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.
On episode 131 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Dan LaTorraca, Director of Digital Marketing for the Carolina Hurricanes, previously with the Brooklyn Nets/New York Islanders and the Carolina Panthers, among other stops.
What follows are some snippets from the episode. Click Here to listen to the full episode or check it out and subscribe in iTunes or Stitcher.
The Washington Redskins won tight game against the Carolina Panthers in week 6 of the 2018 NFL season.
What follows is a curation of their gameday / game week content. Some if it was posted across channels (FB, Tw, IG, Snapchat) and some was exclusive to the platform. Good stuff, Washington!
The Baltimore Ravens played and defeated the Denver Broncos to move to the 2-1 in the young 2018 NFL season. They had a good amount of quality sponsored content on social to go with the game.
What follows is a curation of their gameday / game week content. Some if it was posted across channels (FB, Tw, IG, Snapchat) and some was exclusive to the platform. Good stuff, Ravens!
It wasn’t so long ago I received some sponsor copy that I was to copy and paste onto the team’s social media channels. That was sponsored social media in the relative stone age.
I didn’t like it. Fans didn’t like it. And did little or nothing for the corporate partner.
There’s a better way. And, as Minnesota Wild Social Media Coordinator Katlyn Gambill explains, the organization is not just fulfilling orders, they’re working closely with corporate partners to design or incorporate an activation that fans will actually enjoy and will further the sponsor objectives. As sports teams have started acting more like content production companies, they’ve also started to put those skills to work for their corporate partners.
“Our main focus is ‘What do the fans want, and are they going to enjoy it?’ Gambill told me in our recent chat. “Our corporate department is fantastic on selling, and going back to a partner and saying ‘We want both sides to be successful in this. So, while this may be the idea, here’s this tweak that’ll fit our fans better and our brand. And it’ll produce better results for you. Are you cool with this?'”
Beyond serving as the informed intermediary and content producers for their sponsors, the Wild also take the time to understand the brands, figure out the fit, and evaluate the best way to activate. Because social media is active media and the beauty of it is it can and should produce actions, going beyond the longstanding payoff of ‘impressions.’ When there is a defined goal, campaigns can be tailored to fit those goals and to achieve results against those goals. While her title may not have ‘partnership’ or ‘sponsorship’ in it, it’s clear from speaking with Gambill, and most social media and sports pros, that a deep understanding of ROI and partnership activation is not only a plus, but a requirement for these roles. Gambill gets it.
“I’m also not a fan of just plopping a logo on something; I don’t think that does anything on social media,” said Gambill, who has been with the Wild for over three years. “If the company doesn’t have social media presence, (then) it’s really difficult for me to buy into it, because what are they getting out of it, then? Are they looking for just leads? Are they trying to build their social media presence to allow fans to follow them and, in time, buy their product or whatever they’re trying to do?”
It can’t feel forced or out of place, because fans these days will sniff that out quickly. If it feels natively baked into the experience and the content, the sponsor doesn’t feel like an advertiser, the sponsor feels like a partner. And that’s a win for all sides. Sometimes, it’s integrating a sponsor into a content feature or promotion already tried, true, and welcomed by fans. Other times, it’s working with folks like Gambill, that understand the community and the brand, to identify something fans will like.
“So we work really closely with them on trying to tie something in that we’re either already doing on social and digital media, and how we attach it to a partner,” explained Gambill, who credits her time working with the New Jersey Devils as a beneficial experience to helping her understanding of effective sponsor activation. “Or – what does the partner want, what are they looking for, and how can we build something that will fit both our side and theirs?…So it’s a lot of going back and forth, and trying to make sure both sides are really happy.”
There is no doubt that the nature of sponsorship and advertising has changed. For sports, this means increased opportunity, but also increased responsibility. Fans will consume content and give their hearts and minds to their favorite teams, and sponsors can benefit from this investment. But there’s a wrong way and better ways.
The better, more enlightened path may not be quick and easy as a copy and paste job. But the benefit of a little work and a little collaboration can lead to tremendous partnerships and partnership activations. The era of advertising is over. The era of partnerships is just beginning.
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.
- 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.
The insights and knowledge kept coming from some generous, smart people I’ve had the privilege of speaking with over four years and 100 episodes of the Digital Social Media Sports Podcast. Therefore, I continue my retrospective, trying to distill some of the key insights gleaned from all these intelligent social media and sports pros.
