Looking Back on a Decade of Social Media and What Its Resemblance in 2020 Means

It has been just over ten years since Instagram launched and rounded out the triumvirate of the next decade of social media, with Vine, Snapchat, and most recently TikTok, among others, exhibiting their influence, too. There has been a ton of evolution and developments across platforms, user behaviors, creative trends, and strategy and tactics.

And, yet, as the 2010’s roll over the 2020’s, it’s hard not to notice the principles, behaviors, and ‘trends’ of yesteryear emerging in new forms. What’s old is new again.

So as countless articles come out now looking back on 2019 or trying to predict what’s to come in 2020, this one will set out to try and decipher why a lot of what’s prevailing today isn’t all that dissimilar to what the first digitally-enabled generation, yep the Millennials, grew up with and why it’s those deeper patterns of human behavior that’ll stand the test of time in the decade to come, and beyond.

1.

Facebook didn’t start social media. Neither did MySpace or Friendster. No, the first memories most of us have of connecting with others — socializing on media — came with America Online. Before there were followers and friends, there were buddies. Before feeds and stories and trends, there were chat rooms. Before it became about who could reach the most people, it was about communicating one-on-one, with friends or even with faceless others across the country who found themselves in the same chat room.

For years, broadcasting became the ambition. Trying to reach the most people with your message, chasing those big numbers, those vanity metrics. But look around today and the evolutionary pyramid is on the way back to intimacy. Endless feeds peppered with brands, friends, family, acquaintances, and, well, ‘randoms, are starting to more and more to be replaced with time spent on Messenger, WhatsApp, close friends group chats, and the like. We’d rather converse with a few than casually and loosely connect with the many.

In many ways, it’s starting to feel like we’re back where we started with AIM (or MSN Messenger, especially for the international peeps). So herein lies the light bulb, the insight. Genuine, intimate connections will always prevail and as cool as it is to throw your content or idea into the ether, it’s more satisfying and rewarding to have a good conversation with one or a few at a time. The difference today is that there are countless ways to enhance messaging, whether that’s with emojis, filters, GIFs, and music. The root behavior is still there, but we can make it better.

2.

Speaking of music, it’s clear how much music now penetrates so much of social media nowadays. There was a time over the last decade when music became more commoditized, when MySpace tried to restructure themselves around music, when PureVolume and SoundCloud and the like were just kinda there.

Music formed the backbone of early ‘social media,’ as many of us used Napster, LimeWire, Kazaa, and many others, which were file sharing sites first and foremost. I can still remember myself today how thoughtful my favorite bands list was on my MySpace profile. Well, music — not just the personalities and soap operas that comprise the culture across artists — pure music is making a comeback, forming the soundtrack of countless TikToks racking up millions and millions of views.

So, looking ahead, what can we learn from the powerful potion of music to continue to engage fans and enhance content? There are a number of directions to speculate: teams and leagues creating their own music, more and more content synced to music (AI could help here, too), more content around specific player music tastes or talents, and as more power players get their mitts into the sports space, perhaps a more formal relationship or synergy with the music side of an agency and the sport, or a league/team partnering with a record label. Not too many industries have the potential to be bosom buddies like sports and music, not too many industries have ‘fans’ instead of customers, so the future ahead sure sounds like it’ll have some music behind it, in front of it, or both.

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3.

One of the more intriguing social behaviors of the last half decade has been the rapid growth of Twitch, primarily on the back of esports and gaming. Many of the Millennial generation grew up playing video games, sure, but watching others while waiting for one’s turn to play hardly seemed ideal. But it wasn’t so bad if a group of friends were around to talk to while others took their turn. It was never just about video games, it was about socializing, and the video games in this case gave a mutual live topic of interest and an atmosphere to socialize.

Squinting one’s eyes just a little and it doesn’t sound all that different from those early chat rooms back in the AOL days. Put the AOL chat room and Twitch live chat feeds alongside one another today and they may not look too different outside of the emojis and stickers on Twitch. Both represent places connections are happening in real-time, ad-hoc and lasting communities are formed, and, ultimately, it is the innate desire to know someone on the other side is listening that stands the test of time and path of platforms.

