Six SMSports and Leadership Lessons from Industry Luminary Amie Kiehn

Social media and sports roles didn’t exist when most of us were born. We couldn’t list Social Media Manager for a sports team as a dream job for the fifth-grade yearbook. So the pathways, the lifestyle, the strategies — everybody is still trying to figure it all out as we build it.

So it’s instructive to hear from those continuing to pave the way, leaving legacies in their path. Amie Kiehn has been one of those trailblazers. She didn’t start in the smsports stone age (that would be me), but what she accomplished in her 5+ years with the Carolina Panthers and what continues to do now as the Head of Community at Gondola has touched the industry in meaningful ways. I recently spoke with Kiehn on the Digital and Social Media Sports podcast and came away enlightened and inspired.

Here are six big lessons for social media and sports (and beyond) from the thoughtful, reflective Kiehn:

Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there

Kiehn talked about making her own breaks — sending countless cold emails to pros in the sports space, getting replies back from only a few. Years later, she runs into many of those people as peers, many of whom were too busy to get back to ambitious Amie back then. Reaching out is free, and doing so instantly separates you from 90% of aspiring students and young professionals that don’t.

“It took a lot of [bravery] to just reach out to people and be like, it’s okay if they don’t reply,” Kiehn told me. “So that’s what I would tell a lot of young people — if they’re willing to put themselves out there, the universe will reward them with hopefully good things.”

Learn to lead in different ways for different people

The best social media staffs in sports have a lot going for them — creative talent, resourcefulness, buy-in, and strategy — but leadership and strong, cohesive teams are underappreciated and integral. Great social media squads also require a diverse set of players, all working together in harmony to manage the output, the brand, and the short-term and long-term strategy. Before beginning her sports and social media career, Kiehn spent years teaching through the Teach For America program. She talked about the important lessons she learned from her time in the classroom, where not every student learned the same way and could be instructed the same way. She took that to heart with the panthers

“So once I realized that, and where I felt like I was hitting my stride, was when I was leading where not everyone got the same Amie,” she said. “Some people just wanted to be like, ‘Hey, I’m good. Approve my budget. Let me go.’ And other people needed some nurturing, which was fine because that’s the type of leader I am…I’m an empath, I really care about people deeply. So that was an easy thing to click once I got it…That’s how I felt like I was being my full self, when I was leading and helping others.”

Don’t take this all too seriously

When every tweet, Story, and TikTok will reach tens or hundreds of thousands or millions, it may be natural to feel a little intimidation. You’re part of a team that works hard and plays a game among fierce competitors where winning is everything. You’re part of a multi-million or billion-dollar business with big budgets and impressive production teams. But you can’t get bogged down in all that, can’t be afraid of failure and taking healthy risks. Sports are supposed to be fun, social media is supposed to be relatable. Kiehn and her team embraced a spirit of innovation and a dedication to, well, fun.

“I think sometimes we can take things too seriously in the content space and that’s okay,” Kiehn explained. “At the Panthers, I always felt like our voice was something that you could kind of poke fun at yourself a little bit. So we often would make content that maybe wasn’t super-polished and didn’t always have the most pristine look, like it was a meme that we saw…We really tried to have fun with it.

“I think that was how we had so many (social media) home runs… is because we tried to have fun ourselves and make our team laugh; then we had set the precedent that like, okay, we’re going to try it. The Panthers team always would hear me say this: ‘Okay. Let’s try it. And let’s watch the comments like hawks’ We would post stuff…[being] like, let’s [just] post it. But let’s immediately get feedback from people. And if it’s not a hit, let’s just take it off. But if it is a hit, let’s find out what we did there that we can try to capitalize again on.”

 Sometimes you need to reset and that’s okay

It’s very easy to get addicted to the routine. You kind of have to, at times, in the social media and sports world just to keep up and keep your sanity. But that doesn’t mean teams should eschew a consistent pursuit of progress and keep everything the same even if it feels stale, stilted, or no longer suitable. This was key insight Kiehn picked up in her time as a teacher, where classrooms could get chaotic at times and everybody just needed a reset.

Said Kiehn: “If I felt like things were not grooving in the right way, I’d be like ‘Alright, let’s all get together, let’s talk about it. Is there something that I’m doing? Is there a process that needs to be rehashed out? [Does] someone just kind of need a break? Let’s talk this out so we can fix it and it’s not that big of a deal. So I started trying to make those conversations happen more often.

“So that’s a big thing of [being a leader] for me was [to be] someone willing to call out [when] it seems like either morale-wise, content-wise, just the process of how we’re managing projects — do we need to reevaluate something? So I always was fine with re-evaluating something, even if it was a process that I loved and [others feel] this isn’t working.” 

What comes first — the buy-in or the measured success?