- Stand out and know what makes you different Teams always resonate with their diehard fans. For them, the team is part of their identity. And the job of the social media and sports world is to convey that brand to others, to make them want to be part of the community, too. Teams and brands and universities want to have a well-understood message – so it is through visuals, video, voice, and content that the message can be carried and activated. This comes up again and again, as social channels are oftentimes the front porch.
- OTT will dramatically alter the monetization structure in sports media OTT, over-the-top, is quickly penetrating live sports across the board and, with it, will come evolution in how it’s all monetized. Consumers are willing to pay for content, that is, to pay for it in lieu of sitting through ads – commercials, pre-rolls, mid-rolls, surveys, and pop-ups. Some prefer the ads, and when it’s via OTT, the ads can be increasingly personalized, actionable, targeted, and measurable. And there may be so many hybrids and price points and restrictions and security questions and, well, this world is going to change quickly. It has been interesting to get a taste of it from the podcast over the years, most poignantly when I spoke with EverSport Media’s Wayne Sieve.
- Be aware of everything going on in the organization Social media has never truly ‘fit’ into a single department. That social media touches every part of the organization, and can help it, has been a motif over the years, and one that must not just be appreciated, but acted upon. It means intra-communication is essential, conveying the how and the why and the ‘ROI,’ and the social media person truly understanding the goals and mechanisms of the others. The social media pro may have more knowledge than any of everything the team or organization is doing, when done right. Go to lunches, establish a regular meeting, walk in doors, ask questions, give ideas, and always be listening and sharing.
- Get messaging across through content There’s a lot of messaging organizations want to get across through social media. But the bar for fan attention is high, and it takes strong content. The good news is that quality content and content that resonates with messaging is not mutually exclusive. This came out in several conversations over the year, but really stood out when I spoke with Chris Dion, who heads up social media for the NCAA Championships and Alliances, focusing a lot on March Madness that drives a lot of the content, coupled with the messaging the NCAA wants to get across. When you know what the organization stands for after consuming content you enjoy, that’s a sweet spot for many a social media and sports pro.
- Build measurable goals Social media and sports grows more strategic by the day and for it to get the credibility and investment it merits, goals must be set and reached. There are plenty of less tangible benefits, but it’s key to measure success in some, well, measurable way. Then reverse-engineer the path to getting there, and develop content and campaigns and tactics that’ll fuel those goals. Social media is a series of moments and content pieces that make up a season – when you have a clear destination in mind, it can really increase the precision and purpose of the posts.
- Content can be marketing and marketing can be content There are measurable goals and there are emotions, steps, and pathways that lead fans those goals. Social media is a long game. Sure, last touch can happen on social, but the best, I’ve come to learn, create content that also taps into an emotion that leads fans to want to sign up, to buy, to attend, to share. Content about the team, about the fans, about the game need not contain a direct sales message; it merely gets fans excited about it all, strengthening ties, while leading to revenue-producing results in the end. It’s an evolution, still, but many social media pros now have the trust of the business and marketing and sales team to deliver a meaningful message that’ll ultimately affect the bottom line more.
- We don’t want to be first, we want to be right It can be so tempting to be the early mover. To get noticed and perhaps written about because you were on a new platform or using a new technology before your peers. But a consistent piece of wisdom that the pros have stated in interviews with me is the need to learn about a platform, watch others use it, see what works, and evaluate if it’s a fit for the team or league or brand from a goals and resources perspective. Some take great pride in being first, many others (even if they’re first in sports), are constantly observing, taking notes, and understanding the platform before jumping on it haphazardly.
- Micro conversions can be just as important as traditional conversions The term ‘conversion’ typically stands for the ultimate goal of any campaign, the success in the equation that determines ROI. But while most conversions end with an exchange – of money or information, we can go so much deeper now and track and achieve so many smaller conversions on the way to the big one. The pros that have lived in the social space get it, and it came out quite a bit that the pathways are not leaps from 1 to 2, but from 1 to 1a to 1b and so on. Seek micro-conversions every day and understand the pathways that can lead to the big conversions. This can and does play out in social media every day.
- The brand and voice of your content affects who wants to work with you This was a unique insight that has come up quite a bit, but was particularly prominent in part of my conversation with Jamie O’Grady, then of the Cauldron (which is no longer around), a sports site built on crowd-sourced and professional and even active athlete writers. But, oh boy, does it apply across the board. Every single social media post, every insertion of voice, of personality, of wit and snark, all builds a brand and perception that can not only affect how fans feel about you, but also, not insignificantly, the corporate partners that want to work with you. So while your fire content, engagement-inducing voice, and epic trolling may win on social media, one must always be aware of the bigger picture, for better or worse.
