Efficiency and Strategy is More Important Than Ever in Social Media and Sports Creative

It’s hard to imagine that not long ago social media was largely texts and links. It was easy – a big announcement, a trade, a milestone – throw out a link and the job was done. Later, you dropped in a photograph from Getty and it felt fine.

Then came increasingly sophisticated graphics, GIFs, short-form video, long-form video, Photoshopped pics, and combinations of all of the above. For digital and social media, it has become just as much about creative chops as it is about community management, engagement, and brand. Even if that graphic or GIF that took a creative specialist hours to create is viewed by fans for just a second as they scroll, it’s expected and it’s a part of conveying the brand, the look, the feel, and the, well, coolness factor a bit.

Every team and organization has adapted a bit differently, depending on size, resources, and the direction upon which leadership has steered the evolution of roles in production, design, digital, and social. It is more siloed for some – wanting to maintain a certain standard of graphics and videos; while others have split the duties a bit more whether by finding versatile individuals that can do social and creative, or leaving the bigger jobs to the creative team and the day-to-day content to the digital crew.

Regardless of the setup, however, the sheer tonnage of content has certainly added a great of strategy when it comes to creative.

It’s not always an agency-like process of: project, design brief, specs, description, deadline. Sure, if you’re planning a campaign or promotion weeks in advance, that process still works, but it’s more about continuing to add to the arsenal and getting more efficient each and every time the design team hits export.

Unless a team has endless staff and resources (huh?), the design team now must think about a) How can this graphic or GIF be designed so that it can be re-used and repurposed, for another play or player?, b) What treatments or elements can be saved for future use on other designs?, and c) How can this awesome design be created so that someone lacking the proficiency of a design pro change out text or an image or add a video, so that the standard of quality of the team’s output remains high without the design team needing to lift a finger?

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The more time you spend in digital and social, in sports or otherwise, the more you start to notice those efficiencies. Maybe a GIF used for the draft can be tweaked to be used for big plays or scoring plays next season, let alone constructing the GIF in the first place in a manner such that it can be easily repurposed for other players (sounds simple, but not all practice this). Heck, maybe you’re an under-resourced team where there is no full-time design team and it falls on the digital, the marketing, the broadcast, the CR staff to do the best they can. This is where a solid template or app can go a long way in making a team look much bigger and feistier than it really is.

Whats the takeaway here? It’s to inject a strategic mindset into the design and production team. Let them know it can be okay for someone that doesn’t have a degree in a creative field to produce something, especially if it’s just tweaking or changing out something the professional producers did create.

The demand for content is only growing and it’s important to establish what kind of content the digital and social team should be able to produce (i.e. just about anyone can create a slo-mo, black and white video with music of players arriving for the game), what kind of content can and should be templated, and make sure the creative team keeps this all in mind before they hit export.

No team will tell you they have enough staff, enough time, enough resources – but it’s the ones that are efficient and strategic that look like they have an army in there. The prefix ‘strategic’ is becoming almost a prerequisite for every position these days, and perhaps no part of a team is that more important than in creative production.

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8 Observations and Lessons in Digital and Social Marketing Strategy

Marketing is much more than Mad Men these days. Sure, a good story still matters. But if it’s not backed up by sound digital strategy, strong social media content – paid and organic, analytics to measure and adjust, and documented processes to allow marketing last beyond campaigns and management turnover – then even the strongest stories can fall short of delivering success.

During my recent foray into digital and social consulting, I’ve encountered different business practices and challenges, both from clients I’ve worked with directly and others I’ve observed or actively encountered along the way, and over the years at my last job – working with several dozen clients of varying scale and sophistication. I’m no expert, let alone anything resembling a guru or ninja, but here I discuss a few lessons I’ve learned about the areas businesses of any size can heed as they seek to optimize and develop their own digital and social strategy.

