5 Things I Learned from Leading Social Media at a PGA Tour Champions Event

Standard
Amfam Champ logo

The American Family Insurance Championship was held June 24-26 in Madison, Wis.

I’ve been writing and tweeting about the intersection of sports and social media for more than five years. My day job brings me alongside the sports industry often — but never as close as the inaugural American Family Insurance Championship — a PGA TOUR Champions event held June 24-26 in Madison. Wis.

When my company announced the tournament dates more than a year ago, I quickly raised my hand to lead social media activities. This was a chance to pursue a dream — something my employer knows a little about.*

To do this, I had to step outside the comforts of my little blog and put my experience covering the sports and social media (#SMSports) world into practice. It involved developing a detailed strategy, syncing with the PGA, tournament staff, volunteers, sponsors and media. There were also crazy-long days with little sleep, and lots and lots of walking.  .

IMG_1504.JPG

That’s me at the AmFam Championship Media Center with all the essentials: laptop, iPhone charger, coffee, sunglasses, gum, DSLR camera and visor.

Now that I’ve had a little time to reflect on my experience, I wanted to share my takeaways from running social media at the inaugural American Family Insurance Championship.

Here goes…

  1. Plan the work. Work the plan. This is my mantra with other social media projects, but it’s crucial for live sports events with lots of moving parts. It’s important to understand what you want to accomplish — something that’s not in some universal social media playbook used by every team or league. I had to start from scratch.

For AmFam Champ, I knew we had the opportunity to do more than other PGA Tour Champions event had done in social media. Our pre-tournament research showed the Champions Tour always led the way from a social media conversation and share-of-voice standpoint. I wanted to change that. And I want to be clear — that’s not a knock on other tournaments or the PGA Tour. That was my confidence in the community we were building online and offline in support of this event. (Stay tuned for how we stacked up.)

Part of the planning meant creating content that could be scheduled ahead of time or used at any time. I couldn’t have a designer with me at all times, so I worked with one ahead of the tourney to create customizable templates. These allowed me to pump out original, branded content (like the graphic above) to showcase some of the Tour’s top players, as well as promote tournament tee times and other news.

Strong, consistent branding was also a must — and something to put in any social media plan. For tourney week, I leaned heavily on these templates and the content calendar for guidance — but only up to a point. See next lesson learned.

2. Plan for the unexpected. Live sports is unpredictable. Throw fan interaction, weather, emotion and a host of other intangibles, and you have the opportunity to quickly get thrown off your social media game plan.

But if you expect the unexpected, it can deliver pretty special moments. Easier said than done, right?

In the flurry of activity on Day 1, I snapped the photo above of two spectator chairs near the 9th hole. One of our tournament mantras was, “Golf is back in Wisconsin,” and — to me — this image just fit the bill perfectly. It helped that Packer legend Brett Favre would be on site the following day, too, and so on a whim, I tagged the @Packers in the photo on Twitter. Later, I noted the team retweeted this photo — one of our most engaged tweets of the week.

The night before tournament play began, I noticed a slew of player bags in a spot just off the media center where I was stationed. I snapped this picture near the end of the day but wasn’t sure what to do with it. Sometimes your eye tells you things your mind isn’t ready for. It didn’t take long for the tweet to find me, and it was a great way to close the day before tournament play.

Also before play began, AmFam Champ host Steve Stricker toured the American Family Children’s Hospital — a beneficiary of the proceeds from the tournament. That day also happened to be National Selfie Day. While I’m not a fan of jumping onto trending topics, this felt genuine and true to the tournament’s brand — as well as Steve’s. And the photo (see tweet above) was perfect.

The lesson here is to be on the lookout for the unexpected. You may not recognize their value right away. But these moments — small or large — can really make your social media presence stand out, and provide your followers and fans something they can’t get anywhere else. That’s true for sports, or insurance, or breakfast cereal.

3. Be a jack of all trades. I’ve had the fortune to do many different things in my career that made this role easier. I’ve been a TV reporter and producer, video photographer and producer, magazine editor, and social media manager — to name a few.

Everything I learned in these roles helped, but I also made sure to pick up a few extra skills, like brushing up on Photoshop, and getting my hands on a nicer camera — one that was WiFi compatible and talked to my phone. (Seriously, that’s the best invention ever for covering live sports!)