As the next decade begins, the propensity for live conversation, for chatter will continue to evolve, but perhaps we’ll see something akin to the chatrooms of days old. Places where live chatter can happen around a number of topics, interests, and events. Forums and online communities became more live, started happening alongside live content, and are just a bit more interactive today. The on-demand community, the always-own forum is as old as time, and will continue to persist in the years to come.

4.

Quick — without thinking much, what was the first piece of digital real estate you could really call your own? Maybe it was a Facebook page, a blogspot, a MySpace profile; but for many of us that first true ‘profile’ was the AIM profile. It was a place to list one’s basic bio, their likes, and many changed it up or updated it frequently. (Along with ever-present ‘away message’). Eventually everyone ended up on Facebook, but traffic to profiles, along with the effort put into them, started waning the day that News Feed was first introduced.

Somewhere along the way the engagement and interaction in the Feed became more frequent and more important than the profile. And while static profiles aren’t making a comeback, social media is certainly more about the self than ever before. Almost every user is a wannabe influencer or micro-influencer, a majority of individuals are cognizant of their online ‘brand as we enter 2020, carefully cultivating who they want to be and how they want to be perceived through their posts, their voice, their bio, and, yes, their profiles.

Where might this focus on the self go? It’s playing out right now with more people posting than ever, especially in Stories, and a platform like TikTok, which wants to invite every user to participate and seeks to make content creation easier for anyone. The emerging generation wants to cultivate their online presence, the platforms are meeting that desire, and we’re back to the future as users seek to develop and decorate their own place and persona on the Internet.

5.

If you’ve been on Facebook since the last decade, there’s a good chance your ‘network’ is a mix of family, old friends, new friends, and a handful of random people you met in the early ‘friend everyone’ phase or crossed paths with on a semester abroad or a recreational soccer league. It was a way to turn offline relationships into online.

Somewhere along the way, our actively engaged social networks mostly began to shrink, and the magic occurs more often turning an online relationship into one that includes physically paths as a sign of solidification. But as this decade ends, the old is becoming new again, in some subtle ways. We’re now seeking and using ways to spark those new relationships — that may start with a chance meeting because of a mutual interest or crossing paths (while out and about on social).

It’s playing out in dating apps and around gaming, but how can social media help foster the genesis and kindling of these new relationships? There could be a stronger intra-social movement to come within the communities that form around celebrities, TV shows, music, gamers, YouTubers, and certainly as strong as ever around sports teams. One of the most beautiful things that can happen in sports, whether on social media or at the game, is when true relationships form between individuals who were brought together because of the team. As a generation comes of age more accustomed to cultivating relationships via mobile device than real-life experiences, the ability for teams, leagues, brands, whomever to facilitate the formation of stronger connections will become integral.

6.

It was a long time ago, but it doesn’t feel that long ago when so many eschewed social media because “no one cares what I had for lunch today.” Well, a glance at many Instagram Stories will show otherwise. But it has certainly evolved over the last decade as photos gave way to video, to Live, GIFs, graphics, music, and the conglomeration of all those elements on TikTok.

But even as reality becomes more augmented and content more complex, there is another movement that is bringing back the value of raw. The extraordinary in the ordinary. Fans may enjoy some cool productions, but they also want to see something unedited, some unabashedly real. Studies have come out in the last year or so that have shown real photos and videos perform better for social media, whether organic or paid, than those that come off expertly produced. That’s not say we’re going back completely to raw and untrained video, but simply that it’s worth appreciating that there remains a desire for something real, too.

Regardless of how sophisticated technology and media gets, it seems there are still inherent tenets of communication, connection, and humanity that persist through it all. The cave paintings of prehistory are the emojis of today; the more things change, the more the big ideas remain the same. No one can say for sure what 2030 will look like, but there will be relationships, there will be art, and there will be stories.

