Plethora of Player Publishing Prefaces Progressive Press Paradigm

Between #DeflateGate and Marshawn Lynch’s incendiary (non) statements, some of the most compelling media during this past Super Bowl week, in advance of Super Bowl XLIX, have come from players, themselves, picking up the (virtual) pen. Whether it’s Seattle CB Richard Sherman writing his column on SI/Peter King’s The MMQB website (a season-long column), embattled Cleveland WR Josh Gordon firing back at his naysayers in a letter published on The Cauldron, a Medium publication, or Seahawks QB Russell Wilson sharing his personal thoughts following Seattle’s miraculous NFC title win on The Players Tribune, a site for which he is a Senior Editor, the players are bypassing the traditional press, taking matters into their own hands.

Players using their own voice to tell their own story isn’t an entirely new idea. ESPN The Magazine had anonymous Player X columns for years, newspapers and team websites have had player-written blogs, but, even as athletes got their own websites and Facebook pages, the presence of active players communicating thoughtfully in a direct manner with fans rarely went beyond the handful characters in a tweet or Instagram comment. Until now.

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As social media increasingly gave players the ability, for the first time, to control and disseminate their thoughts themselves, instead of having to go through the media or team media relations, players began to realize the value of their voice. Some of the best team content in sports is that showing player personalities — a bit about them off the court, ice, or field. Fans welcome any opportunity to get what they perceive to be a peek behind the curtains of their favorite athletes’ thoughts, motivations, and everyday lives. So, if players have the power, if their content reigns supreme, what’s to stop an imminent future in which players control their valuable content?

There are certain to be implications when star players begin producing their own media on their own terms, instead of being summoned by the public relations director to the nightly scrum. If a player feeds the media a few quick cliches and then pens a thoughtful post about that night’s game on his own website (from which he can make money) that drives far more web traffic than the poor beat writer’s blog, what’s to stop the press paradigm from paralysis? Content is king and where the value is derived and a future, and present, of easy personal publication, is certain to change as quickly as the modes of content delivery. Fast.

Have you noticed this trend? What do you think are the implications for sports business, for teams, for media, for players? Be social and share your opinion!

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5 Things #Sportsbiz Can Learn From LSU’s Mike The Tiger

GTY FLORIDA V LSU S FBC USA LA

An amusing and viral story that made the rounds on the second college football Saturday of November centered around Mike the Tiger and the Louisiana State University (LSU) mascot’s unwillingness to get out to the football field for any live game this season. Folks at LSU have exhausted ideas, the stories read, and while many, including myself, laughed at this very share-able story, it also serves a good allegory for the attendance woes currently seen in college football, and pro sports, in general. With our Mike metaphor in mind, here are 5 things sports marketers looking to put butts in seats can learn from LSU’s mascot.

1) When his handlers opened the cage door, leaving it wide open, Mike didn’t leave. It was too easy.

When the cage door is closed, there are no doubt times when Mike yearns to get out and see the action elsewhere. But if the door is wide open, the perception of scarcity or rarity is gone; the intrinsic value of what is going on out there (beyond the cage, at the field) is greatly diminished.
The same dilution of value and lack of a scarcity perception occurs when free tickets to game are given out like candy. If fans know the option to attend is always there at little to no cost, the perceived value of attending is next to nil. Don’t leave the cage wide open all day, every day, every game.

2) The cage is more comfortable and even a juicy steak wouldn’t lure him out.

Mike’s handlers tried every incentive and goodie they could to lure Mike out of the comforts of his cage, but, ultimately, it either wasn’t enough or was the same old offer every time. That steak may have been appealing initially, but, eventually, it lost its novelty and appeal, for Mike.
A free shirt or cap or yet another addition to fans’ ever-increasing collection of bobble heads may move the needle, at first, but giveaways can’t be a long-term plan to lure Mike out of his cage nor fans out to the games. The overall experience has to be the focus and (at least the notion of) novelty must be perceived by fans so they feel attending the game will offer an experience or item they’ve never seen before. Surprise and delight reigns the day.

3) Even the lure of a raucous, fun atmosphere wasn’t enough to lure Mike out to the field.

