8 Fan Engagement Lessons We Can Learn from Teemu Selanne


Every sport has its stars that transcend. That make a mark so indelible that they are not just a giant in their sport, but a true cultural icon. Teemu Selanne, legend of the NHL [especially the Anaheim Mighty Ducks/Ducks and so much success for Team Finland in international competition, was one of those. And on Monday, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

I was lucky enough to be around him for a few years. He lit up every room he walked into, was adored by millions, and always had a smile on his face. As I’ve grown with social media and sports and fan engagement, I can’t help but now think about the lessons we can take from Teemu. So, as the sport celebrates Selanne, here are eight things (for #8) about social media and sport I learned and observed from my time around Teemu:

1) Memorable phrases and phrasing

He had so many sayings that all fans and reporters knew, and we all knew when one was coming. It was equal parts relevant, informative, memorable, and shareable. To think about how many interviews the man has given over the years overmatches even what can become a monotony of a long hockey season. The familiarity of what Teemu would say, when, and how made it endearing and connecting for fans. Just like copy or a strong hashtag can help establish a brand, so did fans’ familiarity with Teemu-isms leave us smiling and nodding in approval.

2) Philosophies that ring true

And here’s the thing – a lot of those sayings contain truths that play out in social media. One of the classics was the metaphor of the ‘ketchup bottle’ bursting, that one good thing can lead to an explosion of more success. Or maybe the idea came from his notion that continuing to just believe and work hard and ‘good things will happen.’ Social media success is a marathon, not a sprint. Not every new idea will work, but keep trying and improving, and your ketchup bottle will explode, too. And it’ll be good.
3) He made you feel like you are the most important person in the room and always understood that every fan matters

It’s such a rare trait for a superstar athlete – to be actively present. To look you in the eye when he spoke, being truly engaged, listening and responding. And oh the stories of how, when it came to fans, he just got it. He knew every meeting with an individual fan would become a lifelong memory for those fans. For many, it would become among the most memorable days of their lives. He signed countless autographs, sometimes at odd hours, and made sure every fan was worthy of his attention. The tie to social media should be clear — every individual interaction with the thousands or millions of fans on the platforms can make a lasting memory for that fan, give them a good story to tell, and deepen an emotional bond for life.

4) Relentless positivity

Things weren’t always perfect for Teemu. Sports don’t work that way. But it was rare for Selanne not to have a smile or a positive outlook on things. It permeated the room and always made you believe, in the lowest of lows, that something better was about to come. Social media in sports these days can often become self-deprecating in tough times, but when you can look on the bright side, while acknowledging the darker circumstances, it’s a win for everybody. It fuels belief and emotional investment.

5) He made people around him better’

Even when his ice time started to wane down the back nine (or, at least, the last hole or two) of his career, there was no doubt that Selanne’s mere presence on the bench and in the room made everyone around him a better version of themselves. His enthusiasm and work ethic was contagious (yes, he had to be forced to miss optional morning skates). How can someone that sits at the center of fan engagement also make every department a little better — teach them about the fans they’re trying to reach, the content and messaging that works, the feedback from active listening — social media can touch everything. Help everybody around you score their goals.

6) He shined in the big moments

Any fan of the Anaheim Ducks or Finnish hockey can likely recite a handful of times when Teemu scored a clutch goal. It may have taken him over a decade to raise the Stanley Cup for the first time, but a lot of his legacy is still defined by how he played best in the biggest and most important games, tournaments, and environments. So must social media managers shine in the brightest moments. Anticipate them and prepare or them. Have something awesome ready heading into the title game in case of a win, or when the big game comes, or when a record breaking is anticipated. Shine in the big moments.

7) Selanne adapted to changing times

Hockey in the NHL was pretty different when Selanne scored his rookie record 76 goals for Winnipeg back in the early ’90s. That gave way to the so-called dead puck era of clutching, grabbing, and traps. Then the game opened back up again, forming the combination of speed and physicality it is today, along with goaltenders that are almost literally double the size of those when Selanne first started. But he thrived through it all, excelling in any era. Social media pros don’t need to adapt with the times, yeah? Well, consider that what works and prevails and, heck, even exists, in social media today can drastically change tomorrow. The best, like Teemu, keep their basic skills strong while learning about and adapting to the changes and new elements.
8) Teemu showed emotion

Selanne wore his heart on his sleeve. You could tell he loved the game, could feel when he was frustrated, could absorb his joy in the happy times, and you saw some tears, too (including maybe some watery eyes at the Hockey Hall of Fame ceremony). There’s nothing wrong with emotion and, especially in sports and on social media, it enhances fans’ feelings about the player, in this case, or the team. It’s ok to show emotion on social media; fans can’t fall in love with a robot.