Okay, it’s kind of a trick question. Because each begets more of the other. In learning from Kiehn and what drove such a great reputation and results with the Carolina Panthers social media, she attributed a lot to the trust and buy-in. That included her immediate supervisors all the way up to team owners David and Nicole Tepper. And that trust gave them the agency to continue to take chances, have fun, and continue to build the social media brand of the team to the point that fans came to anticipate each post and poke.

“Our team really felt pretty empowered that — if the ownership group is being like, yes, you guys are kind of funny, keep it up — then it really enticed us to keep momentum,” Kiehn reflected. “When you’re organically making fun content and you’re hopping on trends that make sense for the brand, it shows up in the numbers.

“And we had [created] such an established voice on social that people were like, oh, I want to see what the Panthers do…We were getting great numbers because we were doing something that was fun and different, and people really liked that.”

Work-life balance is possible in sports, it’s just defined differently

The last couple of years has seen the sports industry face a reckoning amidst the broader ‘great resignation’ happening in the US. Kiehn herself is among them, becoming the Head of Community at Gondola, where she can continue to support creatives and pros in social media, and at a job that also affords her more time at home and with her family. Most everybody accepts that sports business happens during business hours AND during non-business hours; sports are weekdays and weekends, sports happens on holidays, and there will be early mornings and late nights. But sustainability is more possible when the working hours are more a series of peaks and valleys, and not excessive with no end. Kiehn gave a thoughtful perspective on the challenge of work-life balance in the sports industry, who says the working hours in sports are ‘like a pendulum.’

“I honestly don’t believe there can be work-life balance in how people imagine it, [as in] I do work 50% and I live my life [50%]; I don’t think that works,” she said. “I think people in this time right now are craving flexibility. So I hope that in this new workforce we could have something where you both work and life can be flexible and that you can finally hopefully maybe have more of an equilibrium.

“I always try to remind people that…it’s like a pendulum a little bit; some days with more heavy work, some days heavier at home…I think all people should have…as much of an equilibrium that works for you as possible.”


Thanks so much to Amie for lending her thoughtful, articulate insight and expertise! We will continue to learn from her and leaders like her for years to come…


Episode 160 Snippets: Andrew Brewster Developed a Michigan State Athletics Blog for USA Today While also Working a Full-Time Job

On episode 160 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Andrew Brewster, Editor, SpartansWire (Michigan State Athletics blog for USA Today).

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.

Reflections on the Job Hunt and Beginning a New Chapter at Greenfly

There’s something fun about uncertainty. Not knowing what’s next. It allows one to imagine the best of potential realities, believing every day and every small step is closer to some dream being realized.

That was the mindset I took after my last job – which I enjoyed and grew in – ended with the startup company not making it further after a full lifecycle during my four-plus years there. There was nothing but uncertainty ahead. After a trip to Europe – not exactly self-discovery, but a good chance to get away – the journey began.

This is more about moving on to the next chapter in my career, so I’ll keep this short. But first, some of the key life lessons from a path that I traveled over the last months, which included times of unbridled enthusiasm, impostor syndrome, bouncing back enough to consider going out on my own, getting close on really good jobs, getting ignored by other jobs, being ballsy and bold enough to turn down opportunities, reaching intermittent nadirs of despondency, trying to find small wins every day, and all while approaching every day and every interaction with the continued belief that you’re doing the right thing and that nothing can affect Fate more than the actions you take today.

The lessons:

  • Set goals every day. Set thoughtful goals. Have purposeful goals. And be rigorous in setting aside time to accomplish those goals
  • Make your own breaks – fill in the skill gaps for the next job you want, study your industry top-to-bottom because you have time others don’t, give value to others, and, ultimately, be intentionally present
  • Talk to others. Man, there are a handful of people that let me bounce ideas off them, celebrate the good times, talk through the not-so-good times, and seemed to pop in the texts or DM’s right when you need them. Really cool
  • Know what you value – Maybe I’m in the minority, but my jobs and my passions over the years have tended to intersect. It makes getting excited and energized about it easy. But working in and around sports or social is never something to be taken for granted. It requires understanding where money, lifestyle, job function, industry, and location come into play for one’s priorities and life


In the end, it was a combination of Fate and proactivity that led me to Greenfly. A quick story — I always knew of Greenfly, but then I saw an NBA team tweeting to their fans to download the Greenfly app and share content to the team. It was a use of their app that I hadn’t seen before and was introducing a new form of fan activation. So I reached out for a podcast interview and got to meet and interview the founders. And, yadda yadda yadda, I learned more about the company and got excited about what they do and where they are going, learned how I could be a fit to join, and here we are. It feels right.


I can remember just coming up in this sports and social media world, the first times I timidly interacted with players in the room. Eventually, they figured out and came to (sorta) appreciate what I did — helping to tell and share their stories to fans on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the website, and other platforms. I used to show them how popular some of the posts featuring them were or told them about how they’re resonating with fans. I’d grab them for quick interviews or ‘reads’, knowing every minute talking to the camera was another minute they couldn’t, well, go home or hit the showers or do anything else but sit in there with me. And the only way to really communicate with them about content was [except for the very rare DM] through PR or Team Ops, who had their ear for requests and needs.

