The Sports and Social Media Strategy of Meerkat

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Meerkat -- a live streaming video app for Twitter -- burst onto the scene recently. Is it a match made for sports, or another shiny social media object to chase?

Meerkat — a live streaming video app for Twitter — burst onto the scene recently. Is it a match made for sports, or another shiny social media object to chase?

It’s probably premature to talk about a social media strategy for an app that just came out.

Or is it?

Part of social media is testing and learning, trial and error, leading the way so others may follow.

Some brands have experimentation built into their DNA. Most don’t and will never venture far from the comforts of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. I’d estimate 80 to 90 percent of brands lie somewhere in the middle and make their moves based on the other 20 percent, or their competitors.

But many sports teams and leagues crave experimentation. “If fans are doing something, so should we.” This mindset drives sports to try things first in social media — new platforms, edgier content (think GIFs and emojis), just to name a few.

This experimentation mindset is not for everyone, just like it’s not for every brand. Sports fans are different, so sports teams (and leagues) should be, too. Trying out a new live-streaming app is just another in the long line of social media experiments — some successful, some failed.

Meerkat could be that next big thing on Twitter. It’s worth trying. Why? People are talking about it. They’re downloading the app and experimenting themselves (perhaps to the bewilderment of the average Twitter user).

Many of us learn how to use social media together — watching each other, learning in a community setting. Sports teams and leagues do the same. Those brave enough to experiment alongside the average social media user gain immediate credibility and authenticity in my book.

This isn’t about jumping on the newest shiny object. The strategy — right now — around Meerkat is going where the social conversation and community goes, sometimes before there’s even an established community. It’s about trying new tools that fit your brand, your audience, your product — even if you’re not sure how. It’s about breaking the rules when they haven’t even been established.

Along the way, social media experimenters — whether they’re regular people with 20 followers or an NBA team with 400,000 followers — discover utility through usage. They lead the way. They blaze a trail for others.

Aptly enough, the Portland Trail Blazers were among the first sports brands to test Meerkat with their fans, streaming video of a recent team practice, all live to Twitter.

Was it successful? It’s too early to talk metrics with Meerkat — mostly because there really aren’t any. Social experimentation is more art than science, and relying on hard numbers or comparisons to other tactics is futile.

Meerkat has uses, some we’re already seeing from early experimentation.

  • Insider access, where cameras wouldn’t already be providing some kind of coverage
  • Breaking news events
  • Q & A’s (with Twitter interaction that displays right in the Meerkat feed)

I don’t think Meerkat should supplant an owned presence, such as live streaming from a website, where people can find additional engagement opportunities. It also shouldn’t replace other, established video outlets like YouTube.

Meerkat should fit the moment, the message and the medium — just like any other social media tool. A coach’s news conference is probably not a good match. It’s too long, difficult to control the quality, etc. But when a relief pitcher is warming up in the bullpen, a team could give a live look through Twitter via Meerkat — in the moment, brief and relevant. Its use could further fuel the fear of missing out culture of sports and social media.

And let’s face it, this may all be folly for a “Where are they now” story months from now. Meerkat could end up with the Ello’s of the world — a footnote on the road to a larger plan by Twitter to offer live streaming video as a service.

As many have noted, live video streaming is not new. What’s new is the deep integration with Twitter that Meerkat provides, its popularity, its intrigue. Are those alluring enough to overcome Meerkat’s shortcomings? The social media experimenters will help us answer that question.

Thanks for being a fan.

#q1SFE15 in Review: There Is No Off-Season for Sports and Social Media

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The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is March 2-3 in Kansas City.

The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum was held March 2-3 in Kansas City.

I’ve caught up on my sleep and let my brain process the knowledge dropped at the second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum, held this week in Kansas City. Like last year, it was a chance to meet in real life people I admire — and have come to know thanks to social media.