Episode 157 Snippets: Kendall Baker on Telling the Stories of Every Day in Sports for Axios

On episode 157 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Kendall Baker, Sports Editor for Axios.

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.

Content Marketing World 2019 Twitter Recap

In September 2019, the annual Content Marketing World conference was held by Content Marketing Institute, bringing together thought leaders and practitioners in the world of content marketing and beyond.

What follows is a collection of quotes, images, observations, and ideas shared via Twitter #CMWorld at the event. Thanks to all whose tweets helped fuel this recap and to the Content Marketing Institute for putting on another incredible event!

Episode 151 Snippets: Chris Grosse on Driving Attendance in College Athletics, Building Fan Experiences, and Creating a Special Game Atmosphere

On episode 151 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Chris Grosse, Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing at Penn State 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.

Inside the Mind of the Modern Sports Fan: Insights from an Interview with a ‘Normal’ Fan

Once you work in sports business, you’ll never experience sports and sports marketing the same way again. Once you work in social media, you’ll never be able to relate to the average social media user again.

These may be well-worn adages, but they nevertheless true. It’s why we must be always be inquisitive – you can read all the studies, observe all the data, but nothing beats a conversation with a human  – to get the true take on their perception, their habits, their values, their reasons, and their experience. And it’s why for the 150th episode of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, I spoke with a ‘normal’ sports fan – my brother, Steven Horowitz.

I uncovered some interesting insights on fan development, on driving game attendance, content consumption, engagement channels and habits, and more. Here are 7 1/2 findings from my chat with Steven, trying to go inside – as much as possible – the mind of the modern millennial sports fan.

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Push Notifications are incredibly important

Many of us live on Twitter in sports. We may even have notifications turned on for noted bomb droppers like Woj, Schefty, Shams, Rosenthal, and Bobby Mac (bonus points if you get all these nicknames). But guess what? Most fans aren’t first seeing that news on the platform with the blue bird – they’re more likely getting an alert from their preferred sports app or hearing about it secondhand from a friend via text or private message. Steven explained, using a recent example related to breaking news about his favorite team – the San Diego Padres:

“For me, how I’m finding (big news) on a normal basis…it’s typically a push notification from one of my apps…[Steven gives the example of a recent Fernando Tatis Jr. injury] I happened to be on Twitter when Kevin Acee from the (Union Tribune) broke the story…shortly after seeing that on Twitter…I started getting notifications from the apps on my phone. When I did find that out about the injury, I was texting someone I work with that’s a big fan of him just to let him know…For the most part, it’s finding out from notifications or another friend or colleague texting me if they hear it before I do.”

We think of apps and push alerts as afterthoughts, oftentimes, but the fact is they work. Fans may not open every alert or expand every alert, but rare is the alert that goes unseen from one’s sports app. And with app downloads for teams only slated to grow as mobile ticketing nears 100% and fans access tickets via their team’s app, push notifications can’t and shouldn’t be simply an afterthought. There can be just as much data analysis and targeting as there is with digital marketing and social media content. Are your push alerts analyzed and executed thoughtfully?

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Fans don’t default to pirated streams anymore

A generation of us grew up with Justin.tv (which later morphed into Twitcb – heard of it?) – as an endless source of free live TV. Other sites popped up offering similar free streams and many are linked off from Reddit. They may be grainy, they may get pulled down frequently, but they’re free and they’re difficult to police. But with more options than ever to pay only for the content you want, needing nothing more than a connected device of any type, not as many fans it seems rely on the pirated web to satisfy their sports needs. Steven explained his evolution (and, yes, an income has something to do with his evolution, too) –

“I used to (watch pirated streams) a lot. It’s been a couple years since I’ve done that. There was a time when it was a lot easier and then they started cracking down on it more…Now, I get the Red Zone (subscription) every year. Sometimes, if there’s a big boxing match, I’ll try to stream that on whatever sites are available, but other than that I’ve gotten away from (watching pirated streams).”

