame of a story or first three seconds of a video is no doubt deceiving.

The winners at the end of the day may not be at the top of the weekly engagement leaderboards and they may not have the most video starts or likes, but we’ve all begun to not just appreciate, but practice, the notion that social media is a marathon not a sprint. Focus less on chasing vanity metrics and more on meaning – it’s not an impossible task. Track the leads coming from social media, close the identity loop of social media engagers and fans that spend or that interact with sponsors, and don’t treat the last touch point as the primary piece of monetizing a fan.

This is not a plea to forget about the so-called vanity metrics nor is it about doing away with so-called ‘shallow’ engagement — fans wouldn’t tap or click if they didn’t want to — but it’s not being married to those metrics, and realizing that meaningful engagement, well, means more. It goes back to that quality > quantity conundrum. It’s why those with the talent to produce quality day after day are now valued and needed more than ever before…

Create Awesome Content

The best social media managers in sports are either equipped with amazing design and video production skills, or they’re friends with those in the organization that are. From the smallest college athletics programs and minor league teams to the biggest pro and college teams in the world, the bar is as high as ever for content. But it doesn’t mean every piece of content needs to be a masterpiece.

There is also a great deal of value in consistency and well-executed content, two factors that are coming on strong as the calendar flips to 2018. When fans can recognize your content from a mile away (or scrolling at a million miles/hour], that’s brand strength. And when content doesn’t feel like it was repurposed from another platform and another box was checked to throw it on this social network or that one, that’s the right way to do things. It all takes time, it takes effort. But if we all start to accept the quality>quantity notion, it all starts to make more sense.

 

 

We may be immersed in a world of wins and losses, but it’s not so simple in social media. Instead of being obsessed with the game, obsess over the fans instead – what they want, what they value, what they bring to the table. Don’t just preach fan-first, practice it. Let that sense of thoughtfulness and value go into every campaign, every piece of content, every post. 2018 can be the Year of the Fan, at last.

 

Authenticity and Crafting Narratives Can Carry Sports Content

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The volume of stories and the ways with which to tell them is only increasing. For many in sports, this is an opportunity. While some may avoid the always-on, highly scrutinized, no holds-barred nature of new media, the savvy embrace it, and run with it. This theme peppered the chatter at the 2017 Sports PR Summit, held at the Players Tribune in May. A few key topics that arose included the ability for athletes to create and tell their own stories, the NBA treating social media like a grown-up, and ESPN’s venerable Tom Rinaldi dropped some memorable quips on storytelling.

Athletes can be and want to be more than just their sport

When scores, highlights, and the usual quotes are easy to come by, it’s the stuff that shows fans a little about players off the field that can win and differentiate. There is increasing demand for fans for such content and teams and media are answering it.

“People want to know athletes are real people and they can relate to them,” aid Mary Byrne, Senior Deputy Editor/Daily Coverage for ESPN.com.

Social media has given fans a window into the lives and personalities of their favorite athletes. And the media isn’t blind to the fervor with which fans treat an Instagram post or Tweet from an athlete showing a bit of their life off the field or their personal thoughts, in general. For Brian Cohen, Talent Producer for Good Morning Football on NFL Network, social media feeds are a producer’s dream – offering not just clues,but clear signs of an athlete’s interests and of which athletes are vocal and, well, out there.

“We dig deep into the feeds of athletes to find who they truly are…their interests, community involvement,” said Cohen. “The more open they are, the more likely we are to invite them to the show to share their story.”

A panel of athletes confirmed these sentiments later on; more and more recognize and appreciate that the paradigm has shifted. That they no longer need the media to get a thought or a story out there. Former NBA player Etan Thomas said as much, noting that social media outlets allowed athletes like him to go past the writers and media and to tell their own stories to fans.

An interesting insight that was shared via one of the athletes, NFL star DeMarcus Ware, was the need for trust. Ware, who said he picked up upon the importance of trust, from the lessons at the NFL’s broadcast boot camp. When athletes trust the media or the team or the reporter to be genuine, to be true to the story – that’s the way it should e.