The ear-splitting cheers of the fans, the violent hits under the lights, and the sight of being surrounded by crazed LSU fans had perhaps become old hat for Mike The Tiger and, even though he could hear the curious commotion in the distance, he decided the cage was more comfortable. The fear of missing out (FOMO) wasn’t there or wasn’t strong enough.
Though the term is over-used, FOMO remains a core element for sports and entertainment marketing. Every game has to be an event, live attendance has to be something one simply cannot miss lest they feel out of the loop. A great game atmosphere goes a long way, but FOMO can only persist if routine does not rule the day. Whether the intrinsic value of history (or emotional/ranking/rival implications), incredible content only seen/experienced by fans at the venue, a unique food item, and any number of elements can be used to perpetuate, for fans, that every game simply cannot be missed. Seeing other share their experience is key to this, too.

4) Mike’s handlers, basically, gave up and said they couldn’t force him to go

So most fans are not as intimidating as a live tiger, but nearly all are as stubborn, if not more, than the ferocious feline. Surely, they have spent countless hours and resources trying to devise ways to convince Mike to leave, but, well, he is pretty comfortable and set in his ways.
Not all fans, or potential game attendees, are created equally and they should not be treated as such. Particularly with the proliferation of data nowadays, teams should focus on the low hanging fruit and what has driven previous success. What got Mike to leave his cage previously? Are there other Tigers that have previously left their cage and may be ripe to rekindle their love of going to games or increase the number they attend? Fans are revealing so much about their wants, intents, and socio-economic statuses and can be used to find those fans most likely to attend.

5) What other options do Mike’s handlers have? They at least were able to fall back on the costumed version of Mike The Tiger

When all else fails, the LSU program could still count on a different version of Mike The Tiger, a student dressed in costume, to attend at live games (and even participate in choreographed cheers!). When LSU realized Mike The Tiger may not be so willing to leave his cage, they partnered up to assure the value added from the mascot would still serve to enhance the fan experience.
Teams looking for more ways to draw fans to the venue can partner up! Find sponsors, identify the most active and influential fans, and enlist them to contribute to content and experiences and campaigns that will not only enhance the fan experience, but also showcase the investment and engagement others put into the games. Sponsors want fans there (and can help provide content and experiences) and super-fans want more fans there (and are willing to help any way they can). Partner up and leave Mike wondering what everyone else in the animal kingdom is doing and building and experiencing.

The thought of trying to get a live tiger to leave his luxurious cage against his will is certainly daunting and frightening, but no more so than the increasingly desperate situation facing many sports marketers looking to keep putting butts in seats. So what does Mike The Tiger teach us? Never take attendance for granted. Strive to get better every season, every game, every day.

Posted by Neil Horowitz

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Aaron and Neil #SMSports Quick Takes: Offseason Content and Snapchat

The (unusually exciting) Major League Baseball trade deadline has passed, LeBron has made his decision, and NFL training camps are just getting into high gear…offseason content abounds. And it ranges from the good to bad, from novel to irrelevant, and everything in-between.

Neil:

My general thoughts are offseason content should basically proceed with: celebrating the season passed, getting to know new (and current) players to build fan emotional ties, revisit highlight-reel plays, solicit fan predictions and opinions for team-related and experience-related items, and let fans comment on news as it occurs with the team and league.

A lot of teams are taking the route of doing anything and everything to keep their name in front of fans with amusing, engaging, perhaps irrelevant content — from games of Tic-Tac-Toe (NHL) to the NBA’s cavalier cavalcade of hash tags like #NBASuperHeroes and the like.

Aaron – what’s your take on the novel offseason content approach of the NBA and on team offseason content, in general, both how necessary it is and of what it should be comprised?

Aaron:

I think offseason is where most Digital Managers can utilize their creativity. It is nice to consume content as a fan such as highlights, profiles and news features, but the offseason begs for it to be presented differently. I have seen a couple NHL teams present yearly highlights in a bracket form, where fans can vote for their favorite highlight ultimately leading to the team’s best plays – that’s pretty cool. As far as other miscellaneous games and social antics, I like them. I think it’s smart for teams to recognize their fans have other interests than the team itself. Whether it be music, favorite TV shows, different games…I think fans can relate to some of the offseason shenanigans and humanizes the team. It gives an opportunity to enhance the overall perception and idea of the team experience – whether that’s highlights or that they really love pizza. Social media allows teams to be as creative, or not, as they want to be. And it’s pretty cool to see the fans play along!