  1. We’ve always done it this way

There is almost always going to be resistance to change. But if a system seems to rely a bit too much on plugging holes with manual workarounds, it may be time to question. Or if an office manager is the only one that really knows how something works (and the company may just be screwed if he/she was gone tomorrow), it may be time to question. If there are questions you wish you could answer and have a sneaking suspicion others can, it may be time to question. It’s hard enough to run a business every day, while evaluating how replicable, cohesive, and documented one’s systems are, but don’t let inertia preserve a status quo that isn’t as good as it could be and should be.

2. Benchmarking

We have data, great! We can track key metrics like click-through rates, reach, engagement, conversions, conversion rate, and all that fun stuff. So, are these numbers good? Sure, you can try to look up industry benchmarks, see what comes up in a Google search of recent articles and blogs, but the most important benchmark is your own. And to benchmark your data requires not just measuring metrics today, but making sure you can quickly, easily ,and effectively compare it to last year, last quarter, and to this ad or that post in a similar context. We may focus on delivering reports period to period, but if you’re not benchmarking, it’s pretty much impossible to discern whether you’re performing well or not, whether you’re getting better or getting worse.

3. Thinking single touch

These ads delivered no conversions – what went wrong? For years, we blindly accepted the practice of spending money on billboards, radio and TV ads, magazine and newspaper ads, and, later, digital banners and then social ads. But, with the exception of straight coupon / discount offers, rarely could these marketing efforts be traced all the way to a monetary conversion. If it was a multi-touch world the last several decades, today’s consumption-heavy era can involve even more touch points before a consumer is ready to buy. And digital and social ads, in particular, see consumers at all points in the funnel, many of which can be led down the funnel to that last click or that conversion. It’s okay for a “conversion” to not involve a sale – it can be a video completion, a form or contest entry, or just engagement with a post. It’s not typically single touch and that’s not only ok, it’s often expected.

4. Having paid and organic social working in silos

Buying and optimizing social and digital ads is not easy. It involves knowing (and keeping up with) the small and not-so-small changes that seem to occur with the platforms, targeting options, and tactics every day, and making adjustments to copy, creative, audiences, keywords, and placements to deliver the best results. For this reason, many small-to-medium businesses and teams will enlist an outside agency to take of their digital marketing. Meanwhile, the organic social, digital, and email content is usually produced and handled internally. Having these teams in silos eliminates some of the sweet synergies of aligning and working together – sharing and creating content that can and should be used in ads, having a strategy to post dark or boost posts, using the data and learnings from both paid and organic to inform and improve the content strategy on each side, and so much more. It’s not easy and, in many cases, it’s far cheaper on the surface to pay an agency than to hiring a full-time employee, but it doesn’t mean it’s okay to accept silos.

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5. Naming conventions

This is not just a pet peeve, but a potential obstacle to organizing data to drive actionable insights. Clean data means naming conventions, and better naming conventions allows for far more effective analysis on the back end. There’s a reason Google has their UTM parameters in place – so digital marketers can track every link down to the campaign, creative, and copy. Likewise for social media ads, if campaigns, ad sets, and ads have arbitrary names, it won’t be too efficient when evaluating ad performance over time that ‘Ad 3’ performed best last quarter, while ‘Ad 6b’ performed best the same quarter last year. You can do the legwork to look it up, but a strong, organized nomenclature is pretty much a necessity these days of big data, and allows for consistency over time as people, roles, and platforms change.