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Why the NBA has thrived with new media

Many sports have done well to embrace social and digital media, but the NBA is typically the one held up as firing on all cylinders. It’s not by accident. It is largely thanks to the leadership of Commissioner Adam Silver, who, well, ‘gets it.’ The league appreciates that social media is something to be embraced, not shunned or feared. It is an opportunity the NBA seizes to be their own media, to speak with an increasingly discerning fan base.

“You can no longer rely just on the traditional media outlets to get your story told,” said Silver in an excellent interview. In telling their story, Silver knows the NBA can’t use smoke and mirrors, but must be genuine. “Fans have pretty good BS detectors” he said. “So you have to be authentic.”

Silver went on to note that the league staffs social media 24/7, to engage fan all around the world at all hours. In keeping with the theme of being proactive, and not reactive or fearful, Silver has led the NBA to not just turn a blind eye to fans using game highlights, but to even encourage it (and the NBA has certainly facilitated so).

The NBA permits ‘liberal’ use of highlights and puts their protective efforts into their live game feeds. It’s not that the league has given up on protecting highlights. Qutie the contrary, they don’t see a need to ‘protect’ highlights – they are helping to promote the league and facilitating fan-generated content that markets their sport and their league.

Said Silver – “Our view on highlights – it’s in our interest to get them out there.”

Sports media is everywhere. The league is a form of media, the reporters and newspapers and TV partners are media, and, yes, the fans themselves are media. Silver is savvy enough to realize that the enormous proliferation if NBA media is nothing but a good thing.

“It’s important to us and our leagues that the sports media thrives,” said Silver. The more bloggers, the more reporters, the more sick edits there are, the more interest and content that is out there that is promoting the NBA. Want to know why the NBA has thrived on social media? Look no further than Silver and his mature look at the landscape, understanding it’s something to be fostered, not feared.

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The best stories create an emotional ride

You’ve likely seen a Tom Rinaldi feature story on ESPN. And, if so, you’ve likely smiled, cried, and felt a surge of inspiration of joy. It all probably happened during the same story. Rinaldi seemed to blow the conference as he talked about the science of story. The ESPN legend invoked the undulation of a wave to hammer home what draws one into a story, and takes them through the emotional swings of the his well-crafted tale.

“The key to stories is waves, not lines,” said Rinaldi. “Highs and lows vs. just a box score.”

Rinaldi enumerated his keys to a story. First, one must build a sense of expectation and anticipation – there has to be that waiting for the payoff. A good story also reveals a new understanding. The surface-level box score gives way to a greater understanding of the subject matter as the story ensues. Finally, Rinaldi said a good story reveals a ‘transcendent’ fact. That’s the wow moment. The finale of a Rinaldi roller coaster and the keystone for a strong story.

Sports drives more compelling stories than the pen of even the most gifted authors because it has all the elements – exciting action, peaks and valleys, and real humans who just happen to be able to do superhuman things in their sport. Take a cue from the lessons learned at this past year’s Sports PR Summit. Do what’s right. Be on the right side of history. Build trust, be authentic, don’t be the bad guy or the untrustworthy guy, and invite and tell stories that make fans feel.

PR used to be a bit too much about smoke and mirrors. But today it is so much more. There are fans sharing stories, players telling theirs, and leagues who no longer stand in the way, but can be on the same team. It’s a game everybody can win.

[See a Sports PR Summit Recap here]

How Denmark’s Sports Media Powerhouse TV3 Sport Drives Results With Social

Social networks have truly transcended international borders. Fans all around the world can consume the same content and connect around their favorite athletes and teams.

But the social media and sports objectives may not all be identical, the same principles and strategies tend to prevail. I had recently had the privilege of interviewing Casper Vestereng, who runs social media for TV3 SPORT, Denmark’s biggest sports TV network, which dominates markets all over Scandinavia. (Listen here) He has spent several years in social, studying it and strategizing with it to deliver results.

For Vestereng, it starts with a keen understanding of the platforms, how they work, and how they can, ultimately, drive return on objectives. And that requires understanding that, on Facebook where TV3 SPORT most focuses its social media efforts, getting fans to want your content is key.