This was early days for player social media, few were active on social and those that were didn’t put too much strategy into it. Now, players are building their brands on social media. They appreciate, especially the non-superstars, the power that content featuring them wields when it’s shared on social to drive fan awareness of them, fans following them, and fans becoming fans of them as individuals. 

So to learn not just about the utility of Greenfly, but also how it’s actually used and how players seem to truly appreciate the value to them was cool and inspiring. The teams/leagues have incredibly talented and creative social / digital / production teams, and an enormous and growing bank of photos and highlights that the players want to get at easily. And the teams want these players [who play the actual games] to amass huge fan bases, who will ultimately buy more merch, go to more games, watch more games and highlights, and talk more about the team on and off social media. Mutual need and mutual benefits. That sounds like a relationship.

And that’s one reason I’m excited about Greenfly – it’s collaboration. It’s collaboration with everyone — players, staff, talent, and even fans or fan ambassadors in sports; in other industries, it’s employees, actors, artists, advocates, customers, and influencers. Content is king and collaboration is how the best kingdoms continue to grow and reign.

Finally, as someone who geeks out about this sports and social space – and how it functions – I’m constantly interested in processes and operations (I ask a lot about that on my podcast interviews). And, while a decade ago social and digital media may have been seen as a side department run by the youngest staffers, it’s now a very sophisticated, multi-faceted, strategic operation. During each season [or even single game/event], there are thousands upon thousands of potential highlights, photos, GIFs being created one click and snap at a time. There are template and graphics, there are personalized GIFs or graphics for players, there are brand guidelines to maintain across accounts, there are tons of short-term and long-term projects to track and balance and prioritize, and there is a staff and brand to manage. And, there is a dizzying collection of software and hardware the team is using every day to make it all happen.

Tired yet? That’s why Greenfly’s approach is so important – the company appreciates how these teams function and designs the product and processes and organization and integrations to help them execute and measure what they do better, faster, more efficiently, and more effectively. Everyone is trying to play Moneyball, to do it better and do it smarter. 

I’m psyched to hopefully inspire digital and social marketers — but, really, anyone trying to activate on social themselves or with their own army – through sharing awesome examples, giving out smart and actionable tips, uncovering insights from studying the incredible customers using this product, and helping brands, businesses, teams, and organizations continue to cultivate and mobilize their own content community. The platforms and how content is consumed will change, but the power of good content, a good story, and an engaged, attentive, invested audience — those things transcend technology and time.

It would be cliche to say I wouldn’t trade the experience of the last several months, since every experience shapes you and everything, err, ‘happens for a reason.’ But I do feel good about the lessons learned and I actually do believe I ended up in the right spot for me. It doesn’t feel like I’m convincing myself, I’m convicted. It feels right and I hope anyone else going through a similar experience can end in such a good place. I look forward to continuing to exercise my passion for this space and learning from the community. The next chapter starts now and there’s nothing but energizing uncertainty ahead.

Episode 151 Snippets: Chris Grosse on Driving Attendance in College Athletics, Building Fan Experiences, and Creating a Special Game Atmosphere

On episode 151 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Chris Grosse, Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing at Penn State Athletics.

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.

Episode 141 Snippets: Julie Phayer Grew Her Social Media Savvy with The Warriors and now The Ringer

On episode 141 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Julie Phayer, Social Media Producer for The Ringer.

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.

Episode 136 Snippets: Will Frasure Goes Inside Baseball on How MLB Social Has Evolved and Where It’s Headed Next

On episode 136 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Will Frasure, New Media Strategist for Major League Baseball.

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.

Episode 133 Snippets: How Greg Wyshynski Helped Change the Paradigm in NHL Journalism

On episode 133 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Greg Wyshynski, Senior NHL Writer with ESPN, who also spent time leading Yahoo Sports Puck Daddy, and currently hosts two podcasts – ESPN on Ice and Puck Soup.

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.

Jeff Eisenband on How Sports Media is Changing and How to Keep Up

On episode 121 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Jeff Eisenband, Senior Editor at ThePostGame and host for NBA Twitch / the NBA 2K League.

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

Jessica Kleinschmidt Creates Connections with Baseball Fans Through Content and Being Real

On episode 118 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Jessica Kleinschmidt, Writer and Editor of Cut4 / Major League Baseball.

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

Dan Rubenstein on Creating Content that Engages, Informs, and Entertains in College Football

On episode 114 of the Digital and Social Media Sports Podcast, Neil chatted with Dan Rubenstein, co-host of The Solid Verbal podcast, and veteran college football content producer with work at SB Nation, ESPN, SI, and 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