6. Overthinking content

Say the word ‘content’ and some will run away screaming. Sure, the thought of producing content for so many platforms in so many forms, multiplied by days, weeks, and months can be freakin’ frightening. But it doesn’t have to be. If you’re a worthwhile business, you’re providing value to consumers or fans in some way. You have the ability to earn the attention of your customers and prospects by leaning into content that’ll make them smarter, make them laugh, make them feel something, or make them empathetic. Be a thought leader – curate and share knowledge; be a friend – share something that’ll make your customers smile because it resonates with who your customers are; tell me about people like me – share stories of your customers and lessons learned or ideas they try. And don’t be afraid to repurpose and repost! A video can beget a blog post can beget a quote or stat graphic can beget a poll can beget a blog post summarizing poll results can beget UGC and so on. And don’t whip out a camera or bring in a video producer to create a single video for a single content piece – instead of shooting for two minutes for one piece, shoot for 12 minutes and get a whole lot more, so you won’t have to touch a camera for weeks or months. Content does take work and does take strategic forethought, but it doesn’t have to be hard as we make it out to be.

7. Underthinking content

The other side of the spectrum when it comes to content should be avoided, too. Don’t post or send content just to post or send content. There should be a why and it’s always helpful to take a step back, put yourself in the shoes of the scroller, and think if it’s truly something would slow your scroll or something you want to consume or engage. Every piece of content, email, ad is an opportunity to strengthen your brand and credibility, or to weaken it. The attention of consumers is also not something to be taken for granted. Give content the thoughtfulness and quality your fans, your customers, and your future customers deserve

8. Put the *action* in actionable data

You have data to review, awesome! But don’t just look at it, and then go about business as usual. Learn from it – insights should often lead to action, if you’re not uncovering insights, you’re probably not asking the right questions of your data or looking at it in the right way. It’s not easy to take the time to think through and execute changes, but that’s the point of the data – to justify and assure the effort taken to deviate from the status quo. When reviewing performance metrics, make sure to answer the ‘So what?’ and follow that with ‘So then let’s try this.’ Don’t force strategic overhauls, but don’t sit back when the data is telling you to move.

9. The fallacy of relying on ‘best practices’

Ok, a bonus one to tie much of this together: the fallacy of overly relying on best practices.

A funny thing about ‘best practices’ – once they become best practices, everyone using best practices has regressed to the mean. Another thing about best practices – they’re at best a guide, far from a prescription. Spend less time studying best practices and more time testing, measuring, and benchmarking with your audience (or that of your competitors/peers), and studying and evaluating their engagement and consumption habits. There is a whole lot of variety among the businesses and brands utilizing digital and social media marketing, and thinking there is a uniform set of practices that are optimal for them all is not the foundation upon which to form a strategy.

It’s easy to get stuck in a tunnel of just keeping up every day and sometimes impossible to see, or take the time to look for, areas to improve and insights to uncover. Sometimes it takes a different set of eyes, or the courage to ask and attack the difficult questions. There will be wins and there will be the losses, but once you get in the game, you’ll have far more control of the outcome, able to veer toward victory in the end.

Episode 143 Snippets: How Brandon Naidus Built Social Strategy for the Jaguars and Cardinals

On episode 143 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Brandon Naidus, Digital Communications for the City of Orlando.

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.

Episode 141 Snippets: Julie Phayer Grew Her Social Media Savvy with The Warriors and now The Ringer

On episode 141 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Julie Phayer, Social Media Producer for The Ringer.

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.

2019 NFL Schedule Release Content on Social Media: Winning the Internet Thoughtfully

A year in the life of a sports team is truly 365 days now. And while the games are all marked on calendars, with the home games highlighted and underlined, a lot of the biggest planning across the team revolves around so-called ‘tentpole’ events. Many industries have their tentpole events and they represent opportunities to make a big splash.

In sports, tentpole events are now often accompanied by awesome social media content and an attempt to engage fans. The NFL recently had such an opportunity – with the release of their team’s week-by-week schedules. What used to be a simple press release, maybe a website update or email, is now an ambitious undertaking by many teams.

Every year, the content teams produce gets better and better. Many are thumb-stopping, jaw-dropping, and awe-inducing. But what are teams trying to accomplish with their schedule release content – is the goal to collect the most views, retweets, kudos from peers and media, and some of that sweet ‘virality?’ With tentpole events marked by content – content many fans are anticipating on social media – a night like NFL Schedule Release night represents a strategic opportunity that can be thoughtfully planned and executed – so that, sure, you can maximize your virality, but also accomplish some meaningful objectives.