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A lot of sports marketers are focused on the Boomers and Millenials, but, when it comes to social media, the up-and-coming generation born after Derek Jeter’s rookie year isn’t on Facebook and Twitter, as much. Not even Instagram. A lot of them are communicating on well-known messaging app with its ephemeral text, photo, and video communications lasting at most 24 hours — Snapchat. A lot of teams, brands, and media outlets have jumped on board the Snapchat train and, with its large, active user base, Snapchat appears here to stay in the social media ecosystem.

Neil:

There are a lot of pros and cons to consider for a team thinking about Snapchat. It indeed offers a way to reach and engage the particular, younger (income-less) demographic. And its content consumption, described by views, promises deep engagement as one knows users have their finger on the screen intently viewing the team’s content. This content will be there, at most, 24 hours, and oftentimes gets wide awareness after a fan (or the team itself) shares a screen shot on Twitter.

If a team has a surfeit content and can take advantage of the deep engagement offered by Snapchat with content with a short shelf-life and limited amplification ability, then jump on board! In reality, a lot of teams don’t have an ample supply of such unique quality content, nor the time and resources to produce it, to offer the value or standard needed to respect the platform and audience with Snapchat. An audience, a lot of sports fans, are there. But it’s not yet clear what the long-term ROI is and teams shouldn’t start firing bullets only to waste them without proper aim.

Are you sold on Snapchat, Aaron?

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Aaron:

Please allow me to get out of my rocking chair and shoo away the kids off my front lawn. I’m not a fan of Snapchat personally, and maybe it’s because I was 2 years old when Jeter made his MLB debut, but that doesn’t mean I have to ignore it completely. I see the real value in video content, and otherwise B-roll content. If players are warming up, kicking a soccer ball around or taping up sticks, by all means…PLEASE don’t post it again on Instagram or Vine. This is suitable behind the scenes content that fans still enjoy, but may not be best fit for a team’s Twitter or Facebook. I want to add that appealing to a profit-less demographic isn’t a bad thing. After all it’s how restaurants make millions: happy meals and coloring books were created so that kids beg the parents to go there. The same can occur on a different level with Snapchat.

I think part of the reason as to why I’m not sold on Snapchat in sports is because most teams don’t do it well. The first team to have a player takeover, where the player creates a “behind the scenes” story compiling videos and photos will prove that Snapchat is worth it. Snapchat encourages dialogue back and forth via pictures or videos, yet most teams are using it as a one-way street of communication. I think it would be fun, and interesting

, to have a different department takeover the Snapchat…let Game Ops walk you through their night, have trainers on the bench take selfies at halftime or even have the team president snap photos of his suite buffet (maybe someone will buy a suite from it, you never know). There are a million ways to utilize Snapchat other than drawing doodles of your team logo. Now, I’ll see myself back to the porch and work on my crossword puzzle.

Posted by Neil Horowitz and Aaron Westendorf

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Posted by Neil Horowitz

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One Idea For Each Social Network To Add Part II

In part one, I gave one idea to enhance or improve four of the big players in social media: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube. (Read Part One) In part two, here, I tackle Twitter, Google Plus, and LinkedIn. Again, there are are many more where these came from and I’d love to hear your ideas and feedback!
Here we go with part two –

Twitter: Twitter is sitting on a gold mine of data and they, mostly, know it. This is their claim to businesses and brands and media networks. To entice more advertising, they recently added some limited free analytics. Limited data and a virtually useless export option doesn’t exactly excite a marketer, particularly when the entry price point remains relatively prohibitive for beginners. With social media marketing, it is increasingly important to track not just the growth of your profiles, but the overall quality, efficiency, and engagement (there’s that word).
As flawed as it may be, Klout continues to interest me because it is an objective metric that takes into account all that data Twitter knows – reach, click-throughs, retweets, etc. and assigns a single index number to track performance. I’d be much more inclined to (and informed about how to) improve my Twitter marketing tools and make more use of the platform. For now, Twitter KPI’s are some combination of link clicks, retweets, and favorites. While website data and link clicks are useful, knowing the reach and overall performance of a Twitter profile would help immensely in reporting.