Steven noted he’s heard of many new players and platforms in the sports streaming space – DAZN, ESPN+, YouTube TV, et al. (but not so much fubo TV, Pluto, and Flo Sports). The pirates may not be winning as much as they used to, but the live sports space is becoming ever more fragmented and we can’t take for granted fans are aware of all the emerging platforms out there, which sports are on them, and how best to bundle their subscriptions to meet their needs while also not paying more than they have to. We can’t take for granted the average fans keep up with this space, it’s hard enough doing so when you’re actually trying to keep up!

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Season Tickets are emotion-driven > value-driven

Yes, fans today seem to be more attuned to what, exactly, they’re paying for. And the term ‘membership’ has largely displaced season ticket holder in many cases (even if some, not all, seem more lip service). But being a member is not all about a laundry list of benefits, 10% off at the team store, access to a preseason VIP or seat selection event – those can all be great perks – and it’s not a mathematical equation looking at average cost per game or potential resale value investment – even though many do sell their tickets, let alone ‘members’ that are actually brokers – it’s still a purchase largely driven by emotion and connection to a community and an experience. Steven was once a San Diego Chargers season ticket holder (yes, San Diego, this was years ago) and he tried to articulate his reason for being a season ticket holder:

“I’d say the real reason why I wanted to go and get season tickets was my love for the team. There’s nothing I enjoyed more than tailgating at Chargers games, spending the day at the stadium, and seeing them win…It was a good time and I always look back fondly on those times…”

Getting season tickets wasn’t a calculated decision for him. It was because he could picture no better way to spend a Sunday than heading to Qualcomm Stadium, pigging out at a tailgate, donning his jersey – those powder blues are pretty cool – and cheering on his team among all his fellow fans, friends, and members of a community connected by that shared passion. Maybe this is an anachronistic, nostalgic view of things, but if being a season ticket holder was about love for a team a decade ago, becoming a ‘member’ is sure as heck about an investment of the heart, an emotional tie.

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Football watching when you don’t have a favorite team

As a follow-up to the previous point, Steven abandoned the Chargers when they abandoned San Diego. He then became like many fans today – cheering on their fantasy players and their chance at winning money / beating friends instead of cheering on a specific team. Worrying more about who scored than the final score, more about the name on the back than the name on the front. With players shuffling around the superstar-driven NBA, fans growing up in a culture of fantasy and rarely attending games (pr being priced out of games), it’s the new norm. And while local broadcasts still do big numbers, there’s a reason fantasy and daily/weekly fantasy keeps growing each season and more fans are filling their Sundays with Red Zone or a panoply of highlights and updates across a suite of apps. Steven described his fandom nowadays:

“To me, the NFL has become different. I still enjoy watching it, but the way I experience NFL now really revolves around fantasy football. I watch it to see how my fantasy players are doing, see how my team is doing, and that’s really how I go about watching football now (Steven notes he won his fantasy league last year)…I’m able to be unbiased now about who I choose for my teams, who I start in my weekly matchups because I don’t have to worry about (if they’re playing against the Chargers)…It’s definitely changed how I watched football.”

Fans of teams, fans of players, fans of gamble-able outcomes in sports — no matter how they’re watching, plenty of reasons remain for fans to be as attuned as ever to live content and content about who will win and why and to learn more about the players on their rosters and driving these exciting moments each night.

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Daily fantasy (and gambling) can create new fans

Speaking of fantasy and gaming, many in the sports world see a future of new fans and more avid fans brought on by the growth of gambling and continued growth of fantasy options. Will these new opportunities bring about new fans? Steven has lived one fan’s story, finding himself a more avid fan of the NBA than ever – thanks to daily fantasy:

“I never hated the NBA, but I was not a huge fan of it. I followed it casually, but more so in the playoffs. But how this happened is – on the daily fantasy website that I play on typically, they gave me a free play (to win money) for a NBA (game) and I think I ended up pretty high in the standings and won some money…and that got me hooked, and I started playing NBA dailies almost every day and that quickly evolved into enjoying not just following the sport, but I also found myself watching the NBA regular season on TV and I hadn’t done that in years.