After reviewing the schedule release posts of every NFL club (primarily on Twitter – as most were optimized for that platform vs. Instagram, et al.), one is struck by the diversity, the creativity, and how some (not all) of the best seem to have at least some strategic underbelly, some forethought into why we’re doing it like this. The themes I’ll explore in the examples include teams that fell into a few buckets:

1) They activated a partnership

2) Clubs kicked off their campaigns for the 2019 season

3) Teams that established or reinforced their brand and voice

4) Many sought to ‘Win the Internet,’ showing off their creative chops

Let’s go in reverse order because #4 has the fire you want…

Let’s Win The Internet…but do it in a thoughtful way

The content game in sports sometimes feels like an arms race, especially around these tentpole events, when fans and teams alike find themselves comparing their content to that of their opponents. Social teams want to ‘win’ on the Internet as much as players want to win on the field.

The Atlanta Falcons were one of a few teams that played off the Game Of Thrones theme. But they did so in a way that showed off their smart, creative chops, including shots at opponents and clever attention to detail. This is how Bleacher Report would’ve done it and the Falcons wanted to win the Internet, and do so in a way that showed fans the high standard to which the content team holds themselves.

Why GoT? It’s not just because the HBO show had been a staple for years on NFL Sundays, it’s something content teams know the Internet loves and fans love. Not to mention it’s timely. So, much like puppies and babies, GoT content was bound to win. Check out other GoT-themed posts from the Houston Texans and Washington Redskins

A few other teams put in great effort to produce video game presentations to show off their schedule. The Green Bay Packers made their schedule release into a Pac Man game, the Seattle Seahawks did a nice job integrating their ‘Go Hawks’ chant into their retro game look, the New York Jets want fans to be excited for big plays and did a take on NFL Blitz, and the Carolina Panthers did some incredible work showcasing their schedule through a series of throwback video games any kid of the ’90s and ’00s could appreciate. The Panthers, in particular, were in a good sweet spot of not just ‘winning the Internet,’ but doing so in a way that would particularly appeal to (and be shared by) the Millennials all sports teams want to engage.

I have a soft spot for those in this category that also seem to accomplish a club goal. The Dallas Cowboys would be included here, who did their take on ASMR while helping fans see more of a new star player they acquired last year – Amari Cooper [and the curiosity of what came next kept me watching). Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers created content close to the heart of Pittsburghers with a nod to Mr. Rogers Neighborhood (I didn’t know he was a part of the Pittsburgh community, but I bet many Steelers fans did!) The Detroit Lions used a content motif that tends to perform well on the Internet – referencing The Office (one of two teams that did this), though not sure of any strategic thought behind this one.

Finally, the Los Angeles Chargers entered today with a plan to win the Internet and to do it in a unique way they could be pretttttty sure no team would be doing. First, they put out a thread showing their opponents as Pop Tarts. Then, for the schedule release itself, they put in some good work to find ‘stock footage’ to go along with every opponent to create a video entirely of stock footage. Maybe the casual fan doesn’t know what ‘stock footage’ means, but the selection was so good that it was amusing either way. The Chargers know they’re a challenger brand, so they need to take more swings and distinguish themselves in a unique fashion. Mission accomplished on this day.

So, yes, try to win the Internet, but do it in a way that makes sense for your team, for the fans you’re trying to reach, and take a calculated swing for the fences.

Building and reinforcing the brand

When you have a chance to reach a large swath of fans, likely for the first time in a long time, it’s an opportunity for a team to strengthen their brand, to reinforce who they are. There were a handful of teams this year that went all in on making sure fans knew they what they’re about and reminded fans why they can be proud to love their team do much.