Google Plus: Many have heard and understood the concept of game-ification and reputation building. Google Authorship seeks to capitalize on this idea, to a degree, by placing quality content (based on consumption and social sharing) toward the top of search results. But should all +1’s be created equally. Try to stick with me on this scenario –> A user whose +1’s (content they have +1’ed) consistently deliver more click-throughs and consumption among Google’s search results than another user for whom the performance of their +1’s are not as consistently good?
If you’re still with me, the idea is this: grade the quality of a user and the content they recommend. If a user new, and was constantly reminded of, the effectiveness of their content recommendations, they’d be more inclined to find more and better quality content to share to maintain or increase their score. Several more ideas could arise from this, but this element of gameification to Google Plus, utilizing their reams of data, could deliver the engagement they’ve long sought.

LinkedIn: One thing Google Plus has done well is partner with brands and influential figures to promote its Hangouts feature. LinkedIn has, for quite some time, tried to become more of a content producer by working people they have identified as “influencers,” who write content for LinkedIn’s users to consume and share and, ideally, return to the site find more of. But the B2B brands know that, when they want to collect data from leads, they ultimately have a webinar, a whitepaper, or a conference with live speakers. A lot of professionals are eager, and even willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money, to hear from and learn from industry experts through live speeches and e-books/whitepapers.
Google Plus has continually partnered with pro sports leagues, newspapers, TV networks, and even the President of the United States to organize attractive Hangouts to increase exposure and use of its Hangouts product, as well as traffic to the site. I may not want to read Richard Branson’s “Five Keys To Leadership” (maybe I will), but I’d gladly go to LinkedIn to hear from a social media expert for which I’d normally pay hundreds or more to see at a conference. Enhancing and expanding this element of LinkedIn would greatly increase value for brands looking to connect with businesses and professionals looking to learn and network.

One Idea For Each Social Network To Add Part I

While I’m sure several pages and blog posts can be devoted to ideas to enhance or improve the major players in social networking, this posts offers a single suggestion for each. Some have been on my mind for a while, others more extemporaneous. Some small, some big. Please add your ideas in the comments!
Without further rambling, my one idea for each social network, Part I of II (Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram):

Facebook: One of the most effective social network features that makes me a sticky user is the “Who’s Viewed Your Profile” on LinkedIn. It’s not only a small ego boost to know someone is interested enough to check out your profile, but interesting to see who within or outside your network is looking at your profile. I can only imagine the pull Facebook would have to drive users even more frequently to their site if this feature were added. (Perhaps with an opt-out option in settings).

YouTube: Not long ago, YouTube clearly began trying to service brands more effectively through channel customization and revenue share for video views. Brands consistently (try to) create quality content whose goal is to deliver more users to YouTube to see its video and banner ads. My idea for YouTube, though, is to have branded pages. Reward these brands for bringing in traffic by allowing them to “own” the page when a user lands on their video. Show their other related videos, not those of others; offer them banner ads for their products, or at least a revenue share with the existing banners, provide, and have a clear Subscribe button on the video page instead of forcing the brand to add an annotation to each video. I believe in the value and reach of YouTube, and its importance in video/content discovery and search, but they can be doing much more to help businesses.

Pinterest:  Pinterest’s first sources of success, primarily, were food and fashion. People loved showcasing their favorite finds, personal recipes or outfits they wanted to make, buy, or share. These are all amenable to social proof; yes via repins, but Pinterest can and should get more nuanced with ratings. When you try or see a recipe, see an outfit, product color, etc., users could enter a 1-10 rating, for example, and those pins with social proof could help enhance the Pinterest experience, as well as marketers looking to get feedback, showcase popular items, and throw marketing dollars behind items with social proof that have a better chance for conversion. People love rating things and could kill hours scrolling through, and rating, pins of all sorts!

Instagram: This is an idea I share with some peers, so I cannot take all the credit, but Instagram is way too noisy and could stand to benefit in several ways from segmented news feeds. I personally follow mostly sports teams and brands and a few friends, but I find I only see a handful of posts, primarily by some active sports teams, with others getting buried in the chronological news feed. I do not follow many Instagram profiles and already find it too many and find my bar to follow is excessively high, as a result. If I could view segmented news feeds – friends vs. brands; photo vs. video; categories of profiles — anything! Not only would this improve user experience, but provide more targeted news feeds and content that would improve advertising optimization.

See Part II on Thursday with ideas for: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus

Posted by Neil Horowitz

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Hidden Tricks With Social Media and Fan Outreach

It occurred to me there are a handful of little things I have done as a social media manager in my experience that are underutilized, but highly powerful to cultivate fan relationships and develop and promote advocacy (and unique stories to tell!). Maybe everyone is doing all this stuff, but here are my “hidden tricks” of social media.