“I would check Rotoworld a lot because I was having to teach myself about some of these players, too…I would check their stats, I would also see who they’re up going up against…It’s a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to continuing to playing it.”

It’ll be an interesting next few years to see how teams, leagues, and rights holders can harness these fans entering via gambling and fantasy channels and bring them into their ecosystems. The gateway is there, but it remains to be seen how this new wave of potential fans plays out.

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Sponsored content is fine, but don’t be disruptive

There are a lot of ways sponsored content is presented these days – a logo bug in the video, tagged on the social platform, the incredibly original “‘sponsor name’ x ‘team name'” or ‘presented by’ in the copy, an end card, pre-roll, and many more options. The good news? Fans don’t seem to mind if a sponsor is involved or even integrated as long as the content is quality. But don’t be disruptive. Don’t interrupt content viewing or steal attention to simply insert a ‘normal’ commercial or ad. Steven shared his thoughts:

“I would say overall I more tune it out and I’m not really paying attention to who those sponsors are. Even sometimes, if I pull up a video and there’s an ad before it, I’ll turn off the sound for it before the content even starts…

“I would say sometimes when they do videos and they do an ad in the middle of the video, I will turn off the video – whether it’s because I don’t care what’s coming up or it just didn’t have me interested enough to continue to wait 20-30 seconds…I will sometimes just turn it off…”

Fans want the content. And, unlike the days of previous decades, fans and users don’t necessarily see sitting through ads as payment in their side of the value exchange for the content they actually want. There are too many ‘free’ options out there and too many content creators doing a better job of integrating sponsors whether passively or actively. Don’t abuse the attention and don’t disrupt the experience – add to it or, at least, don’t detract from it.

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Consistent promotions FTW (and be mindful of price sensitive fans)

There is no secret sauce or magic pill that made live gate for sports rise to the level of 20 years ago. Attendance isn’t falling everywhere, but the trend is clearly a downward one from the highs of previous decades when no one gave thought to building stadiums with smaller capacities. But nowadays, even as many teams and schools are awash in media rights money, getting butts in seats is more challenging than ever. So what could we learn from asking a fan about his experience being driven to go to games? Let Steven share his take:

“Over the last year, I pretty much have been only going to Padres games and occasionally a Gulls (AHL hockey) game. How I hear about them? I obviously follow the Padres pretty closely, whether it’s through an app or the team’s website or social media pages..I just know there are games going on. In regards to the Gulls…I don’t go to a bunch of their games, but really what does drive me there is when they do do promotions – they do $2 beer nights sometimes on Friday nights, I’ll go to those games…”

[Steven notes he finds about Gulls promotions typically through their organic social media and will sometimes check their website to see when their next $2 beer night is]

Marketing and sales staffs at teams are getting more and more sophisticated with targeted emails and ads, retargeting previous buyers, and doing their best to assure the right fans see the right promotions. But a takeaway from my chat with at least this fan, Steven, is that, while advertising and digital/social media remains a key tactic, you can’t rely on these platforms to always assure fans find out about your upcoming bobblehead giveaway or flash deal. Which deals are most effective and/or which promotions are the easiest for fans to recall? If you ask an average fan of your team – especially one not coming to every game – to name a promotion the team runs, what would they say? It may be fun to joke about LeBron usurping ‘Taco Tuesday’ for his own, but every Padre fan, including Steven, knows Tuesday games mean Taco Tuesday at Petco Park. Get the word out about unique or ad hoc sales and promotions, but try to create some that stick with fans, so they look forward to your next Half Price Beer Mondays without having to see multiple ads to remind them.

