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.

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