#Q1SFE15 was also a chance to immerse myself in the sports fan’s experience, because after all, that’s what this blog is all about. Here’s what I learned — as a media partner, social media professional and fan — from a talented group of sports and social media leaders.

The Sports Fan is Boss

Whether it’s creating an incredible game-day experience or providing engaging social media content year-round, sports teams and leagues have the fan in mind with nearly everything they do. It begins with game day, but involves so much more. From tailgating, to in-stadium WiFi, to off-season social media content — and everything in-between: The sports fan craves what teams and leagues have.

At Nebraska, football game day is one of seven “state holidays,” according to Kelly Mosier, director of digital communications for the Huskers, who recently upgraded the team’s stadium to HD WiFi. This is tables stakes for teams now, even if it’s just satisfying a vocal minority of fans.

“Cell phones are this generation’s portable radio for fans,” Mr. Mosier said. “[Football] is more than us. It’s a community event. Even if it’s happening outside our stadium, we have ability to be part of that conversation.”

Mosier and his team monitor real-time social media feeds using sophisticated queries. The result is a plethora of engagement opportunities, and the ability to showcase the Husker product for fans unable to be in Lincoln on game day. This includes amplifying user-generated content and providing glimpses of fan activity that can produce authentic but also viral moments.

“We’re letting our fans across the country know it’s awesome to be at the game,” adds Mr. Mosier.

Create a Memorable Experience

The Indy Fuel are re-introducing professional hockey to Indianapolis, which presents much different challenges than an established sports brand like Nebraska football. “For us to be successful long term, we need to provide an experience that beings fans back,” says Lee Dicklitch, vice president of operations and fan experience for the Fuel. “We must share an experience that gets people to notice, and that ensures we don’t lose equity with our fans that we’ve worked hard to build up.”

The Fuel used an on-ice introduction video (see below) that puts an exclamation point on the need to amaze fans in-venue — because this might be the team’s only shot at creating a long-term fan of the franchise.

Sports is Always On: Embrace It

Game day is just part of the fan experience equation. Pre-game, post-game, off-season, training camp, free agency, signing day … you name it, fans want it.

TJ Ansley of the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers talks about ways to keep fans engaged in the off-season through social media.

TJ Ansley of the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers talks about ways to keep fans engaged in the off-season through social media.

“There is no off-season anymore,” says TJ Ansley, director of digital media for NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers. The team — under Ansley’s creative leadership — produces a crazy amount of content after the last buzzer sounds and before the pre-season tips off.

This can include re-purposing content from the previous season, or creating original photos essays, video recaps, highlight stats and team podcasts.

The Trail Blazers even played “hashtag games” as a fun and engaging way to generate conversation and collaborate with other NBA teams. The activity trending each time on Twitter — despite happening during a slow-called slow period.

But really, there is no down time for sports. No quiet period. No vacations. And that means there is no off-season for sports and social media. The demand has only increased from fans looking for ways to connect with their favorite players, teams and leagues — and with other fans.

It also stems from the growing role social media plays in our everyday lives. FOMO — or the fear of missing out what’s happening on social media — is something teams and leagues can capitalize on during slower times, to ensure fans stay connected and engaged through social.

What’s Next? Let the Fan Decide

Some believe social media will become a “profit center” and generate more revenue than any other channel. These opinions — and the activities behind them — were also part of #q1SFE15 discussions. However, I’m not sold on those speculations, and I’m not going into detail about them here. The ability to predict sports and social media trends is an act of folly. The fan will decide. [Click to tweet.]

What’s certain is social media — in whatever shape or form it becomes — has a place in sports and in the sports fan’s life. It’s up to the smart folks who attended #q1SFE15 — and their colleagues across the industry — to deliver what the fan wants.

Thanks for being a fan.

A post script: My thanks to Q1 Sports for including Fourth And 140 as a media partner for the 2015 Sports Fan Engagement Forum. One of my favorite things to do is meet people — in real life — that I’ve come to know through social media. And this event provided another one of those opportunities. 