- Social media can level the playing field Take away the handle or the Page name, the logos and the names, and put social media content and creative side-by-side and all of a sudden it becomes much more difficult the big brands from the small ones, the minors from the pros. Whether battling with other college athletics programs or bigger pro teams, one of the best insights that has come out in several conversations has been the idea that anyone can look big-time on social media, with just a little effort into how they present themselves there through their content. A polish on a graphic, a great use of live, a sweet GIF – social media has nothing of a Power Five factor; anybody can win.
- Nothing you put out should ever be by chance These days, the importance and value of social media – the eyeballs and the engagement, among other factors – is well-acknowledged and accepted. And, with this power comes opportunity and responsibility. The top social media and sports pros appreciate and understand this value and know that every detail with their content and presentation can, does, and should matter. Whether it’s making sure a photo or video is grabbed with a sponsor billboard salient in the background, taking a pic from the right angle so no empty seats are visible, or making sure a quote being posted can’t be misconstrued – there are so many intentional decisions made with every post, every day.
Know the goals of your internal clients
Because social media can amplify everything all parts of an organization are doing, it becomes helpful to sometimes think of coworkers leading each department as clients – what will help them achieve what they’re trying to do? This can be a challenge, at times, when social media pros are measured on their raw numbers and engagement rates and reach, but the best are walking in doors and understanding how others envision success in their roles. This not only builds trust, but fosters a more welcomed, trusting relationship, which ultimately ends up in better content, crafted by the social media pro, and better results. I’ve often stated, and heard through interviews, that nobody understands the ins and outs of an organization better than the head of social media. They have to, because social touches everything.
I continue to look back on four years and 100 episodes of gleaning knowledge from some of the best and most thoughtful social media and sports pros,, doing my best to sum up key points. It is an attempt to give back to the community that continues to give so much to me. See part 1 here and stay tuned for parts 3 and 4!
- Brand perception can start on social media and then go beyond; articulate your personaIn many ways, social media is the front porch of the organization. Where fans most frequently and consistently encounter the team and engage with it. It is, therefore, the place where a personality is perpetuated, a brand is built, and a look and feel is fostered. The power of the platform must be acknowledged and utilized. The best guests I talked to could clearly and thoughtfully describe the voice and the brand behind who they wanted to be on social media. Can you?
- Make content easy to consume and digestTake the time. Take the time to eliminate any effort or friction for your fans, when it comes to content consumption. (Well, everything, really) That may mean using the proper specs for images, not squeezing in text that necessitates a pinch and zoom, not making a 5-minute video that would be better as a 45-second video. Those that take the time to consider this with their content are making it easier for fans to engage.
- Your players are your brand ambassadors – issuing mini press releases dailyThis came from my conversation with Kevin DeShazo, who is thankfully leading the crusade against social media fear tactics, while espousing the need for us all to realize the power of the platforms, for good and bad. Whether it’s the 10-year veteran in the pros or the freshman hotshot in college, everyday players are representing their team, issuing mini press releases, as DeShazo put it in one response on our podcast. This is not something to fear, but to be harnessed.
- Focus and foster the good on social, don’t use fear and focus on the badThe above very much relates to this concept, as well – the perils of the platforms are vastly outweighed by the good and the value. This idea, in many forms, has come up in my conversations over the years, and oftentimes, like in social media, it comes back to stories and FOMO. Convey to those uneasy about the power of social and win them over with examples – stories of how others are using it (and how you can) and instilling a little FOMO can move the needle in the office, too.
- Focus on use cases and the path to winsIf there’s one piece of actionable advice for any social/digital and sports pro to take from many of my podcasts, it’s this one. You want to prove social media is worth caring about and investing in? Show it. Because not everybody ‘gets it,’ and not everybody can believe in metrics and reports that are new to them. Celebrate the small wins, showcase the success stories, and boast and brag when something blows up in a good way.
- Teams are providing content fans seekThis seems so simple now. But it wasn’t that long ago that teams were still mostly glorified PR houses. Then the content improved, but in many ways still remained ‘close to the vest’ [and still does in a lot of places]. But a fascinating trend from teams has been them becoming the primary content destinations for fans. Many realized they were losing engaged eyeballs to other sites that were willing to entertain reports and rumors, and content that wouldn’t typically come from a team. Some hired insiders, others aggregated links. It’s one thing to produce awesome content, another to be a resource for fans, too.