The photo above was one of many I took with my DSLR camera. You can’t do everything with an iPhone, and I couldn’t always rely on our professional photographers or the PGA to get me real-time images. So I didn’t go anywhere without my Nikon (a Christmas present from my family, by the way), and created my own steady, reliable flow of visual content.

Take some time to add skills to your personal toolbox. They’ll help you appreciate the work others do, but will also provide you with crucial abilities that can serve you well in the future.

That being said, sometimes an iPhone photo is OK, especially when you can do some on-the-fly editing with filters. Our on-course branding made for some amazing visuals, and this was just one of many photos (and tweets) that made me proud.

4. Learn the lingo. I’ve watched a lot of golf on TV and played the game my whole life. But you need more than that before you can feel confident leading the social media coverage of a live, professional sports event. So I did my homework. I studied the social media feeds of the PGA Tour Champions and other tournament stops.

I incorporated my knowledge of the #SMsports industry into my approach, too. Because what works in football or basketball, can also work in golf.

Fortunately, leagues and teams have access to a library of statistics. Use those to create compelling, interesting content. Report on the action, but don’t just give play-by-play. Add value and use terms fans are used to hearing at the game, on the course or on TV.

But also be social. Use emojis, compelling images and lingo that’s familiar to socially-savvy fans.

5. Get some help. One person can’t do it all — at least not well or effectively. I was fortunate to partner with an energetic and talented social media pro — Jason Waller. We quickly established our own content swim lanes. We reviewed each day’s calendar and the opportunities ahead of us — together — but then went our separate ways to divide and conquer. And, we both adapted on the fly — Jason perhaps even more than me.13529075_10210038358023484_1498798714104140514_n

He was the master of behind-the-scenes content, showcasing our fans, volunteers, employees and entire tournament experience.

It was fun to watch Jason blossom over a week’s time doing this. It will serve him well in the future, too. Thanks, TBG.

We also tapped into other writers, photographers and videographers — all had other roles but all played a part in the overall success of the tournament’s social media presence.

So how’d we do? It was the first year for this PGA Tour Champions event, but you wouldn’t know that by the turnout. More than 56,000 fans attended, and the tournament raised close to $1 million for charity.

And remember those social media goals established in the strategy? Well, we met and exceeded them. The tournament’s social media accounts owned 43 percent of all related retweets and 25 percent of all shared social content. Strong Facebook and Twitter presences powered this surge, led by those branded messages I mentioned earlier, but also by strong video content and on-the-course coverage.

It was a fantastic experience for me — and I appreciate even more the hard work of those who do this every day.

I’m already gearing up for the 2017 American Family Insurance Championship, and will continue to seek inspiration from this community so willing to share ideas and expertise.

Thanks for being a fan.

* Tom Buchheim works for American Family Insurance in Madison, Wis.

The Story Behind @HuskerFBNation’s Tweet Honoring Sam Foltz

Standard
Sam Foltz

Nebraska punter Sam Foltz died in a car accident in July.

How do you capture emotional moments in sports? You trust your instincts, and follow the lead of those playing the game.

That’s just part of the story behind a pretty special Nebraska Football tweet, which marked a truly incredible moment in the young 2016 college football season.

On the Husker’s first punt of the season, the team honored punter Sam Foltz, who weeks earlier died in a car accident, along with fellow punter and former Michigan State player Mike Sadler. Instead of sending out a full special teams squad of 11, the team chose to send just ten — honoring their late teammate. Officials called a delay of game penalty, which opponent Fresno State declined. Nebraska fans honored Foltz with cheers and tears.

It was easily the most emotional scene of week one in college football, and perhaps of the past few seasons. It was also a heartfelt, agonized-over, tear-jerking moment, which quickly spread from Memorial Stadium to social media.

The same emotion shone through in how the team chose to share this gesture with its social media followers. The team’s tweet (see below) was simple, but absolutely on point for the moment — an equally heartfelt and tear-jerking piece of social media poetry.

And not surprisingly, it spread like wildfire across Twitter and beyond.

“There’s been talk for a few weeks about that game, and how best to honor Sam,” Kelly Mosier, assistant athletic director of digital communication at the University of Nebraska, told Fourth and 140. “I always let the players and coaches take the lead, and then try and tell their story. This was no different.”

