It’s hard to imagine that not long ago social media was largely texts and links. It was easy – a big announcement, a trade, a milestone – throw out a link and the job was done. Later, you dropped in a photograph from Getty and it felt fine.
Then came increasingly sophisticated graphics, GIFs, short-form video, long-form video, Photoshopped pics, and combinations of all of the above. For digital and social media, it has become just as much about creative chops as it is about community management, engagement, and brand. Even if that graphic or GIF that took a creative specialist hours to create is viewed by fans for just a second as they scroll, it’s expected and it’s a part of conveying the brand, the look, the feel, and the, well, coolness factor a bit.
Every team and organization has adapted a bit differently, depending on size, resources, and the direction upon which leadership has steered the evolution of roles in production, design, digital, and social. It is more siloed for some – wanting to maintain a certain standard of graphics and videos; while others have split the duties a bit more whether by finding versatile individuals that can do social and creative, or leaving the bigger jobs to the creative team and the day-to-day content to the digital crew.
Regardless of the setup, however, the sheer tonnage of content has certainly added a great of strategy when it comes to creative.
It’s not always an agency-like process of: project, design brief, specs, description, deadline. Sure, if you’re planning a campaign or promotion weeks in advance, that process still works, but it’s more about continuing to add to the arsenal and getting more efficient each and every time the design team hits export.
Unless a team has endless staff and resources (huh?), the design team now must think about a) How can this graphic or GIF be designed so that it can be re-used and repurposed, for another play or player?, b) What treatments or elements can be saved for future use on other designs?, and c) How can this awesome design be created so that someone lacking the proficiency of a design pro change out text or an image or add a video, so that the standard of quality of the team’s output remains high without the design team needing to lift a finger?
The more time you spend in digital and social, in sports or otherwise, the more you start to notice those efficiencies. Maybe a GIF used for the draft can be tweaked to be used for big plays or scoring plays next season, let alone constructing the GIF in the first place in a manner such that it can be easily repurposed for other players (sounds simple, but not all practice this). Heck, maybe you’re an under-resourced team where there is no full-time design team and it falls on the digital, the marketing, the broadcast, the CR staff to do the best they can. This is where a solid template or app can go a long way in making a team look much bigger and feistier than it really is.
Whats the takeaway here? It’s to inject a strategic mindset into the design and production team. Let them know it can be okay for someone that doesn’t have a degree in a creative field to produce something, especially if it’s just tweaking or changing out something the professional producers did create.
The demand for content is only growing and it’s important to establish what kind of content the digital and social team should be able to produce (i.e. just about anyone can create a slo-mo, black and white video with music of players arriving for the game), what kind of content can and should be templated, and make sure the creative team keeps this all in mind before they hit export.
No team will tell you they have enough staff, enough time, enough resources – but it’s the ones that are efficient and strategic that look like they have an army in there. The prefix ‘strategic’ is becoming almost a prerequisite for every position these days, and perhaps no part of a team is that more important than in creative production.
Want to talk about your digital and social strategy? Contact me
Marketing is much more than Mad Men these days. Sure, a good story still matters. But if it’s not backed up by sound digital strategy, strong social media content – paid and organic, analytics to measure and adjust, and documented processes to allow marketing last beyond campaigns and management turnover – then even the strongest stories can fall short of delivering success.
During my recent foray into digital and social consulting, I’ve encountered different business practices and challenges, both from clients I’ve worked with directly and others I’ve observed or actively encountered along the way, and over the years at my last job – working with several dozen clients of varying scale and sophistication. I’m no expert, let alone anything resembling a guru or ninja, but here I discuss a few lessons I’ve learned about the areas businesses of any size can heed as they seek to optimize and develop their own digital and social strategy.
There is almost always going to be resistance to change. But if a system seems to rely a bit too much on plugging holes with manual workarounds, it may be time to question. Or if an office manager is the only one that really knows how something works (and the company may just be screwed if he/she was gone tomorrow), it may be time to question. If there are questions you wish you could answer and have a sneaking suspicion others can, it may be time to question. It’s hard enough to run a business every day, while evaluating how replicable, cohesive, and documented one’s systems are, but don’t let inertia preserve a status quo that isn’t as good as it could be and should be.