“My view on this is that you can drive the results…but you have to do it on the premises of how this platform works…,” said Vestereng.

“For driving a lot of traffic from Facebook, you need to put some engaging stuff [out] there, because that’s the nature of Facebook…

[Casper mentions The Sports Bible as an example of a Page that has a good combination] – “Every time they put out [a native and] engaging post, they put out three linked posts, which get a lot lower reach, probably, but that’s what gets them money. We do it kind of the same way. A lot of linked posts out, but we also do a lot of fun stuff. We try to give a little of it away [to] try to keep fans happy.”

Vestereng appreciates that there is a certain type of content made for social and there is content TV3 SPORT knows fans can go to their site to consume. Vestereng understands the objective for each and every post, and builds a strategy, ratio, and content mix that maximizes website traffic (their most important KPI). And that doesn’t include outbound links for every post.

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Organization buy-in has evolved under Vestereng’s stewardship – by appealing to the metrics. When TV ratings continue to fall (though they remain massive, compared to digital viewers of live sport), the reality becomes more clear that these eyeballs aren’t disappearing, they’re just consuming more on digital and social. And with digital leading to dollars, the buy-in becomes easier and easier to achieve.

“In reality, the number of television viewers is not growing on all sports, so all of the TV guys are under a lot of pressure, and now we monetize a lot of the content we put on digital. So now our bosses are all great on pushing the TV people to do digital stuff…I only see it getting better and better,” Vestereng described.

It can get even trickier when TV3 SPORT is showing a live match or race on their TV network. Driving viewership is still goal number one, but, in a process and understanding that has evolved for the network, they aren’t kidding themselves – fans are and will continue to be looking at a second screen while watching or following the game. That’s an important opportunity for TV3 SPORT, not an obstacle, Vestereng has led the network to believe.

“We don’t cannibalize our television show by putting out content during the buildup or during the match. We just give people an alternative,” said Vesterng. …Because they’re going to sit with their phones or their tablets in their hands, anyway. And if they’re not going to engage with our stuff, they’re going to engage with the clubs’ stuff, or some other media…

He added this paramount point about owning conversation: “If we didn’t do (social media content), just because we had (and event) on TV, we’d lose a lot of engagement there [and] we’d lose a lot of control over the discussion [around the event]…”

TV3 SPORT is ultimately out to be the source for content, for conversation, for everything around sports for Danish fans. The numbers show they’re winning that battle, said Vestereng, with social media becoming a key tactic and referral source, if not yet a mainstream content consumption source for TV3 SPORT’s fans. The credibility, reach, and traffic they’ve developed has allowed the Danish sports media powerhouse to train fans to consistently sit through lengthy pre-rolls to access the desired content.

“When we put out something that we want to go viral [for social media], it needs to be very good. (But) we can’t monetize viral stuff. We need traffic,” said Vestereng. “We have maybe the longest pre-roll (ad) strategy in the world. I haven’t ever seen a website with one minute pre-rolls that you can’t get skip. We have that before every goal that we show, every highlight we show on our website.”

While Vestereng admitted the, well, ball-sy nature of 60-second pre-rolls for their content, he points to increasing metrics and they key lying with consistency. Fans know to expect the pre-rolls prior to the content, and that unchanged practice over the years have given them an advantage.

“I’m not sure it’s the right way to do it, Vestereng stated. “It’s not my strategy. [But noting video starts are up more than ever] We’re still growing…We’ve done (the one-minute pre-roll) for years now. People know (to expect it)…So people are accepting of it…And I think a lot of other media are actually looking at it and [saying] publicly ‘the commercials are so annoying…’ but in their strategy meetings are (jealous)…”

Vestereng has spent a lot of time learning the game (and continuing to learn the game) behind social media and sport. While the languages we speak, the goals we measure, the sports we watch, and the strategies we use may differ with diverse cultures and countries, it all comes back to content and community. Fans connect, and connect around the content (games, matches, athletes, features) that makes them fans in the first place. Whether it’s Denmark or the US or anywhere in-between, sports drives passionate, engaged fan bases, with an unquenching thirst for content. And there’s always a platform to deliver it.