Gosh, I have to pinch myself for just having the privilege of even being in the same room as a damn legend and one whom anyone could be proud for their son or daughter to look up to. He embodied so much good, authenticity, and compassion. We should all hope to be a little more like Teemu and his legacy as a hockey player and a person will shine brightly forever.

Episode 105 Snippets: Dave Marek Connects a Fan Community Online and Offline with the Somerset Patriots

On episode 105 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Dave Marek, Senior Vice President, Marketing, for the Somerset Patriots.

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

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn

4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 9

It has been a privilege and a pleasure to attempt to cull down insights and wisdom gained from over four years and 100+ episodes of the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast. The learning is a never-ending process, there is more innovation and experimentation and change happening daily, and all we can do is keep up, enjoy the ride, and navigate this wild but fun world together.

See part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 herepart 4 herepart 5 herepart 6 herepart 7 here, part 8 here, and stay tuned for the consolidated e-book!

  • Creating emotional connections between fans and players is powerful

    It’s always powerful to hear about content and campaigns that transcend the game. Content that fans connect with on a deeper, emotional level. It’s not easy to produce and takes earning trust and buy-in from the team and the players. The best way to do that, I’ve learned, is to clearly communicate what  you’ll be doing and why and to let the athlete dictate, at times, some of the creative direction. The social media pros that have had success here have that connection with players and have earned that trust. They help all sides realize that everybody is on the same team, with mutually beneficial, and intersecting, goals in mind.

  • If fans don’t engage with your content, they’re engaging with somebody else’s

    There is still a lot of strategy revolving around the tune-in. But there sure is a lot of content consumption happening on digital and social channels and the days of only saving your best stuff for the linear broadcast are ebbing, if not over. But fans want content before, during, and after the broadcast, they want the content that isn’t always candy-coated. A sometimes divisive theme over the years has been the conflict of wanting to drive fans to specific channels versus offering content on any preferred channel (and packaging it properly). It can sometimes mean challenging an executive or a traditional way of thinking, but FOMO typically wins out in the end.

  • Look for insights that come with the wins and the losses

    While it particularly stood out in a conversation with Washington Redskins Digital Media Analyst Geoff Blosat, a compelling insight that has arisen in conversations over the years has been to learn from the tougher times. Learn from the good times, too, of course, but the different atmosphere around a fan base after a loss can often reveal what keeps their attention and affection, regardless. Experiment, find positive emotions and reinforce their devotion to the team. No matter what tactic a team takes, and no strategy is necessarily the right nor the same, it’s important to look at the data – not just from the big ones with the big metrics, but the ones that stand out, too, even in the down times.


  • Content that follows fan interests

    Social media can be a place to cultivate a community, but also to learn from the community. Be aware and proactively listen. What are fans talking about, retweeting, commenting on the most, reacting to? Remember that social media can be your free focus group. Don’t take everything on social media as gospel, but it is a direct channel to fans and a place to discover what fans are saying and thinking about you, the team, the experience, and the brand.

  • Make the most of all of your content. All of it

    One of the best and most interesting evolutions of social media over the years has been he rising popularity of raw, previously cutting room floor content. The side stuff, the making of the polished story, the in-the-moment video that is captured and shared seemingly on a whim. Another area to watch in this ecosystem is trying to maximize the value of great content, including amplifying an Instagram Story, or developing something that starts serendipitously on social media into a wider, multi-channel theme or campaign.

  • Creating evergreen videos often needs to be a puzzle built with pieces

    There’s a lot of content created in the moment, but also a lot of content in the can for future use. And the best content creators make the most out of everything they have, while also remaining ready to pivot on a dime and react to news or changes. I’ve been able to have some fascinating chats with pros specializing in video for digital and social and in-game. If a player gets traded, if marketing wants to promote a certain player, if you want to able to re-package content – it can help to create content in an organized, cohesive manner, where pieces fit together, but can also be repurposed apart and inter-changed.