We have data, great! We can track key metrics like click-through rates, reach, engagement, conversions, conversion rate, and all that fun stuff. So, are these numbers good? Sure, you can try to look up industry benchmarks, see what comes up in a Google search of recent articles and blogs, but the most important benchmark is your own. And to benchmark your data requires not just measuring metrics today, but making sure you can quickly, easily ,and effectively compare it to last year, last quarter, and to this ad or that post in a similar context. We may focus on delivering reports period to period, but if you’re not benchmarking, it’s pretty much impossible to discern whether you’re performing well or not, whether you’re getting better or getting worse.
3. Thinking single touch
These ads delivered no conversions – what went wrong? For years, we blindly accepted the practice of spending money on billboards, radio and TV ads, magazine and newspaper ads, and, later, digital banners and then social ads. But, with the exception of straight coupon / discount offers, rarely could these marketing efforts be traced all the way to a monetary conversion. If it was a multi-touch world the last several decades, today’s consumption-heavy era can involve even more touch points before a consumer is ready to buy. And digital and social ads, in particular, see consumers at all points in the funnel, many of which can be led down the funnel to that last click or that conversion. It’s okay for a “conversion” to not involve a sale – it can be a video completion, a form or contest entry, or just engagement with a post. It’s not typically single touch and that’s not only ok, it’s often expected.
4. Having paid and organic social working in silos
Buying and optimizing social and digital ads is not easy. It involves knowing (and keeping up with) the small and not-so-small changes that seem to occur with the platforms, targeting options, and tactics every day, and making adjustments to copy, creative, audiences, keywords, and placements to deliver the best results. For this reason, many small-to-medium businesses and teams will enlist an outside agency to take of their digital marketing. Meanwhile, the organic social, digital, and email content is usually produced and handled internally. Having these teams in silos eliminates some of the sweet synergies of aligning and working together – sharing and creating content that can and should be used in ads, having a strategy to post dark or boost posts, using the data and learnings from both paid and organic to inform and improve the content strategy on each side, and so much more. It’s not easy and, in many cases, it’s far cheaper on the surface to pay an agency than to hiring a full-time employee, but it doesn’t mean it’s okay to accept silos.
5. Naming conventions
This is not just a pet peeve, but a potential obstacle to organizing data to drive actionable insights. Clean data means naming conventions, and better naming conventions allows for far more effective analysis on the back end. There’s a reason Google has their UTM parameters in place – so digital marketers can track every link down to the campaign, creative, and copy. Likewise for social media ads, if campaigns, ad sets, and ads have arbitrary names, it won’t be too efficient when evaluating ad performance over time that ‘Ad 3’ performed best last quarter, while ‘Ad 6b’ performed best the same quarter last year. You can do the legwork to look it up, but a strong, organized nomenclature is pretty much a necessity these days of big data, and allows for consistency over time as people, roles, and platforms change.
6. Overthinking content
Say the word ‘content’ and some will run away screaming. Sure, the thought of producing content for so many platforms in so many forms, multiplied by days, weeks, and months can be freakin’ frightening. But it doesn’t have to be. If you’re a worthwhile business, you’re providing value to consumers or fans in some way. You have the ability to earn the attention of your customers and prospects by leaning into content that’ll make them smarter, make them laugh, make them feel something, or make them empathetic. Be a thought leader – curate and share knowledge; be a friend – share something that’ll make your customers smile because it resonates with who your customers are; tell me about people like me – share stories of your customers and lessons learned or ideas they try. And don’t be afraid to repurpose and repost! A video can beget a blog post can beget a quote or stat graphic can beget a poll can beget a blog post summarizing poll results can beget UGC and so on. And don’t whip out a camera or bring in a video producer to create a single video for a single content piece – instead of shooting for two minutes for one piece, shoot for 12 minutes and get a whole lot more, so you won’t have to touch a camera for weeks or months. Content does take work and does take strategic forethought, but it doesn’t have to be hard as we make it out to be.