The Indianapolis Colts embraced their reputation, at least that of their figurehead Andrew Luck, by doing something, well, boring. But it puts their main man front and center and allows fans to embrace the ‘boring’ QB they all love. The Cleveland Browns showed off the dry sense of humor for which they’ve become known over the years – in good times and mostly bad times – and they featured their General Manager John Dorsey printing their schedule on an old-school printer, like something out of 1999.

I enjoyed and appreciated the effort of the Tennessee Titans, embracing their country Nashville roots, and allowing Dolly Parton and her country music friends with Lanco to bring their fans the schedule. The New Orleans Saints kept it simple but did a fantastic job as their video just screams New Orleans and perhaps no team wraps their team around their city’s character more than the Saints, and they do so here.

Finally, the Philadelphia Eagles put in a helluva lot of work to round up a bunch of well-known Philadelphia figures to take part in their schedule release video – they were first and foremost out to win the part of the Internet that consisted of Philadelphia fans, and let’s just say the eagle landed (Keep reading, I’m here all night!).

Kicking off 2019 as they announce the 2019 schedule

The NFL schedule release happened days after many teams started their offseason workout programs and it really starts to feel like the 2019 NFL season has begun. It’s the club’s first opportunity to reach a ton of their fans on social media, and a few clubs used it to set the stage for the season.

While we remember the (amaaaaaazing) Monsters of the Midway motifs from the Chicago Bears last year (and they may be back this year, I do not know), they used their schedule release to begin the yearlong celebration of the franchise’s centennial. Check out their 100 years video below, and it gets you in the mood for Bears history all year long.

In a similar vein, the Kansas City Chiefs highlighted their team’s history with old-school clips peppering their schedule release as part of their 60th anniversary season. The Oakland Raiders have the same 60th anniversary season on the horizon and also featured their team’s #1 face (especially with even franchise QB Derek Carr’s situation not as 100% certain as it once was) – head coach John Gruden. History and Gruden are two Raiders pillars as we kick off 2019.

Teams activated or established partnerships

When you have a tentpole event, there is an opportunity to create and activate a partnership – whether that’s a sponsor, a potential ‘influencer,’ or something in between. It’s why extending creative conversations to more team members – sponsorship, PR, CR, sales, marketing – can be so beneficial.

The New York Giants made fans remember they’re big-time as actor/comedian Traci Morgan dropped jokes for every opponent (and it made you want to complete the video to hear them all) – the Giants got the benefit of the celeb tie-in, Morgan got to plug his show, and fans got a comedic schedule release video. Nice partnership! The San Francisco 49ers worked with Bay Area-based artist P-Lo aka Lil Stunna whose track formed the soundtrack for their schedule release video, which included listing his album/track (and some nice pub for him, too).

A few other teams were able to tie in corporate sponsors into their schedule release content – the Denver Broncos gave fans an EA Madden NFL video game-inspired video, the Minnesota Vikings had a little ‘poetry’ to describe each game in their schedule – and it was ‘presented by’ Ticketmaster, and the Jacksonville Jaguars executed a heck of a production – entertaining and featuring ‘gameshow host Josh Lambo (go ahead and laugh, it’s their kicker) and sponsored by McGowan’s HVAC

 

So, yes, stimulate the creative juices, maximize reach and engagement, produce the 🔥 content to which we all aspire, but be thoughtful about it – have a rhyme and a reason, not just a what and a how but a why. Because when content takes off and it’s content that is strategically aligned with the objectives of the organization – that’s really winning the day.

 

Also…..a ROUND OF APPLAUSE for the work, effort, and thought put into the schedule release content by so many NFL clubs. It’s inspiring to the industry and to content creators and marketers everywhere!

Episode 135 Snippets: Keith Stoeckeler Goes Deep on Digital, Social, Sports, Structure, and…Burgers

On episode 135 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Keith Stoeckeler, Vice President and Group Director, Digital, at MKTG.

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.