  • Not all content should look produced

    So many times we’ve heard on the podcast about creating content for platforms, and knowing what fans expect there and how people use the platform and speak on it. The best put in the effort and do not just press send simultaneously to fire content to a number of places. And a polished piece of produced content isn’t always what fans want. It should look like it belongs there. And as we simultaneously serve so many different channels, it’s important to remember how content is supposed to look here, and deliver it.

  • Different platforms require different measures of success

    Engagement rate, views, shares. These terms comprise common KPI’s for social media and sports pros, but a key insight emphasized to me by some of smartest pros over the years is that measurements across platforms are not apple to apples. A view on YouTube vs. web vs. Facebook or any other channels is not the same thing or same level of engagement, and it would be foolhardy to treat it as such. Comments on Facebook and Instagram are not the same thing as replies on Twitter. Screenshots on Snapchat, quote tweets, retweets, snapbacks, and, well, there is a lot of metrics out there and, while all agree it’s essential to measure social media, it’s just as important to understand the context of the metric, and to allow it to inform strategy and content appropriately. I’ve heard many definitions of engagement over the years – there is no single magic metric.

  • The value of benchmarking your social media content

    With all that said in the above point on data, another compelling idea brought up has been benchmarking. That doesn’t mean going by the book with every eMarketer report, especially in the unique world of sports and social, but it does mean one can and should benchmark against their own content (and the content and success of one’s peers). Sports is often a work of routine, but if you can tweak some variables each week, as you go through the next routine, you can really get actionable insights about what’s working, what’s not working, and what adjustments are moving the needle in the right direction, and therefore worth iterating or building upon. If there’s one goal we can all share, it’s to beat yourself every day and every week on social media, set new records, and find new things that work.

  • Making sure fans get quality when they come to you and your content every day

    The consumer is in the driver’s seat now more than ever, and the paradigm isn’t reverting back anytime soon. With so many posts in the feed, so many videos to watch, stories to swipe through, and content to click, fans are making economic decisions as they decide whose content to engage with. This not only means there is a need to make fans want to come to you, but also to make sure, when they do decide to look at your content, the experience is always awesome. Go mediocre once, or worse, and that weighted variable in the equation with which fans sub-consciously decide what to do with their time, whose content is worth clicking on, can decrease. Many feel the compulsion to post something always, to not forego reach. But the long-terrn must always be considered. Give fans crap once and many may never come back.

  • Always coming back to content fans want

    There is no content that falls into the compulsory category anymore. Users have too many choices and more power over what they consume. Most pros that work in the space develop an intuition for content and for how their fans will engage with, or not engage with, content. But when all content – every post, every graphic, every video – meets the standard of content fans want to see and not content they have to see in order to get the good stuff – that’s a win for everybody, and the new standard today. A key question I’ve heard again and again is whether this content is quality, and understanding fans will sniff out the crap.


After all the conversations, all the lessons learned, the deep dives and real-life anecdotes, it all just comes back the fans. If it’s using a specific platform, creating a content campaign, integrating or activating a sponsor, imagining a game experience, one will always be steering in the right direction if the answer is yes to the question of is this the best thing for the fan? Something they would want or enjoy? The trick is to be brutally honest, and not let bias or a gut feeling gone wrong get in the way. And to be a student of it all, to obsess over every ways a fan touches the team and the brand, and how to enhance it and deepen it. A constant curiosity has led me to dive into the generous and smart social media and sports community to pursue this podcast and the incredible interviews I’ve been lucky enough to do and people it’s been a privilege to meet.

Who knows where we’ll be four years from now. But I can guarantee we’ll still be obsessing over the fan. There will be more creative content, more knowledge about what fans want, a higher standard for innovation and execution, and the acceleration will only continue. All we can do is share more, have more conversations, connect with others, and do something that matters every day. That’s the best kind of engagement.

4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 8

The more I look back on four years and 100+ episodes of the Digital and Social Media Sport Podcast, the more I appreciate how lucky I’ve been to connect with so many incredibly bright, generous, talented individuals that work in this space. It’s an awesome community, and so I hope to give back just a little by continuing to summarize some of the best insights I’ve gleaned over the years and the chats. This is part 8.