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Why does he attend several Padres games? Nostalgia, atmosphere at the ballpark

What drives fans to go to a game, especially if it’s not a novelty or a one-off? Well, the previous point touched on promotions, but the compulsion to seemingly always have consideration top of mind, the internal notion that watching at home is never the same, the key to penetrating the heart and mind of a fan – that doesn’t come overnight. For Steven, our fan guide, much of his inherent desire to be at the game comes from a sense of nostalgia and a practice and bond that originated as a kid. It’s why so many leagues and teams are focused on getting kids to their games while they’re still in grammar schools and they’re just developing their earliest passions and memories that’ll conjure goosebumps of nostalgia when they look back in 20 years. This is how Steven tried to articulate why he finds himself more than once at Petco Park every season:

“Obviously my love for the team. You and I have been going to games since as long as we can remember. We used to go with our dad all the time to the games…I always look back fondly on those times; I love going to games and I still like watching on TV, but if I have the option of going to watch the Padres in person, I’m gonna be there…”

We’re drawn to things that remind us of good times – and nostalgia plays a big role in that. It’s why those in sports say we’re in the business of making memories. Every game is a chance to help a fan form a memory that’ll last forever and bring up of warm feelings every time an element of that memory is resurfaced. Every night is an opportunity to build a fan for life.

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LISTEN TO MY FULL INTERVIEW WITH STEVEN HOROWITZ

What if Buying Tickets to Sports/Entertainment was more like Buying Plane Tickets?

Ever taken a flight on Ryanair? Or maybe you had an experience with easyJet? Heck, I just traveled on Alaska Airlines and had a not quite-as-extensive, but still opportunistic booking process – evaluating the need and value of each add-on. Reminiscing about the experience with the OG’s of $0 base airline tickets made me consider the effectiveness of the airline booking process and how it could fit into the present and future of sports marketing.

So, the question is – why shouldn’t attending a game be like booking a game experience comprised of its parts, why can’t getting a ticket to the game be like getting a ticket for your next flight?

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First, a quick reminder of how an airline booking experience can go –

  • Search the dates for the trip
  • Find options with times that work, maybe check non-stop or allow layover
  • Maybe look for an airline for which one belongs to a loyalty program or one that is integrated with their credit card provider for rewards or money back
  • With those baseline factors put into one’s search – select the best bargain, the cheapest that meets the aforementioned needs. Done, right? Not even close…
  • Add more passengers – cheaper for kids sometimes! Or mark you’re flying solo
  • Add luggage allowances if necessary, and add that to the total
  • Select the type of experience – first class, business/premium class, economy being the typical options, but some get far more extensive.
  • Nope, still not done. Now you can pay a little more if you want to reserve a seat – maybe make sure you get the aisle or further up the section or the window
  • Make sure to buy the insurance, too, so you can rest easy should something come up to prevent you from traveling
  • For the most part, you’re done – but some may offer (or maybe should consider offering) pre-purchasing food/drinks for the flight, using a deal for transportation (whether public transportation, rideshare, etc.), or even add a hotel room

Still with me? Thanks, because I hope the wheels are turning for how this can be translated to sports – presenting a dirt cheap base price to get fans into the system and then letting them build their experience based on what’s meaningful and worth paying for to them. There is always some concern about adding steps and clicks – especially on mobile – before fans get to that coveted confirmation page, but as long as it flows quickly and is easy and organized on the eyes, fans will be glad to build their experience – making it feel personalized, too – and get what they’re willing to pay for.

So, let’s re-imagine what the fan experience can be like getting tickets for the next game.