A group of #q1SFE15 participants shared a meal together after the first day of the forum.

A group of #q1SFE15 participants shared a meal together after the first day of the forum. (Photo via @LisaMBregman)

 

#q1SFE15 Day 1: Fan Engagement Drives Sports Strategy

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The sports fan was at the center of nearly every discussion at day one of the second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum.

And why not?

Just like traditional business models put the customer at the center of everything they do, sports teams and leagues acknowledged that fans drive key decision-making and strategy in digital, social media, event activations, and more.

How do teams and leagues understand the fan? Data. Use information about fans — wherever it’s available — to drive decisions. That can be social media data — the richest coming from the platforms or third-party providers. It can come from traditional fan data — focus groups, customer relationship management tools, website personas — anywhere the fan interacts with the team or league is ripe for the picking.

The Seattle Seahawks use data to analyze average social media engagements per post and benchmark against averages from other sports teams. The goal? Post better content that fans like.

“It isn’t rocket science,” says Kenton Olson, director of digital media and emerging media for the Seahawks. “We can stop and reassess what we’re doing and make adjustments to what we’re posting.”

Social media plays a role in how sports can better understand what fans expect from in-game experiences, or how they consume content (mobile vs. desktop), to which sponsors and community partners fans want their teams to work with each season.

“Encourage the ability of sponsors to join your team in making the fan the hero,” says Darcy Raymond, vice president of marketing and entertainment for the Tampa Bay Rays. Mr. Raymond pointed to the #RaysUp program which provides fan-centric content that also delivers authentic partnerships and highlights community support.

Giving fans what they want is a key driver for social media content, and was a theme running through most of the day at #q1SFE15. The Portland Trail Blazers strive to create “snackable” pieces of content more easily consumed from mobile devices — something that plays well on social media, keeps fan attention, and provides valuable information and multiple engagement points for fans.

“We want to create awesome moments for our fans,” says Russell Houghtaling, director of digital media for the University of Oklahoma. With social content, Mr. Houghtaling says it’s important to “play the long game. Be consistent in who you are through your stories.” The payoff is a more consistent message — and experience — for the fan.

https://twitter.com/Q1Sports/status/572439535990128640

Even subtle things like gauging the mood of fans can be accomplished through social media. The Portland Timbers monitor the pulse of fans through the #RCTID hashtag – a fan-driven conversation about all things Timbers. The tone of tweets plays a role in the frequency and types of content the team will post.

The New Orleans Saints understand their fans and adjust the team’s Snapchat content calendar. “When we’re winning, our fans can’t get enough,” says Alex Restrepo, web/social media manager for the Saints. “When we’re losing, we take breaks.” It sounds simple enough, but in a must-post-every-day-no-matter-what world, being silent has its advantages.

It’s about knowing your fans. Let them set the pace for your social, digital and in-game strategy. These were just a few of the themes from day one of the Sports Fan Engagement Forum. Learn more by following the #q1SFE15 hashtag or by connecting with forum speakers and attendees.

And keep making it about them, not you.

Thanks for being a fan.

The Sports and Social Media Strategy of Putting the Fan First

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The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is March 2-3 in Kansas City.

Here’s a primer for #q1SFE15: The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is March 2-3 in Kansas City.

Whenever I get the chance talk with others about social media, I strongly suggest — sometimes I even preach — that social media professionals should put the fan, customer, reader — first. It’s about them, not you.

The them is what drives social media. It’s a big conversation, and we’re all just lucky enough to be part of it. So, we should respect the dialogue. Listen more than we talk. Engage more than we broadcast. Provide value.

As a social media professional, this approach leads to greater returns — in authenticity, community and social engagement.

Sports teams and leagues don’t necessarily have a social media engagement problem. Their challenges aren’t the same challenges a retailer, financial services brand or small business owner has in social media. Quite the opposite. Sports drives a chunk of social conversation and draws people to social media as much as anything.