See part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 herepart 4 herepart 5 herepart 6 here, part 7 here, and stay tuned for more!

  • Defining fan cohorts can be instrumental to effective strategy

    Many are wise enough now to realize that generalizations about large swaths of people like Millennials are often foolhardy, if not irresponsible. But it doesn’t mean recognizing common traits among your fans to better create and position content and marketing doesn’t matter. Because not all fan or customer bases are created equally. There are different reasons they come to you, different motivations and interests. This was clearly spelled out in an enlightening interview with Kurt Stadelman of EA Sports, who laid out the ideas behind the way they create content and marketing, looking at a few well-defined cohorts the company targets and serves. This is not just a good concept for EA Sports, but can be applied to anyone in social media and sports, evaluating the cohorts amongst their fans.

  • Traditional PR still matters for sports businesses

    As much as we recognize the value of what happens on digital and social media, there is something to traditional media, particularly linear TV, that establishes legitimacy, even if greater reach can be achieved on digital platforms. You know something has made it when it hits a TV broadcast or show, and it’s still a coveted platform to reach fans and consumers. It’s something important to keep in mind, even as it diminishes, and was a key insight from a chat with SportTechie’s Diamond Leung.

  • Driving sales on social is not just posting links and Buy Now CTA’s

    News flash: the majority of ticket sales do not happen on or from social media. But there are a lot of fans on social media that will buy tickets. It has been a motif in many interviews I’ve had over the years, and that is the notion of how social media is used best – as a tool to drive interest in the team and the games – not as a tool to post endless sales messaging and glorified ads. There is something to be said for making ticket sales a single click away, to eliminate friction, but too often the expectation that the path from social media engagement to purchase is linear, and downright irresponsible to think more sales will come from posting more sales messages. Create that makes fans excited about the game and the team and the atmosphere and the giveaways – and they’ll buy tickets, with or without you posting that daily link.

  • Social should be relevant for fans everywhere

    Fitting in the category of good problems to have, several social media and sports pros face the challenge and the opportunity of engaging fans that live within minutes of the stadium or arena or track, and fans that live in another state, country, or continent and who may never attend a game. While social media is becoming more localized, which is another subject altogether, it remains a charge of the pros to create content everyone can enjoy and to make everybody feel like they can be close to the team and part of the community. How are you relevant to fans next door? How are you relevant to the fan miles away? Ones at the game and not at the game? Important questions to consider.

  • Learn from what doesn’t work as much as you learn from what does

    It’s natural to celebrate the social media successes, the posts you circle, screenshot, and showcase. The ones that get engagement rates worth talking about. But not every idea is a winner, nor should it be. Experimenting and failing is part of the game when trying to innovate. And a key insight I’ve picked up over some conversations with smart people is to pick out the failures, and learn from them. Was it the way content or the idea was presented, a player or type of content not getting love, a time of day that never seems to work well, or whatever it may be. It’s often said to do more of what works and less of what doesn’t. But the first step is identifying and learning from both sides of the coin.

  • Show up for the moments

    So much of success in social media can be speed, but more importantly it’s about being ready at the right time, when emotions are flying, to deliver. Anticipate the moments and prepare for them – visualize, game plan, imagine the perfect scenario unfolding and what you would have at the ready for it. Consider all angles and goals, all creative and platforms, and all the PR-minded and marketing considerations to take into account. It’s not easy to be ready for the moments, but the best consistently are.

  • There is value in reaching a unique, coveted audience

    We’re all often chasing the highest number in the most efficient manner. There’s nothing particularly wrong with that. But it gets more strategic when you think about the actual audience you’re engaging and if it’s right and, therefore, the best use of resources. Not every platform is the next big thing, but any platform that gets an engaged, considerable user base is worth evaluating to determine if the users there right for you. Everyone is chasing the same thing – attention – but not everybody covets the attention of each audience equally. This is a key consideration, I’ve learned from many, when looking at where to spend time and resources in an increasingly crowded social and digital world.

  • Learn from outside sports

    It’s easy to get immersed in sports – the daily routine, the fact that most of your own feed and network is all about sports. But there’s a lot of smart, innovative stuff happening outside sports on social media, as well as a treasure chest of lessons to learn. It may be a new way to use a platform, a clever engagement technique, a marketing campaign that is driving good results, eye-catching creative, and so much more. The best in social media are constantly learning, on the hunt for knowledge and ideas and insight. You can never stop being a student of social media – in and out of sports.

