Social Media Truths Decoded…In A Good Way

I am a big proponent of social media. Not just for the power it permits individuals and brands to disseminate their message, frame perceptions, and connect with, well, just about anyone. But, if you’re reading this, you are NOT normal. Most people are not active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat every single day. Engagement is great, but there is a little secret you may not want to admit about the 17 comments on every other post.

It’s time to put it out there. Some social media facts. Five, for this article. It is by no means doom and gloom in sports or any industry, however. Read on and share your feedback, please!

1) Social is the minority…BUT it’s a vocal one.

The community consistently seeing your content and engaging on social media, which can sometimes reach impressive numbers, still represents a vast minority of your “fans,” those active engaged with your brand through any means, physical, financial, digital, and emotional. However, it is just as true that this minority is also likely more vocal and prone to proselytizing than average. They’re the ones starting a conversation about something they saw on Twitter or sending a text of a screen-shot of an Instagram. There is multiplier effect inherent in *social* media. An amplifying factor, the less track-able way of spreading the word is often categorized as “dark social.”

2) You’re not reaching everyone…BUT you have good content

I’m willing to bet about 99% of sports teams would say the fans that follow them on social media get a superior experience and see better content than fans that are not active on social networks. There are quotes, incredible photos, quick anecdotes, nicknames, and smiles. From injury updates to player personalities, there is a good chance all this good content is not reaching all the fans that want it. Just say no to subscribing to silos. If you live-tweeted a fun anecdote from practice, held a prediction contest on Facebook, did a doodle contest on Snapchat, or gotten some priceless insight from a player tweet or Twitter Q&A, it is perfectly fine, sometimes encouraged even, to share that content on your “traditional” channels, too. Fans on your website or your email list at least deserve a glimpse into what they are missing on social media, the great content you have on it, and even the amazing fan-generated content all over the place.

3) Sponsors don’t value it as much…BUT it’s more active and track-able

Venue signage continues to garner huge rates (and does indeed command a lot of eyeballs). Game programs garner more interest, though, than social media or website activations. Not yet, at least. Sponsorship is maturing and there is a lot of creativity and evolution happening in sports sponsorship [rendering this gripe moot in the next 2-3 years], but rates sill seep with skepticism. But here’s why it will change: it’s active and track-able. How much business is a billboard on the highway bringing, exactly? How many people even drove by and actually saw it and how many were in your target audience? Well, social, digital, and mobile is changing that, which is why demand and rates are rising. It’s track-able, personalized, and active. This last point meaning, contrary to a static sign, it allows the brand to come to life through content or allows the funnel to happen right there – from ad/content to conversion.

4) Social media is not a place to serve offers…BUT there is lots of ROI opportunity

We talk about the 90-10 or 80-20 rule. We like to espouse Gary V’s jab-jab-jab-right hook methodology of social media. Yet, the real ratio I see playing out far too often skewed toward the wrong direction on pro team social media pages (college, minor, pro, junior). There is still a period of maturation that needs to happen, to no longer treat social media as another broadcast channel to disseminate offers constantly. Make it more about relationships and engagement, because THAT will lead to ROI opportunities with your loving, dedicated, consistently engaged audience. Through sponsor integration with content, through better-converting ads, and through well-timed right hooks that are welcome and that work.

5) Social media is not where most STHers are and breadwinners are…BUT it’s where their kids are and where everyone coming of age is, not a fad, a new paradigm

While this last point will be moot in the next half dozen or dozen years, the fact remains that, for most teams, season ticket holders, the backbone for several teams’ bottom lines, still, are, well, older. They may check out old classmates or post pics of kids and grandkids on Facebook. They may even be trying out of some of the “other” social networks. But most are not. So while you think you can start driving a huge piece of sales pie directly through social media, think again. However, it is still incredibly strong, across networks, because it affects the well, recipe the breadwinner follows. (Sorry for that analogy). That would be the kids, as well as the younger adults now making more money and starting families. They’re coming of age as social media natives, they’re influencing as much transactions as they’re making, and their attention is perhaps even more valuable than the current season ticket holders whose signatures are contributing to a sizable chunk of the annual gate receipts. You can lament the time and resources being spent to amuse some kids that may pay to attend a single game and possibly get a cap and t-shirt, but that would be a naive, short-sighted way of looking at it.