Mr. Mosier, who wrote the tweet, says there was extra care taken with this particular post, given the magnitude of the moment. It was something he wanted to get just right.

Kelly Mosier

Kelly Mosier is assistant athletic director of digital communication at the University of Nebraska.

“I wrote a first draft of the tweet on Wednesday [Aug. 31], saved it in my drafts on my phone, and would go back to it all week to reread it,” Mosier says. “It was a special moment. I wanted to be sure to do it justice, knowing that everyone else would be talking about what happened. I wanted to give the why it happened. And tell the guys’ story on it.”

It’s not always easy separating work from emotion, and this story is filled with it. Nebraska is a close-knit community, and Mosier knew it would affect him as much as anyone else — maybe more.

“I choked up every time I opened my drafts, so that’s how I knew I had it right. 

“Sam had such a huge impact on so many people here that his passing has been pretty emotional. “But, a team is a family. And when things are tough, you lean on your family,” Mosier says. “At Nebraska, we have a big team that extends to a very passionate fan base. So the family we lean on is very big and very supportive.”

That family got a little bigger Saturday, thanks to the touching tribute and the tweet heard ’round college football. At publish time, Mosier’s beautifully crafted post has generated more than 37,000 retweets and nearly 70,000 likes. It’s also been used in numerous news stories, as appropriate — and poetic — background for readers.

“Social has been a great way to remember Sam,” Mosier says. “Everything he stood for. And tell others about how special he was. I hope I was able to do my small part of that on Saturday.”

Leading social media is not easy work. When you hear about the people behind the accounts, it’s usually because of some unfortunate misstep. But there are real people running these accounts — folks like Kelly Mosier and his staff at the University of Nebraska — people with a genuine passion for what they do and the teams, leagues and players they represent.

Their work matters — to them and to sports. Thanks for the reminder, Kelly.

And… thank you all for being fans.

Social Media is Not the Savior of Major League Baseball

Standard

Major_League_Baseball.svgI was always baseball guy. Growing up in the pre-steroids, post-free agency era of Major League Baseball, I knew nearly every player by name. I memorized their stats. I studied their swings and emulated them on neighborhood ball diamonds. (I had a mean Von Hayes impersonation.) I could score a game — still can.

Saturday mornings were reserved for This Week in Baseball, followed by the Major League Baseball Game of the Week. Growing up in Iowa, I watched entire games on TV, since I rarely got to see them in person. There was no social media then, so my second screen was an APBA Baseball game board.

My friends and I collected baseball cards. And we probably still have them, unlike the generation before, who will tell you their collections were tossed by an annoyed mother, or destroyed in the spokes of a bicycle. I followed teams and players, and each World Series was more epic than the last.

I loved the game — more than football or basketball.

Baseball is different today, and I’m less of a fan now. Some of that’s me — getting older steals your free time, and being a baseball fan requires a lot of it. The game has changed, too. Some of what’s different is good, but recent history has tarnished baseball, perhaps permanently. Tradition also haunts the game.

The league has experienced record revenues — yes — but its fans are long in the tooth, and younger viewers are going elsewhere. Nielsen reports MLB has the oldest median TV audience — 56 years — compared to 49 for the NFL and 41 for the NBA, according to Adweek. Fading interest among young people is especially troubling. During the past four years, MLB viewership among 18- to 24-year-olds dropped 3.4 percentage points. Of the last five World Series, four have been among the least-viewed in MLB history.

From Experience Matters: A look at the declining interest in Major League Baseball among young viewers.

From Experience Matters: A look at the declining interest in Major League Baseball among young viewers.

What will help Major League Baseball overcome this trend? Not social media.

I give a lot of credit where it’s due to social media, but alone it will not bring a slew of younger viewers to ballparks or MLB Network broadcasts. Social media will not speed up the game, make it easier to watch online, improve stadium experiences, or soften a nearly 150-year-old institution. It’s just not that simple.

Can social media help? Absolutely. Strong, engaging and targeted social content already resonates with many millennials. The start of the 2016 season proved why social media is part of the conversation for changing baseball — and for connecting with young fans.

First, the #CapsOn promotion to mark Opening Day was brilliant, and drew simple and authentic user-generated content from young fans everywhere.