What keeps GMs, athletic directors and league commissioners up at night (among other things) is translating that massive social buzz into offline fan actions. (That’s also a struggle for retailers, financial service brands and small business owners, by the way.) Chief among those actions is ticket sales and how to deliver an amazing game-day environment. Along the way, it’s nice to make your sponsors happy. Being creative, leading the way and generating earned media also helps.

These challenges — and there are challenges at every level for every team or league — will drive conversation and curriculum at the second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum. Leaders in the sports and social media space will meet for the second straight year to get ideas from their peers.

“I think it’s important to get different perspectives and ideas from around our industry,” says Ben Hunt, director of digital media for the Denver Broncos. “With some of the individuals taking part in the forum and those who are in attendance, it will be a great opportunity to share and network.”

The #q1SFE15 sessions highlight the search for this balance through various digital marketing strategies and techniques, best practices for leveraging sponsorship and branding partnerships. Speakers will also share ideas for building life-long relationships with a diverse and growing fan base.

“While we’ve always known that we had to engage fans in-venue, decision-makers are now starting to see the value of engaging in the digital and social space,” says Mark Hodgkin, assistant commissioner, digital media, for the American Athletic Conference, and #q1SFE15 speaker. “With this comes great opportunity but also challenges. Social managers must balance engaging in meaningful but perhaps ‘soft’ ways with new pressures to monetize those engagements.”

Social, mobile, digital, video, content strategy … none of this is new territory for the #SMsports crowd. But having a timely discussion about trends, what’s working and what’s not, and what some will be pursuing in 2015 — that’s valuable and interesting — to sports and social media pros, but also to sports fans. (Remember, it’s about them.)

“The biggest thing I’ve seen in fan engagement in the last two years or so is the massive growth in mobile consumption of content by fans,” says Brian Costello, director, digital media and editor-in-chief for the Portland Timbers. “Digital, video, written, social…it all comes down to how a fan is able to consume that content on mobile – especially on match days.”

Learn more about what’s being covered at the Sports Fan Engagement Forum here. And be sure to follow the conversation on Twitter. As an official media partner of this event, Fourth and 140 will provide our perspective, too.

“At the end of the day, lots of fans just want something that cheers for their team or highlights a great play or accomplishment – something they can share on their wall or timeline,” says Hodgkin. “We try to be our teams’ biggest cheerleaders and give followers content they can virtually high-five.”

So stay tuned. Listen more. Make it about them, not you.

And thanks for being a fan.

Join Fourth and 140 at #q1SFE15

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The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is March 2-3 in Kansas City.

The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is March 2-3 in Kansas City.

It’s back!

Leaders from sports organizations, major brands and facilities will discuss the growing opportunities digital and social media provide for connecting teams, leagues and players with fans.

The second annual Sports Fan Engagement Forum is a who’s who of sports and social media, and Fourth and 140 is on board once again as a media partner for this event, scheduled for March 2-3 in Kansas City.

Learn more about the Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement conference at the Q1 Sports Fan Engagement Forum website. Follow @Q1Sports on Twitter and join the conversation with #q1SFE15, too.

Look for some insight on Fourth and 140 ahead of the event, as well as reporting from both days of the forum.  To register – or learn more about who’s going to be there – visit the Sports Fan Engagement Forum website.

Thanks for being a fan.

About FourthAnd140.com:
FourthAnd140.com gives readers a strategic view of how players, teams and leagues – professional and amateur – use social media to connect with today’s sports fans. Editor and publisher Tom Buchheim was one of the first bloggers covering the curious intersection of sports and social media, using his experience as a social media leader for a Fortune 300 brand (and a sports fan) to examine the trends – and characters behind them – in this rapidly-changing space.

