#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.

Three Sports and Social Media Trends I Hope Will Happen in 2015 (But Won’t)

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2015-trendsPlenty of pundits are sharing their thoughts about what to expect in social media in 2015. I don’t pretend to know what will happen — or have any particular unique insight that would trump these predictions.

This isn’t that blog post because I don’t believe that insight exists. Social media is too unpredictable.

I do, however, have opinions about what I hope to see from the world of sports and social media in the coming year. It’s 2015. Social media is past the toddler years – especially in the #SMsports world. It’s time to grow up and expect more from this space where fans, teams, leagues, athletes and the media converge to share ideas, start conversations and gather during the most important sporting events of the year.

Here are three things I hope to see in sports and social media in 2015 — but realize probably won’t.

1. Teams, leagues and athletes will talk less and engage more. 

Why it’s important: Engagement is probably the most overused word in social media. And in the sports world, engagement comes cheap. Post a clever meme, GIF or game photo, and – BAM! – instant “engagement.” But real social media engagement happens one to one, between individuals. True social media connections come when a team or individual takes the time to talk with — not to — its fans.

Why it won’t happen: This kind of engagement — true interaction — is difficult. It takes time and resources. It requires a strategy shift, which I don’t see happening. So, the hunt for likes, shares and comments will continue in 2015 among teams, leagues and athletes. Until the platforms — or the people using them — find a way to measure this return on conversation, social media will continue to be a one-to-many format in sports.

2. Fans will stop using social media as another outlet for hate. 

Why it’s important: The vitriol toward athletes, leagues and teams, and between fans, has to stop. People — yours truly included — will begin to use platforms differently if this doesn’t stop, or at least, dissipate. Some will stop using social media altogether. Yes, use these outlets as a way to reach the characters in sports you couldn’t reach without social media — but do so with some real-world, in-person respect.

Why it won’t happen: Platforms are too anonymous. Period. And that’s not changing enough to matter in 2015. The ability to use social media to spew hate will remain far too easy for those afraid to show their real faces behind the awful comments they post. The shadows of social media will only grow darker in the places that allow it, I’m afraid. And that will chase away value — for fans, teams, athletes — everyone.

3. Social media will stop being the home for highly visible mistakes.

Why it’s important: Brands (personal and organizational) are strengthened or weakened by their social media presence. So badly executed and highly public mistakes in social media diminish brand value — as well as the value of the platforms themselves. A smart, strategic approach to social media — put in the hands of capable, experienced and passionate people — can limit the mistakes we so often see from teams, leagues and athletes. But more importantly, put in capable hands, social media adds value to a brand — and those who seek to connect with it.

Why it won’t happen: Social media is still in its infancy for too many teams, leagues and athletes. Yes, there are plenty of folks who get it — and are doing amazing things in this space. But their work is diminished when those who don’t understand the value and power of social use it poorly — making high-profile gaffes that garner the most attention.

Is this a pretty pessimistic outlook on social media? Maybe. I prefer realistic. I will have plenty of incredible and fan-centric things to write and about share throughout 2015 — I’m sure of that. This is where I’d like to see the industry (is this an industry?) go in the future… to put the fan at the forefront of everything we do. We’re not there today — and I don’t expect us to get there easily in the coming year.

What trends do you see coming? Leave a comment or tweet me your ideas.

And, as always, thanks for being a fan.

Own Your Social Media Mistakes

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The Ray Rice saga reeks from top to bottom, and nothing I write here can help the Baltimore Ravens organization distance itself — and the National Football League — from this debacle. Nothing I write here will help solve the issue of domestic violence. Nothing I write here will calm the outrage of people — sports fans or otherwise — who have witnessed this story unfold and are sickened by actions of the once-respected people involved.

Those are issues best tackled elsewhere, and plenty of smarter folks are doing their best to tackle them. (For starters, check out Mike Sielski’s piece or this from Keith Olbermann or this from Sam Laird.) What I can offer are two simple social media lessons we can learn in the wake of the Ray Rice incident…

Own your social media mistakes. If you are foolish enough to live tweet a news conference with a player accused of beating up his wife — regardless of the circumstances surrounding those actions — you should not delete those tweets (or a subset of them) hours, days or months later.

Apologize. Acknowledge mistakes. Do better the next time.

I’ve deleted plenty of tweets over the five-plus years I’ve been using Twitter (both personally and representing my brand). But it’s usually for a grammatical error, a bad link or something similar — and usually within minutes or hours of tweeting it.

The Ravens’ actions — deleting months-old tweets — is disturbing. It suggests to me something more sinister at play — of covering tracks and tying up loose ends. It’s not behavior appropriate for social media — where transparency trumps public relations. And it only generated more outrage – in the news media and on Twitter.

Never live-tweet a news conference regarding a legal matter! Yes, hindsight is 20-20, but who was running the show and decided back in May this was a good idea?

The Ravens’ punctuated an already over-the-top, victim-blaming display when it live tweeted statements made by Rice, and his then-fiancee. The Ravens have answered the question, “Should we live tweet this?” — should it ever arise in team sports again.

From a social media content strategy perspective, legal matters are of interest to a certain point for fans. But because they’re legal matters, teams and leagues can easily stay above the fray by issuing legally-approved and prepared statements, rather than rapid-fire play-by-play.

Just because we use a platform to share breaking news doesn’t mean we have to break all the news on it. The expectations for in-the-moment social media content are not the same — nor are they appropriate for a team or league to share — surrounding legal matters.

The Ravens should apologize — for its handling of the Ray Rice saga and for a lousy attempt at cleaning up a social media mess four months in the making.

Thanks for being a fan.