- Novelty doesn’t last longRemember when Snapchat revolutionized social media with ‘Stories?’ Or when Meerkat made it so easy to go live on mobile? Ever wonder why it feels like nary a month goes by without a new feature being introduced to your favorite platform or app? Fans expect incremental improvements and newness now. They expect ‘updates’ all the time. It’s no longer good enough to bank on a singular innovation, a culture of progress and improvements and breaking things quickly prevails now more than ever.
- Capture data to provide valuePerhaps no field has grown more in social and digital in sports than data and analytics over the last handful of years. All of a sudden it became feasible to collect all sorts of fan data. But the theme that prevails among the best in the business is that data is not just a source for measurement and quarterly charts – it leads to adding value for the fans and for the organization. It’s important to diagram it out and design the path from data to action to value, and not just ‘doing big data’ just to say you are.
- Start with objectives and reverse-engineer; empowerIt’s always easier to define social media ROI when you ask the question about the factors that comprise the ‘R.’ A major reason a lot of the pros I spoke with have success in their roles – they talk to their colleagues. They determine the objectives of every department in the organization, they learn what others value, so they can use the social and digital tools at their disposal to help and create and drive that value. Particularly in the college space, where there are several teams and hands in the social media cookie jar, along with coaches that each their idea of objectives, it’s just as important to empower others, teaching them to use the tools.
- Value the deep connections and engagementEngagement as a catch-all terms has always given me pause. There are so many varying degrees of engagement that it all can’t be captured with just a single word. But it’s easy to recognize a deeper connection with a fan when it happens. Something you know will stick with them and become a part of their identity. Chasing the deep engagements can be just as valuable, if not more so, than trying to maximize that nebulous engagement rate. Cultivate super fans with deep engagements.
- Social has led to more thirst for content and information, led to 365 nature of sportsI’ve had the chance to speak with folks in the media about how social media crept up on them and then vastly changed and amplified the way media and content producers live and work. When it became easy to get the score, fans wanted stats and play by play and audio. Then headlines came with a click, so fans wanted to know the rumors and the instant reactions and analysis. Then that came about, so fans wanted video and even more details into the dealings of the day and the lives of athletes. If it feels like pro sports are all relevant 365 days/year, that’s because they are. The content firehose of social media has made it such, because fans always want more.
- Not every team has the same goalAsk three social media managers for sports teams for the list of goals on social media and there’s a good chance each will be different. It should be. The teams that turn the lights on and fill out a stadium or arena have far different needs than the team constantly under pressure to put more butts in seats. It’s so important to realize that, and to operate and learn and emulate appropriately. The key is to appreciate and understand the objectives and to realize that, as one’s career or the team’s status quo grows, the goals will change, too.
- It’s hard to get an increase from ‘free’ when it comes to sponsored socialIt’s really not that long ago when social media sponsorship meant deals that included ‘x’ number of Facebook posts (yes, that generic) over the course of the contract. Social media was, and for some still is, a throw-in. The icing on the cake for a partner already paying plenty for more traditional inventory. Well, a common theme and lesson is that it’s easy to dilute the value of social media when one treats it as more a bonus than an asset.
- Leverage social and UGC to amplify the team’s own brandCreating a brand is not just coming up with a catchy slogan and hashtag. It all doesn’t amount to much unless the fans get it and if the fans propagate it. That’s a big reason why user-generated content is so integral. Fans trust real fans, and are affected by them, so much more than brands and the official team account (though that is evolving, too). When you can drive a fan to participate, to proselytize, and to perpetuate, that’s a brand being built.
- Twitter is a snapshot, not the entire universeWhile it’s so cool to be able to hear from fans, it’s important to realize that the social media sentiment on each and every platform is a subset and a small sample. That doesn’t make it insignificant or not insightful, it just means, you have to remind yourself, that is only a fraction of the whole. Small things can seem like a big deal, generalizations can be made from a couple tweets. It’s important to find the balance of following what active fans are saying and doing on social media, and studying the fan base as a whole on all platforms with which they connect, engage with, and encounter the team or the story or the brand.
- Social media gives everyone their own distribution channel
This thought has obviously come to the forefront over the last few years, in which players and teams and bloggers and personalities have been able to disseminate their content and messages seamlessly, to a worldwide audience. It means there is a lot of incredible content being produced, it also means there is a lot of “absolute shit” content (as Richard Deitsch put it in our chat) being produced, as well. While the crowd is bigger, the best still stand out. Standing out with quality content is a necessity, even as it becomes more difficult every day.
More to come…See all podcast episodes here.