  • Understand the sponsor’s goals when creating sponsored content

    A lot of stories start with sponsor deals that call for “x” number of social media posts. But, thankfully, much has evolved since then, sponsor teams are now working more in tandem with social to assure better content for the fans and, just as importantly, the sponsors. But it’s not just about a creative play on words or a branded top play. The best truly understand what the sponsor is looking to accomplish, what their digital and social strategy and is like, and what success will look like to them. Doing social media sponsorship means being a student and doing the homework of researching and understanding the partner, and then thinking about what their objectives and how to drive metrics to accomplish them.

  • Relationships, relationships, relationships

    It’s no surprise that the topic of relationship building – what networking should be about – has been a common motif over the years on the podcast. I am particularly struck by those that seek relationships an relationship-building opportunities, whether in-person or via social channels, especially for the more timid. The hardest part is just doing it – and you’ll find, much like how I get generous people to come on the podcast, most pros in this space, this community, are open and eager to help. But the best relationships, too, are not about taking. Don’t always network with ulterior motives, meet smart and cool people in your space, learn from them and let them learn from you, and make relationships with people that would call you for coffee if they were in town. You’ll always get further with people than with business cards.

The value of ‘accidental’ exposure

While it’s always important to engage your avid fans, there’s certainly value with those moments or that content, which reach beyond – to the casual fan that may take notice and begin a journey on a spectrum to increasing interest and avidity. It is a goal on the minds of social media pros – not the only goal, but certainly one of them. Some call it virality, but it’s more about finding content that’ll make someone say wow, make someone feel the need to share it or tell a friend about it, and make someone want to come back and sample some more. It can also go to another magnitude when an influencer, or at least someone with a large reach, shares your content. It’s always welcomed, but can’t be expected to achieve great levels of accidental exposure. But you can certainly tip the scales in your favor.

Episode 102 Snippets: Karen Freberg is a Student and a Teacher of Social and Strategic Communications

On episode 102 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Karen Freberg, Associate Professor, Strategic Communications at the University of Louisville.

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

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow me on Twitter @njh287 Connect on LinkedIn

4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 7

As I’ve looked back on over four years and 100 episodes of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, I am blown away, myself, shaking my head in amazement as I revisit all the great insights and lessons I have been lucky enough to draw out of these generous pros. My quest to help distill it all continues with part 7.

See part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 herepart 4 here, part 5 here, part 6 here, and stay tuned for more!

  • Overprepare and be ready for some content to go unused

    A story I’ve heard often, and have lived myself many times, is of the tons of content, carefully crafted, thoughtfully produced, and at the ready, can often end up on the cutting room floor, a folder of tears, if you will. But the best are always ready, knowing this is a necessary reality of being prepared. Social media moves so quickly and real-time is so important to truly capitalize, and therefore it is paramount to have content and a plan for any outcome. Ask any social media pro about their folder of tears, and you’ll no doubt get a story about a sweet graphic, campaign, post, or video that never saw the light of day.

  • Resources follow revenue

    The next social media and sports pro that says they have ample resources and wants of nothing will be the first. (Insert sarcastic joke about the Clemson Athletics department here). There are so many platforms to serve, so much content you want to produce, and so much analytics and analysis to do. And it’s all accelerating faster than organizations can keep up with, and certainly faster than revenue paradigms typically evolve, as well. But just about any request for more – budget, staff, equipment – is going to be met with a demand to show how it’ll lead to more revenue (even if there are multiple steps along the way). The monetization of social media question doesn’t have a single right answer, but the best are taking the time to analyze and model how it can lead to social media, justifying the question of resources. The answer, at the end of the day, is always revenue.

  • If it doesn’t match your brand, you shouldn’t be doing it

    The old saying goes (to paraphrase) that brand is what people say about you when you’re not around. Well, many brands in sports have largely been built over decades, long before Twitter was even a gleam in Jack Dorsey’s and Ev Williams’s eyes. Yet, Twitter has become a place where brands in sports are established, where voices, look, and feel are being cultivated. And many social media and sports pros I’ve spoken to over the years not only recognize this reality, but take the responsibility to be caretakers of that brand quite seriously. More than dropping a tweet to fish for numbers, at the expense of a brand value that is priceless and perpetual.

