What UMBC Athletics Reminded Us About The Genesis, Growth, and Importance of Voice On Social Media

Think back to the early days of social media. When trade announcements sounded like mini press releases. Compare that to the free agent signing of Michael Crabtree by the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens announced in a tweet with an emoji of a crab and an emoji of a tree.

So, yeah, things have changed.

And this was manifested marvelously by the performance of the @UMBCAthletics Twitter account, led by Zach Seidel, as the Retrivers captured the country’s attention, becoming the first 16-seed to ever defeat a #1 seed in the Men’s Basketball NCAA Tournament, stunning fans of March Madness. Seidel didn’t ignore the haters tweeting skeptically about the UMBC team, didn’t ignore what was playing out in front of him and millions watching, and, most importantly, didn’t speak like a formal press release.

The evolution on Twitter (where voice is most defined on social media for sports teams) from PR to personality has surely been gradual, but most veterans of this space will point to one seminal tweet and one magical title run that started it all. It was the spring of 2012 when the Los Angeles Kings ousted the favored Vancouver Canucks in an opening playoff series. The Kings took the opportunity to sarcastically (snarkily) tweet “To everyone in Canada outside BC, you’re welcome,” addressing fans all over Canada that didn’t feel to fondly about the club in Vancouver. It struck a nerve. It was different. Many didn’t know how to react – was it okay to showcase a bit of tongue-in-cheek personality? Was this befitting of a professional team and its official Twitter presence speaking on the organization’s behalf?

Articles were written, discussions were had, but, as is quite evident today, it only progressed from there. Soon, several team Twitter accounts were trying to elicit laughs and smirks, and trying to create copy that would strike a similar nerve and get fans to feel like their team was cool, and they were cool by association. Over time, more emotion was infused — teams were smartasses when things were going good, they weren’t sugarcoating an awful loss, they exhibited the same ups and downs and jokes of the fans — they were talking and experiencing with them, not at them.

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So what happened when UMBC realized they were doing what no one thought they could or should be doing? When all the attention was on their team and their school? They chose not to ignore the obvious, not to appear oblivious to what madness was clearly happening on the court and all around them, including their website. When CBS College Basketball Analyst Seth Davis tweeted his trademark “Sharpie” (game over) right after tip, they fired back because it’s what their fans would’ve wanted to do – and UMBC doesn’t need to adhere any no-cheering-in-the-press-box like rule when it comes to Twitter.

When TweetDeck started showing a ton of fans mostly saying ‘Who the heck is UMBC?,’ they didn’t shy away from it, trying to act proud enough that people would and should know them. They seized the opportunity to connect, to engage, and to even introduce themselves to the world. And when their website went down, likely as much a source of pride as frustration (too many visitors is a good thing!), they didn’t offer some PR-laden statement like “We are aware of technical difficulties and working to resolve…,” they acknowledged the issue like a human, demonstrating authenticity, playfulness, and even smart messaging reinforcing the long ‘line’ of fans trying to get onto umbc.edu.

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UMBC Athletics suddenly became the life of this March Madness party, on and off the court. More fans followed, more Googled UMBC, more became enamored with a personality that talked to them like a human, that reacted to the madness ensuing in front of them.

It conjures, for me, some of the work I do with teams at Hopscotch who welcome automated score alerts — Final Score: [Team Name] x, [Team Name] x. But others choose to do them manually – they want to convey the epic comeback or sold-out crowd or identify the hero.

As artificial intelligence and increased automation becomes possible, it’s important to appreciate the value of the human voice, and the capacity to express emotion. Some Messenger bots are getting smart, sure, but no bot could’ve reacted to the moments like Seidel and @UMBCAthletics did.

A social media presence can’t be devoid of emotion,

Nathan Rauschenberg is Driving Fan-Team-Player Connections and Social Media ROI for the Seattle Mariners

On episode 115 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Nathan Rauschenberg, Senior Digital Marketing Manager for the Seattle Mariners.

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

Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference 2018: Day 2 Twitter Recap

In February 2018, the annual Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference, bringing together thought leaders from throughout sports business and analytics to discuss the topics of the day.

What follows is a collection of the best quotes, images, insights, and observations [business-focused] shared via Twitter on #SSAC18 from day 2 of the event.

Thanks to all those whose tweets helped fuel this recap! Be sure to also check out the day 1 recap.

Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference 2018: Day 1 Twitter Recap

In February 2018, the annual Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference, bringing together thought leaders from throughout sports business and analytics to discuss the topics of the day.

What follows is a collection of the best quotes, images, insights, and observations shared via Twitter on #SSAC18 from day 1 of the event.

Thanks to all those whose tweets helped fuel this recap!

Alessandro Gasparro on the Importance of Understanding How Fans Speak and What Engages Them

On episode 113 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Alessandro Gasparro, Director of Social Media Strategy, Endeavor.

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

Cutting Through the Content Clutter in Social Media and Sports By Owning Niches

The sports content world is crowded. It can be incredibly hard to stand out, especially if you’re an official team presence or even a challenger in the space. But it’s not a hopeless battle of attrition, it doesn’t have to be a daily struggle for the attention of fans.

There’s value in truly owning niches. Become the best in certain areas and command the attention of fans by being unique and providing unique value. For Richard Clarke, who spent years amid the crowded fish bowl of Arsenal and later the upstart Colorado Rapids, part of building a content strategy was focusing on owning niches that others couldn’t do as well as the club.

“What you can do is you can own niches,” said Clarke. “At Arsenal, we had great history, so I would want to own the niche of history. We could do stats really well – that was a niche we could own…

“We made sure we owned any transfer announcement, as well. Because that was somewhere where we were properly creating news…Obviously, with the media in England, when there’s a transfer going on, it’s difficult for the club to comment; but what you do do – is you’re the ultimate rubber stamp…

“Suddenly, you’ve got four or five things where you’re the go-to place for that. You build up an arsenal of niches.”

Right there, Clarke identified niches Arsenal could own, ways they could rise to the surface, not just in spite of, but because of being the official club presence. They not be able to pen overly critical columns or entertain rumors and reports as much as others, but there were things they could do better than anyone.

There’s an extensive content ecosystem throughout sports (and all media, really), but providing something fans can’t get anywhere else, using your resources to your advantage can mark a lot of territory in the battle for fans’ time. The most important thing is still creating content and stories that is worth their time, that isn’t just noise or, worse, a lesser version of what they’re getting elsewhere.

“You’ve still got to give value and, sometimes, it is a matter of owning these niches and building a content plan off of that,” said Clarke. “It’s not perfect, and that’s fine, because we go to different websites and social media accounts for different things…”

Fans maintain a steady diet of content consumption each day, often across a variety of platforms. It’s not reasonable to expect to win 100% of that time and attention, better to target a healthy amount that you can dominate. It’s pretty valuable to be the best at something, and it can start with identifying niches that can be all yours.

Richard Clarke Offers Insights Into Building a Successful Content Strategy for Sports Teams

On episode 112 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Richard Clarke, Sport Digital Consultant and Speaker, formerly with Arsenal and the Colorado Rapids, among others.

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