So while there may be some facts to face, the biggest fact of all is that social is not a fad. It’s not a “thing” or a channel. It’s a new paradigm for communication, for information discovery and sharing, and for funnels to commerce and relationships. Those that heed these more important elements first and foremost will win in the end. It’s not about being the kid on the street with the best toys, it’s about being the kid that remains lifelong friends with every kid on the block.

Treating Fans Like Real People: A Winning #SportsBiz Concept

A classic Seinfeld scene is when George Steinbrenner (as portrayed by Larry David) visits the Costanzas and is harangued by Frank Costanza, who exclaims “What in the Hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?!” In the modern day world of sports and social media, this kind of vocal vehemence is commonplace among fans spouting off with the intention of having their opinions heard, and valued, by the team. And, while social media is comprised by too many trolls and the irrational and immature, teams are increasingly embracing enhanced communication channels with fans. More and more recognize the value of engaging with fans, with social media playing a prime role. The weight placed on face-to-face or one-to-one interactions are also, rightly, gaining higher appreciation once again.

At the recent Q1 Sports Fan Engagement Conference (See day 1 recap and day 2 recap decks), there was a lot of discussion about the reprising usage of fan surveys. While focus groups can be contrived and analytics can help us make only educated guesses about fan intent and values, based on often nonlinear data, we’ve arrived at the revelation that, well, you can try asking them! San Diego Padres CMO Wayne Partello discussed how he gets valuable feedback and ideas from surveys and brainstorming sessions with fans and season ticket holders. Other executives in attendance talked about how feedback from surveys, directly from fans, have played a prominent role in influencing organizational decisions related to the fan experience. By reaching out to fans, particularly at a more engaged, even 1-to-1 level, you can not only reinforce that you value fans’ input, but also get some genuine, helpful ideas, too. Those marketing newsletters, instead of not inviting replies, should explicitly encourage fans to reply with questions, ideas, and suggestions!

fansurveyq1Photo source

When the corporate giant reveals itself to be relate-able, emotionally, and human, like its fans/customers, fans can better reach a level of affinity and identification with the brand. This is why I loved when New Orleans Saints social media manager Alex Restrepo, also speaking at the Q1 Conference, talked about empathizing and the importance of understanding the “mood” of Saints fans when posting on social media. It’s ok to be upset when the team gets beat badly, it’s ok to be excited (and unabashedly biased) after a thrilling win, and it’s normal to be exasperated after a close match concludes. The more you can blur that line between brand and friend, and connect on a deeper level, the stronger the unconditional affinity developed between fan and team.

I loved how Atlanta Hawks Director of Interactive Marketing Micah Hart stated their social media mindset, when I spoke with him recently. “My pitch from the beginning was to be the voice of the (Hawks) fan,” said Hart, whose team has been lauded this year for success on and off the court. “It’s not authentic to try and make everything like it’s always 100% and everything is golden.” Thoughtfulness and authenticity as social media guiding principles can go a long way.

So stop talking about the need to make emotional connections with fans, while still posting in a voice seeking to be some omniscient, stoic entity. The path to a fan’s heart is by showing the team has a heart, too.

Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

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.

wi;son1 jgord1 sherm1

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!

Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn

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


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

Follow me on Twitter @njh287   Connect on LinkedIn


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.


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?


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!


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.


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?



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

Follow Neil on Twitter @njh287   Connect with Neil on LinkedIn

Posted by Neil Horowitz

Follow Aaron on Twitter @ae_westendorf   Connect with Aaron on LinkedIn  Visit Aaron’s website

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.