  • Make an effort to integrate sponsors organically

    The holy grail for social media and sports sponsorship is authenticity, content that both involves sponsors, but doesn’t feel forced. It’s not easy. It takes effort. But while we all recognize the desire to do this, not everybody makes the effort and sticks to it. Many of the top social media and sports pros have developed a sixth sense for it, though, understanding how to identify and how to create organic opportunities for partners to play. There are a lot of opportunities for exposure, for engagement, for content and sponsored content or integration need not be an idea with questionable connotations. Do better.

  • Celebrate the little victories when the big victories aren’t coming

    If there’s one thing every social media and sports pro can agree on, it’s the inability to control what happens in the game or match or race. There will be wins and there will be losses. There will be highs and lows. But it doesn’t change the charge to continue to drive engagement and emotion on social media among the fans. It has been instructive to speak to several sage social media specialists over the years who have helmed teams that have gone through periods of losing. I have learned a ton from them and it starts with still finding ways to celebrate what fans love, to make the smaller victories feel a little bigger (carefully), and to foster fans that care and can still enjoy the team. It’s not always easy, and not recommended, to be the eternal optimist. But it’s paramount to continue to find reasons and ways to celebrate all those moments and reasons every game, every day that fans have to stand and cheer.

  • Align athletics with the greater mission and goals of the university

    I’ve had the opportunity to pick the minds of several sports pros in the college athletics space, from big brands to small schools and many in-between. Athletics is, for many, the front porch for the university to many, so it’s imperative that messaging and brand is aligned. When sports can draw the attention of many potential students and donors all around the world, it’s an opportunity to further promote not just awareness of the school, but more about what it stands for and what they can offer beyond the sports. There is a grand mission for every university to get their values conveyed, and the savvy social media and sports pros in college appreciate it, and communicate with the university to represent it on that front porch.

  • How can you look big-time?

    Everybody wants to be in the cool kid group when it comes to the competitive world of social media and sports. It’s where many fans form their perceptions, so it can be important to stand out from the crowd. And to find a way to stand out. It can be darn near impossible to be on every platform and to do it well, especially at the smaller level, but focusing on what you can do well, and on what will ultimately lead to accomplishing the primary goals – that can be the game changer. On the level playing field of digital and social, anyone can stand out for doing something special.

  • Consistency of quality content is a challenge for social media and sports pros

    This can be tough in the pros, with varying degrees of time to put together content, but even more so in college, with so many handles, so much content, and such disparity in resources across sports and across schools. Conference content conglomerates can suffer if the stream from one school, for example, is far superior to another’s. And while the football team may have sick, graphics and video, the tennis team may not have the resources to create such quality, let alone doing so while maintaining a consistent brand. One of the things many social media and sports pros in college hold dear is that consistency in look, feel, and messaging across all its accounts and every sport. Every team comprises the whole of the university’s athletics, and that institution should have a consistent, powerful message.

  • Your platforms can and should be a dynamic space

    Every day brings something new in sports. That’s the beauty of it. And yet, too often, the presentation remains the same. That is not to say something for consistency, but different scenarios can call for different content, emphases, and visuals. While this emanated from a conversation with West Virginia Athletics’s Grant Dovey about the dynamic nature of the Mountaineers website, the idea can apply across social media and sports. While templates can help and can hold value, sometimes the special situations give cause to deviate from the norm, to surprise and delight.

  • Building trust and buy-in by recognizing goals

    Dovey also brought up the importance of realizing that the goals of some of the most important people when it comes to creating content – the coaches – is paramount. For the coaches, it was about reaching recruits, and reaching recruits, and then reaching recruits. This same principle applies across the board – how do you win trust? By understanding exactly what the goals are of others – driving donations, collecting leads, selling groups, creating sponsor assets, getting sign-ups, and, well you get the picture. It can be easy to get stuck in the KPIs of social media, but every day, it’s important to take stock, talk to others, and think about how you can show there’s something in it for them and it’s worth the time and attention.