7. Underthinking content
The other side of the spectrum when it comes to content should be avoided, too. Don’t post or send content just to post or send content. There should be a why and it’s always helpful to take a step back, put yourself in the shoes of the scroller, and think if it’s truly something would slow your scroll or something you want to consume or engage. Every piece of content, email, ad is an opportunity to strengthen your brand and credibility, or to weaken it. The attention of consumers is also not something to be taken for granted. Give content the thoughtfulness and quality your fans, your customers, and your future customers deserve
8. Put the *action* in actionable data
You have data to review, awesome! But don’t just look at it, and then go about business as usual. Learn from it – insights should often lead to action, if you’re not uncovering insights, you’re probably not asking the right questions of your data or looking at it in the right way. It’s not easy to take the time to think through and execute changes, but that’s the point of the data – to justify and assure the effort taken to deviate from the status quo. When reviewing performance metrics, make sure to answer the ‘So what?’ and follow that with ‘So then let’s try this.’ Don’t force strategic overhauls, but don’t sit back when the data is telling you to move.
9. The fallacy of relying on ‘best practices’
Ok, a bonus one to tie much of this together: the fallacy of overly relying on best practices.
A funny thing about ‘best practices’ – once they become best practices, everyone using best practices has regressed to the mean. Another thing about best practices – they’re at best a guide, far from a prescription. Spend less time studying best practices and more time testing, measuring, and benchmarking with your audience (or that of your competitors/peers), and studying and evaluating their engagement and consumption habits. There is a whole lot of variety among the businesses and brands utilizing digital and social media marketing, and thinking there is a uniform set of practices that are optimal for them all is not the foundation upon which to form a strategy.
It’s easy to get stuck in a tunnel of just keeping up every day and sometimes impossible to see, or take the time to look for, areas to improve and insights to uncover. Sometimes it takes a different set of eyes, or the courage to ask and attack the difficult questions. There will be wins and there will be the losses, but once you get in the game, you’ll have far more control of the outcome, able to veer toward victory in the end.
We can never have enough content. We always want another sick graphic, a GIF, a video, and we need it in specs for this platform and that platform. And we need it all ASAP.
But producing content takes time and it takes talent. Whether an organization is all in-house, all outsourced, or a combination, content needs must be thoughtfully determined. Because if you try to grind a creative team into the ground, the work will suffer and the dreaded ‘B’ word in social media and sports will rear its ugly head – you know it: burnout.
Strategy and planning are the keys to maintaining the sanity of the creative team while still having an effective, engaging, and impressive digital presence. This is the mindset that Josh Wetzel, Digital Media Specialist for Auburn Athletics, has learned and practiced in his role with the Tigers. It’s not about content for content’s sake – it’s thoughtfully figuring out the best solution for every content need in Athletics. Don’t ask for a graphic if a photo will be better, don’t write a brief for a bunch of new GIFs when you have templates that can be put to use. Starting out in Sports Information, where more stats, nuggets, articles, and game notes were always better, Wetzel had to learn the economy that comes with content in college athletics, and digital/social, in general.
“Figuring out a way to balance the content to where it doesn’t burn them out – that was a big learning curve for me because, coming as a SID, I just wanted content, content, content,” said Wetzel, who served in the military before attending Auburn first as a student before later coming back to work there full-time. “And I wasn’t taking into account what it was doing to my creators. That can create a lot of burnout really fast…I really had to learn that lesson…”
It’s further complicated by the sheer tonnage of sports in which Auburn competes – all with varying scale, schedules, and needs. They all compete for the singular Auburn Tigers brand (War Eagle!) and they all want to be churning out content constantly. Every school manages their content in their own way – some will centralized content creators, some with armies of students to help, some in which SIDs or student athletes have talents to help out, and many more variations.