  • Favorite-ing Tweets: Some (power) users utilize this function as a way to bookmark tweets to visit later, but, for a social media manager talking with a community of thousands, the ‘favorite’ function is a way to say ‘I hear ya; we’re listening.’ (or good tweet! / we agree! we like your tweet! etc.). Fans want to know they’re heard, want feedback, and to know that THEIR tweet, of the thousands of followers, was acknowledged, makes fans feel special. Emotional investment is the paradigm.
  • Like-ing Facebook Comments: Pretty much for all the same reasons stated above…could you imagine the elation if Justin Bieber ‘likes’ a 15 year-old girl’s comment on his post; give fans of your team [or brand] the same feeling of being singled out in a special way; that emotion can last for a lifetime and all it takes is (not to be overused) click. (You can also ‘like’ and comment on others’ posts in the Posts By Others, if your Page permits those) Also like-ing Instagram photos!
  • Direct Messaging (and even Replying for some!): Want to let a user know you see and acknowledge their concern or question without being public about it? Or open a correspondence with a user of potential influence (assuming they follow you)? The DM is a great tool and can facilitate not just great customer service, but fostering of deeper fan relationships. Do not underestimate the value of 1-on-1 relationships. Create advocates and operate with a conversion % just a liiiiitle better than Google PPC.
  • Pinterest (or Tumblr, but not what I use) Can Preserve Earned Media: Besides making the mentions on your graph and quarterly report having an attractive spike, the increase of earned media and accompanying brand mentions are not maximized to extract all the value from fans creating content that speaks highly of your team or brand! Pinterest can give these places a more permanent home, to showcase how much fans love your team. Whether it’s an impressive cake, a work of art, an oh-so-adorable baby or puppy picture, the best fan sign you’ve ever seen, or even a screen grab of an awesome tweet or FB comment that you wish everyone could see; Pinterest can be a place to store and share all this heretofore unrequited fan love!
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  • More Showing, Less Telling: It’s not that attention spans are getting shorter and people are getting dumber (okay, it kind of is), but, in the social media environment, simplicity reigns supreme. The more visual, the better. The more clear the instructions, the better. Don’t out-think yourself trying to be creative or funny or making copy so attractive and mysterious they’ll just have to click through (hint: they don’t as much as you think). Be clear in the action. And, as the saying goes, pictures really do tell a thousand words and can be an effective, appealing way of disseminating information and all sorts of content.
  • Be clear, be concise: OK, so I’m probably breaking that rule in this post, but there is a reason studies consistently shows that shorter tweets and Facebook and G+ posts, etc. tend to garner more engagement. You can present any thesis you want, but pithiness is paramount as is simplicity. If you want people to re-tweet, they will more than if you do not ask. Make things obvious, then go back and make it even more obvious. Then post.
  • Give fans something to respond to: What is a key to engagement? Content that elicits (or solicits) response. Don’t just post a link to a press release or recap – tell the story, provide a context or frame, give a quote about the outcome/performance, try to use a picture that elicits emotion or is consistent with the story of the game. Yeah, the super fans will have watched the game or read the website recap, but the typical fan scanning down their News Feed may ‘like’ a post if you win; but may ‘comment’ or ‘share’ a post if there is a compelling story to share – a dramatic comeback, a memorable quote, a stellar individual performance, a oh-so-shareable statistic or milestone, etc.! The same goes for caption contests, fill-in-the-blanks, asking questions, etc. These are all manifestations of creating content that merits (as opposed to just hopes for) response.
  • Google Images and Statigram: While there are some (to be honest, quite subpar) social media search engines, these ones are the only for which I get enough value to use on a somewhat consistent basis. Want to see what kind of visual content (or, for video, YouTube) search these sits by keyword and hash tag and, while it is listed chronologically on Statigram (a site integrated with Instagram), use the time preferences for Google (also underutilized when looking for recent content, in general). Then, you can easily see what images have been posted related to your team or brand in the last 48 hours, week, month, whatever and not worry about something someone posted on their Geocities page in 1997.

What are your “hidden tricks” in social media? I’m sure there are tons on which I did not touch! Also, if you’re bored some day, look up “dark social” on the Internet and you’ll realize there may be so much more out there in terms of content and conversation that is happening in the ‘dark.’

Posted by Neil Horowitz

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