  • Focus on building a community, not just a fan base

    Of the stories I’ve heard or lived in social media and sports, some of the best and most heartwarming are when there is such a community, that fans become friends. When Facebook or Twitter or Instagram can lead to meetups at a game or an event, or relationships form from seeing the same faces at each game. Social media should create a community that feels together, that wants to physically and digitally high-five each other when something exciting happens. A community with stronger ties is a more engaged invested fan base, the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

4 Years of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast: Key Lessons from the SMSports Pros, Part 5

I continue to be amazed at the insight and foresight offered through conversations on the podcast over the years. It has been a privilege and pleasure to connect with smart, seasoned pros, and my attempt at summarizing at all keeps going. It is my best attempt to distilling down four years and 100 episodes of the podcast.

See part 1 herepart 2 here, part 3 here, part 4 herepart 4 here, and stay tuned for more! Here is part 5:

  • Find opportunities to increase engagement and consistency

    One of my favorite podcast interviews was with Tom Halls, then with British Tennis and now with esports conglomerate Gfinity. He has helped multiple organizations mature digitally and part of the strategy was around creating engagement for fans, which informed future content and engagement. Fans of any avidity level are interacting with teams in innumerable ways on countless platforms – this represents tons of opportunities to drive engagement. Even better is to create consistent relationships, which can transform of a casual fan to a superfan.

  • What can we provide that others can’t? What unique value can we offer?

    Information used to be the currency, but the speed of social media and the democratization of, well, everything, has meant it’s harder to attract fans to your channels. So the question becomes what you can offer that does stand out from others. This can come up with a team late to the party after finally being able to announce a trade, an official entity competing with so many others. But there’s gotta be a unique value proposition, find that and you’ll win fan attention over time.

  • Different ‘conversions’ for different fans

    It’s hard, often overwhelming work managing tons of different fan journeys and fan demographics. The challenge and the important truth is that these journeys are diverse and divergent – not every fan engaging on social or visiting a website or opening an email is the same. It’s vital to study, understand, and map out these journeys, to optimize them ending in goals – moving fans up the spectrum, one mini goal at a time. With the increasing ability to personalize through digital, optimizing the journey is easier than ever for those that practice it.

  • You support us, we support you

    It’s an interesting time for the dwindling sports industry media (though far from dead) because advertising is not as tolerated and ‘free’ content is easier to come by. But the ability of fans to recognize and appreciate quality content remains strong and growing. And fans are willing and wanting to support those producing content they enjoy ‘for free.’ This theme stood out in my conversation with Ross Tucker, an ex-NFL player, who, among other endeavors, has built a sizable, engaged fan community through his writing and podcasts. And he has built such loyalty in the community that they want to buy things through his partners and some even make a straight donation to Amazon. In exchange, Tucker keeps churning out content and constantly converses with his fans, a two-way street in so many ways.

  • Know who you’re talking to on each platform

    We’ve come a long way over the years and for, for many, this idea is now a given. But especially for those that use a social media management platform, it’s just so easy to check off the box and send the same content to several platforms. It’s naïve and borderline disrespectful, however, to think your fans are homogenous across platforms. The best are studying, and can articulate, the differences of their fan bases on each platform, and know the voice, presentation, content, and promotions that will work best on each. Can you do this?

  • What can this new platform allow us to do that we couldn’t do before?

    As platforms emerge, and as others come and go, one of the interesting topics I’ve discussed is how social media and sports pros treat the shiny new toys. How they know when it’s worth the investment of time, content, and resources. A great piece of advice that consistently came out is the idea of what unique value or opportunity it presents. Many practice, not quite as many preach, about wanting to be good at every platform they serve, not mediocre on all (but at least on all). Whether it’s a unique way to present or create content, a new audience, a new way to engage – there has to be a reason to jump on what you think may be the next big thing.

  • Plan your stories and events

    Over the last several months, stories have become ubiquitous – starting with Snapchat, then Instagram, and then WhatsApp, Facebook, Messenger, and even Skype. And the social media and sports pros I’ve been lucky to learn from are all master storytellers. The trick is, well, creating a story. It means building a narrative, even storyboarding, in advance of the event. The shots you’ll want, how you’ll get it, the graphics you may need, the copy you want to have ready to paste. That doesn’t mean you’re not ready to react and create in the moment, but the best stories are thoughtful and thought-out.