  • Fans check out a game they want to attend (whether searching it, seeing an ad/email, visiting the team website) and see a not-so-scary base price, dynamically priced based on the opponent, day of week, time (it’s ok to tell fans it’s a premium game)
  • NOW, after the fan is already in the purchase flow and juuuuust a tiny bit invested, let them select their seats from those available, with the seats they choose either requiring $0 upgrade fee or a range of tiers. Fans can even select middle vs. aisle to meet their preference
  • What’s next in the order? It can go in any order (need some data to optimize), but let’s say next up is an opportunity to pre-order some merch and have it waiting at your seat or available for express pickup at a kiosk, so fans have a t-shirt, a rally towel, a scarf (for soccer), a beanie (or toque, for our Canadian friends), a jersey, a shirsey, etc. etc.
  • You’re booking an experience, not just entrance to a game, so why not take a look at the concessions offerings and, should you choose, pre-order something. Even schedule a time for pickup and get an alert or text to confirm it’s ready when you’re there at the game! If you’re in a premium section, maybe you get food delivery and you could even schedule your night’s food, so you get a beer and peanuts early in the game, a burger just before halftime, and a churro toward the end of the game for dessert.
  • Not sure what you want to buy at the game yet? That’s ok – another option to add to your baseline experience is to preload your ticket with in-venue currency, offered as part of your booking process for, let’s say, 90 cents on the dollar. Make a commitment to spend money at the game and save! Seems like a good deal to me if someone is planning on getting something anyway and could be enticed to commit for fear of missing out on a deal.
  • Wait, we’re not done! You gotta get there. Sure, you may not be thinking yet about how you’re getting to the game or maybe you’ll pull up Uber or Lyft or the Metro on game day. Or you can schedule an Uber (or whomever the transportation/ride-share partner is) and save a buck or two if you do it now as part of your game booking experience. Driving to the game? Great, pre-pay for parking and even get the option – if you’re willing to pay for it – to select/reserve a specific spot!
  • We’re almost there as our game day is coming together. So now, for those individuals that couldn’t live without pre-check TSA or have invested in Clear, for example, they can do the same on game day. Or maybe pay a few dollars more to enter into via pa priority gate. If fans value it enough, maybe they’ll go for it.
  • Alright, we’re getting to a lot of steps here (this is a work in progress, clearly, as I’ve conceded!), but since we have your attention and we darn well hope you intend to finish this off and attend the game, we have some more partners that want to hook you up on game day – how about a coupon for 2-for-1 Dunkin Donuts coffee to fuel up the morning of game day? Or even save digital coupons to your app that have a chance to be activated at the game if the team meets ‘x’ threshold.
  • You are now all set! But, just before you go, we could offer you insurance (a la the airline, but not as keen on this one), so let’s show you some ‘experiences’ you can add to your game day. For a small fee, you can get access to the premium lounge throughout the game, or get a locker room tour before the game, a mascot meet-and-greet after the game, a chance to take part in a game, attend a post-game concert or movie screening, pre-purchase a 50-50 ticket, meet the announcers at halftime, etc. etc.

My verbosity may be making this seem too tedious and we’d lose more fans in the process, but this isn’t an article meant to proscribe, it’s meant to make us think. If fans are feeling priced out, let’s not scare them off and let them start with an economy option. It could be scary for fans to watch their [digital] wallet empty as they see what a full game day expenditure looks like all purchased in advance – as opposed to a slower drip on game day – or it could help fans better understand what a full game day experience can entail and why certain package cost what they do while helping one tailor their experience and feel like they’re getting exactly what they intend to pay for.

A common refrain talks about 50,000 fans at a game having 50,000 uber-personalized experiences. I’m not sure we’ll get there (or even want to get there) anytime too soon, but the more fans can feel like they’re in control, the more teams can expose fans in the moment to additional offerings to increase per caps, the more casual fans can at least find themselves getting started in the purchase process enticed by the low get-in price, the more transparent and tailored this can all become. There’s always the possibility of providing pre-set ‘bundles’ and experiences, too – much like we see today with family packs, student packages, and the like.

As our world becomes increasingly a la carte (can you count the number of subscription services you’re billed for each month?), fans and consumers are becoming more cognizant of exactly what they’re paying for. Fans (and, as the so-called experts say, Millennials) are willing to pay for experiences, so let’s consider learning something from the Spirit Airlines of the world and create a fully integrated purchasing experience that lets fans buy exactly what they want and know exactly what they’re paying for.

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.