But wait, there’s more. Throw in the marketing elements – selling tickets to revenue sports and driving attendance at all sports, driving donations, media relations, putting on the events/games themselves, running digital marketing, managing operations, and, yes, creating and managing content. Before your head explodes, hear how Wetzel and Auburn keeps track of it all and assures every sport is firing on all cylinders. They use what Wetzel called a ‘pod’ system. Let him explain:
“Every team has a pod and in that pod there’s a graphic designer, a videographer, a digital media representative…a marketing representative, a team representative – we all have meetings weekly and we discuss what’s going to happen,” Wetzel described.
“Specifically with basketball (for which Josh serves as the digital media rep), we’ll get together (and discuss) things coming up, things we want to highlight throughout the week…how do we best visually represent that? I have a really good relationship with my graphic designer and videographer – I’ll bounce ideas off them…’What’s going to best tell the story in this situation’? Every team kind of has that.”
It’s an understatement to say digital and social media now have a place at the table. Everyone from the recruits of tomorrow to the Athletic Director to the President of the University have a stake in what goes out on the Auburn Tigers social media channels. Particularly sport-by-sport, the head coach often leads the way, however, at many schools. It remains not too uncommon for some coaches to completely (and naively) eschew social media, deeming it more trouble than it’s worth.
That’s not the case for Auburn and the teams with which Wetzel works. Talking specifically about Men’s Basketball, one of the most competitively successful of Auburn’s revenue sports in 2018-19, Wetzel described a dream situation – one in which the head coach gives them leeway to tell a positive story of the team, and appreciates the value of what they produce. When the coaches buy in, when they recognize the power of the platforms – well, that’s music to the ears of the digital and social media teams.
“With social media being a big part of recruiting – we’re involved with the staff…they kind of give us some leeway for what we need do, and they may give us some things they’d like us to push to drive the narrative,” explained Wetzel, who was right in the trenches on the digital side as Pearl and the men’s basketball team made a run to the Final Four. “It’s just been awesome to work for [head coach] Bruce Pearl…He really appreciates everything everybody does… A little thankfulness goes a long way and Bruce Pearl does a great job of showing his appreciation for his support staff.”
Sure, it’s easy to welcome the video and content team with open arms when you’re having perhaps the best season in the history of the program. But it’s the access and trust permitted by Pearl that helps Auburn’s digital team make magic, and drives deep connections with fans. If they avoided the melancholy moments and only captured and shared the wins, if they didn’t share the emotion and desire of the players, it diminishes how much the fans feel and how much they ultimately care. By the end of their magical March Madness run, Wetzel could look back knowing fans went on that emotional roller coaster ride with them, and that’s what kept those ties stronger than ever and will create an everlasting bond to the Tigers. Wetzel gives an example to underscore this mindset:
“Like, when we lost by 30-something points at Kentucky, Coach Pearl let us in the locker room postgame, and we put out a video from that moment,” Wetzel recounted to me. “We want to show those hard moments – that’s something a lot of teams don’t do, they don’t show the hard moments, so their fans kind of rise and fall with the momentum.
“If you can bring in those hard moments, it humanizes everybody and everybody feels like they’re actually on a ride. We established that relationship through the season, so when we were in the locker room postgame after (the SEC Championship), that was normal and that’s great.”
In the end, it’s all about making your fans feel like they’re part of the story, getting them to buy in and invest emotionally. That’s the North Star that can guide the economy necessary in content strategies and lead to the ultimate goal, as Wetzel stated, to ‘visually represent’ the brand, the team, the story, the moment.
Every piece of content that fills your feeds takes preparation, thought, strategy, and planning. All of that content is created for a reason and the way it looks and feels, and the message it conveys – that’s all done intentionally, too. Wetzel is living these decisions every day, guiding strategy by that guiding beacon – to expand and strengthen the Auburn brand, to widen and deepen the connection with fans and keep them screaming ‘War Eagle’ with all their heart.