  • Know your social media game plan and priorities

    I always swoon when I hear a pro clearly lay out their priorities for each platform and fan touch point, and know how they want to use each. It’s a simple, but powerful exercise to actually write it down. What does each social platform mean to you and mean to your fans? Which is most important and why? If you could invest more in one, how and why? Because, when amazing happens or big news breaks, you have to be ready to go, and it could cause one’s head to explode if they don’t which platform to hit first and how.

  • Be the go-to source for fans

    There are so many places a fan can go for their news, content, opinions, and insight. It’s something that not just writers and bloggers face, but teams and leagues, too. A great theme that has emerged in many conversations was the need to be the place fans go when something is happening or has happened – they want your stats or commentary during games, they know you’ll have an informed column after a big transaction, they simply enjoy getting the news delivered from your voice more than others – make the fans want to come to you, over all others. This also applies to teams almost never being able to break big stories – when you finally can announce a deal, what additional content or insight, in your special seat and view, can you deliver that fans can’t get elsewhere?

  • Social media following and engagement is the new Q-Rating

    Going back to Babe Ruth, athletes have always held a certain sway over society. But social media has empowered athletes more than ever before, and follower count and engagement rate is the new social capital. Athletes are seizing opportunities more and more, chiming in on conversations on the platforms, and working with their teams to maximize their social game. There is a related market growing of agencies and platforms to connect athletes to endorsers and the way teams and media and league are utilizing their athletes and alumni are becoming more creative and strategic nowadays.

  • Timelines are as constrained as ever

    If there is one element that has become even more important over the last four years in social media and sports, it’s speed and real-time. It’s not just in sports, but for all social media marketers. But it doesn’t mean you just react in the moment and rely on instinct. The best teams are using tools to streamline their content creation and preparation, brands are preparing campaigns on timelines that are a fraction of what they once were, and real-time video, GIFs, and clever graphics and one-liner are ruling the day. It’s an awesome opportunity, but it’s not easy.

  • Translating stories effectively to social is essential

    Sports creates stories every day, by nature. There are also tons of athletes with incredible stories that transcend what they do in competition. The trick for a social media and sports pro, and the content team, is to effectively take a great story and turn into something powerful and digestible and engaging on social media. This is an acquired, practiced skill that must be honed over time, and it’s why social media and sports pros need to have storytelling skills (writing helps), creative skills (watching YouTube tutorials help if you’re a one-person team), PR skills (know how to spread the story and the desired messaging), and curiosity (to go and uncover the best stories). This theme comes up especially in college – with so many great stories of student athletes and the importance of the message of the university.

  • Building a portfolio is easier than ever

    It used to be much harder to build a portfolio of work. But the platforms on digital and social now allows anyone to publish their content – images, videos, written work, quantitative analysis, qualitative analysis – and to prove you got some chops. Many folks I’ve talked on the podcast got started with self-publishing or blogging. And NHL hockey photography legend told me he’ll gladly check out the flickr or Instagram account (no filters preferred) of an aspiring photojournalist. There is nothing stopping anyone from building an online portfolio and get their own experience and work to show off.

  • There’s a difference between Vicodin and vitamins

    The last four years have seen the sports business progress with incredible speed. There are so many innovative companies coming up in this space, and it can be a whirlwind to make sense of it all. I had an interesting conversation in which my guest, Anthony Vassallo, used this analogy. Vassallo played a big role with Dodgers Accelerator, a collaboration between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the firm R/GA, and their work was a study in identifying companies worth investing in and paying attention to in sports. The analogy Anthony invoked was meant to illuminate the difference between solutions that alleviate pain points (Vicodin) and those that just make you a little better off than you were (vitamins). It’s an important consideration as you think about where to invest that innovation budget – is a Vicodin solution only going to be temporary? Is the vitamin go to pay off in the long-term enough? Important questions to ask as we all seek to innovate so rapidly.

It’s essential to maximize your space

One of the less talked about, but still interesting and evolving space are the stadiums and arenas themselves. Setting up your venue for a valuable, social, versatile experience I all the rage. It’s multi-purpose buildings, community areas, social media photo opps, areas for sponsor activations or kids activities, and table tops to a rest a drink while charging your phone. The building itself is an avenue for fan engagement.


More to come…See all podcast episodes here.