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.

2019 Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference Twitter Recap for Sports Business

In March 2019, the annual Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference was held in Boston, bringing together thought leaders and practitioners throughout sports business, performance, tech, and, of course, intelligence/analytics.

This deck is a collection of the best quotes, insights, and observations (for sports business, generally) shared via Twitter at the event.

Thanks to everyone whose tweets helped fuel this recap and to Sloan for hosting and providing coverage of an incredible conference! For more on me, follow on Twitter @njh287, connect on Linkedin (Neil Horowitz), and check out more on the website while you’re here!

Episode 131 Snippets: Dan LaTorraca Knows Social Media Success Starts With Buy-In and Plays Out Through Passion

On episode 131 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Dan LaTorraca, Director of Digital Marketing for the Carolina Hurricanes, previously with the Brooklyn Nets/New York Islanders and the Carolina Panthers, among other stops.

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.

A Sports Biz Trip to an AVP Tournament

In August 2018, I attended the Manhattan Beach Open, a competition for the Association of Volleyball Professionals (better known as the AVP). It was my first pro volleyball event and I saw a ton of volleyball and AVP partners in action.

Come with me to the event and look around with a sports biz lens in the following slides.

 

How Eric Nichols Molded and Mastered Marketing Athletics at Two SEC Schools

On episode 126 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Eric Nichols of University of South Carolina Gamecocks/Athletics

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

Posted by Neil Horowitz

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In the Social Media Game, the Most Important Competition is Yourself

The gym is an interesting place. There’s people of all shapes and sizes utilizing a vast variety of routines and techniques often with different goals in mind. Some are trying to lift the heaviest weight each time, some are trying to burn the most calories, to build the biggest muscle, and so forth.

And yet we can’t help but compare. Can’t help sizing up the person on the bench next to you and taking it as a challenge to outperform him or her. But is it fair to compare unless each person in this scenario are the same size? Are their objectives the same? Is this habit of comparison, to try and best the biggest and strongest in the room, the best road to success?

The gym analogy works well to describe the varying challenges of what it means to succeed in social media. When leagues often inform their teams of where they stand in the rankings across a number of team digital and social media metrics, it can be easy to get lured into obsessing over where your team stands. And it can get even more difficult to avoid it when leadership joins the fray, thinking they can win the championship of social media as easily as they can the league title.

But not every team is a 6’5″, 300 lb. behemoth. When dealing with gross metrics, follower sizes, website traffic, video starts, et al. – it’s not a fair fight and it’s not a worthwhile  comparison for either side. And yet, just like FS1 wants to beat ESPN, it can sometimes be hard to get away from these lists.

It’s not so black and white, however. Even those atop the rankings may not be ‘winning’ in a traditional sense. They may not have a strong brand, an engaged audience, a graph of their metrics on an upward trajectory. The most important benchmark is your team’s stats last month, last week, last year.

That’s not to say benchmarking against one’s (relative) peers is a bad thing. There was an interesting Twitter exchange recently in which some respected pros in the space lent opinions on this topic. Of benchmarking, the well-respected Senior Director of Social Media Strategy for the New York Yankees said it can be “extremely motivating when done right, and extremely chaotic when done wrong.”

If it’s done in alignment with the organization’s goals, that allows them to not just maintain but strengthen their brand and their affinity of their fan base — a desire to move up the rankings can lead to greater investment and resources.

But even then it’s important to mind the metrics that matter most. It’s not easy to measure, of course, but it’s not impossible to develop meaningful metrics that  can be shown to drive the fans and the brand, that contribute to the bottom line. Those are rankings that are harder to come by, but those are the ones teams should value the most, vanity be damned.

This is all easier said than done, of course. And it takes evolution across the board, most importantly from the leadership up top. Because for generations it was fairly black and white; we didn’t know better nor could we measure better. But defining success is more a science than an art these days, social media and sports is growing up. Pat Muldowney, Director of Social Content for The Ringer, who previously spent several years in social media for FOX Sports, summed it up perfectly.

 

“Most of the requests for this type of [rankings/vanity metrics] reporting come from a level of leadership that’s familiar with ratings or traffic as barometers for success,” said Muldowney. “Instead of ‘Are we succeeding?’ it’s ‘Are we winning?’ Hopefully this will evolve over time.”

So we return to our gym rat, who now realizes everyone in the gym may be defining success that day in a different way. They’re all out to get better every day, to achieve a level of health and fitness, but they’re not all chasing the same numbers. They’re trying to succeed themselves, not trying to win the weight room. Their only benchmark is themselves.

 

You can see much of the original Twitter thread here