About Q1 Productions:
Q1 Productions designs and develops webinars, training courses, conference programs and forums aimed at specifically targeted audiences, including the life science and sports industries. Through a highly structured production process focused on research calls with end-users and key stakeholders in the industry, our team is able to understand the immediate business concerns of today’s leading executives. Whether focusing on new or pending legislative and health policy issues for the life science industry or upcoming marketing trends in the digital and mobile space for sports organizations, our programs provide solutions to the urgent educational and information needs of our attendees.

CONTACT:
Erica Abdnour
Q1 Productions
312-822-8100
sports@q1productions.com

Keep Tweeting, @CoachJim4UM

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Jim Harbaugh Twitter

Jim Harbaugh joined Twitter right after his hire as the new head football coach of the Michigan Wolverines.

If Jim Harbaugh’s latest attempt at Twitter is any indication of how he’ll run the football program at the University of Michigan, Wolverines’ fans have a bright future ahead.

Coach Harbaugh started a new Twitter account this past week — @CoachJim4UM — and quickly amassed more than 125,000+ followers. His first (and, to date, only) tweet garnered more than 4,600 retweets.

It’s an exclamation point on Michigan’s attempt to turn things around in Ann Arbor. This storied program hasn’t had much to tweet about lately, and its coaching decisions, on-field performance and recruiting have left fans restless and looking for a hero to rally behind.

Rival Ohio State, meanwhile, won another Big Ten title this season and plays for an eighth national title on Jan. 12. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer embraces Twitter, and ranks among the top college football coaches when it comes to follower count. And at Michigan, keeping up with — and beating — Ohio State is always a goal. It’s likely one of the reasons Harbaugh returned to Twitter as part of the new gig with his alma mater. (Yes, he tried Twitter before with … some interesting results.)

Becoming an active Twitter user doesn’t equal success on the field or recruiting trail, but college coaches who embrace it can find advantages. Just like a CEO running a company, coaches lead a high-profile brand. Being absent from social media isn’t an option anymore — for CEOs or coaches.

“Nobody should be more passionate about a program than the head coach,” writes Kevin DeShazo, Fieldhouse Media founder and social media consultant to many collegiate coaches and athletic departments. “Every day you aren’t using social media to share that passion is, in my opinion, a missed opportunity.”

Michigan football needs help everywhere, especially on the all-important recruiting trail. The Wolverines rank last among Big Ten schools in 2015 recruiting, according to 24/7 Sports. Some experts believe Harbaugh’s hiring can stimulate interest in the program and lure blue-chip recruits back to the Big House.

“He’s a big name kids are going to want to play for,” Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell told the New York Post. “He is front page college news.”

The front page of college sports is no longer ink and paper. It’s 140 characters. It’s hashtags. It’s trending topics. Social media powers a large part of the interest in programs, in coaches … and in recruiting. Case in point: Trending activity around the recent Army Bowl and Under Armour All-American games, which included player commitment announcements throughout each broadcast.

Fans, parents and athletes tune into social activity — like they do SportsCenter or the sports page — except now they can participate. And coaches should, too. (Just don’t take Twitter lessons from Jim Mora right now.)

“If hyper-competitive coaches can use any new service to gain an edge over a rival, they’re going to,” writes Christopher Wilson of Yahoo News. Social media creates an advantage only because some coaches are reluctant to use it as a marketing tool — as an extension of their programs and personal brands. Pass on this opportunity and miss out — not necessarily on what draws me and other sports fans to social media (conversation, content) — but on reaching a large audience quickly and efficiently.

“[Social media is] your chance to tell your story directly to recruits and parents of recruits (along with fans, the community, the media, alumni and more),” DeShazo says. “Nobody can tell that story better than you.”

And nobody’s more excited to have Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines than Michigan fans. Coach Harbaugh’s Twitter presence can help him build an even stronger program, connect closer with fans, and sell his brand to top-notch recruits year-round.

So keep tweeting, Coach. And thanks for being a fan.