#CapsOn synced with other digital and non-digital tactics, too, including 30 geo-targeted SnapChat lenses, a custom Twitter emoji and massive cap giveaway. It was a league-wide campaign and an impressive way to help fans break out of winter and get excited for the boys of summer.

Stronger ties with social media platforms go a long way toward drawing a younger demographic, too. Another season-long SnapChat partnership is smart, as are the countless filters available to fans, teams and players. That being said, with just a handful of Stories planned throughout a 162-game season, the SnapChat push feels underwhelming. And a March 11 “SnapChat Day” just underscored the strict, social media-unfriendly rules that can limit MLB team and player creativity and connectivity.

Live video has potential, and social media will likely be a streaming destination. Despite some softening of blackout rules, fans still hit roadblocks to this all-important connection to their favorite teams. It’s encouraging to hear MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred talk about potential partnerships with Facebook or Amazon, and I hope the league chooses fans over finances.

No, baseball’s biggest barriers to growth lie with game itself. It’s long, slow and trapped by its own traditions. These are things no snap or tweet can remedy.

“We are so enamored by the idea of what we think the game should look like that, we fail to see how it could be seen,” writes Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa in this brilliant piece in Sole Collector. “Baseball is a beautiful sport, it’s our sport. We have a responsibility as the baseball community to progress the game forward and be ambassadors of the game.”

Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper fired perhaps the biggest shot across baseball’s bow, calling the game tired. “You can’t express yourself,” Harper told ESPN in March. “You can’t do what people in other sports do.”

Both are right.

Baseball must adapt — from game mechanics to how its current crop of stars interact with each other on the field. But saving baseball is bigger than allowing bat flips and flashier uniforms. It’s more fundamental.

The game must maintain that beauty Mr. Correa describes, but let go of some of its tradition that holds the game back. Despite Commissioner Manfred’s sentiment that today’s young players are “going to decide what’s acceptable on the field,” the game needs an overhaul that comes from actions off the field — led by owners and league leadership. 

In the meantime, social media will not save baseball. But it will continue to do what it does best — keeping fans connected to this game that, for generations, has been more than a sport. It’s our national pastime.

Thanks for being a fan.

Facebook Loves ‘Live’, and So Should Sports

Standard
Facebook icon

Live is a new form of Facebook content that should draw the attention of sports teams, leagues and athletes.

Safe to say I was an early skeptic of the Facebook Live feature. Truth be told, I’m generally bearish on anything related to Facebook. I’m a Twitter guy, after all.

Then my friend and former TV news colleague, Craig Rickert, started using Facebook Live. Craig is the main news anchor at KAIT-TV in Jonesboro, Arkansas. He has an active Facebook page, so Facebook Live was an option — and a darn good one.

Craig began streaming updates before the news — just ahead of a broadcast or earlier in the day — letting viewers know what he and others in the newsroom were working on. A bit ho-hum, but it was live and on Facebook. Then, Craig started broadcasting on Facebook Live during the 10 p.m. news — like through commercial breaks or when weather or sports was on the air.

Seriously awesome access.

Craig’s behind-the-scenes looks at the studio and newsroom are fun and engaging. He’s good on the air, and just as good with an iPhone, selfie stick and a live feed direct to Facebook. And he has a captive audience of more than 8,000.

That’s when I started to get a little more bullish on Facebook Live. I also thought it was something the sports world should embrace. Turns out, some already are. But there’s more who are missing out.

So, here are three key reasons others in the industry should be bullish on Facebook Live, too.

fblive1. Media companies like Live. Huffington Post, Fusion and TMZ are jumping on board, citing immediacy and ability to interact with correspondents as obvious upsides to live video on Facebook. But just like my friend, Craig, has shown, Live is also simple to use and offers unlimited potential for media outlets and reporters. And sports teams should be thinking — and acting — more like their own media outlets. There’s better control of the message, the delivery and the reaction. Plus, Live allows teams, leagues and athletes to give something to fans — until recently — they could only get from the media.

2. Facebook’s algorithm likes Live. Not long after its release, Facebook noted it will begin prioritizing live video, as it tweaks the all-important News Feed algorithm. That’s big news and added incentive for any page owner to use this feature. I like the approach the Detroit Tigers (see example below) and San Francisco Giants are taking this spring — incorporating Live into their daily content mix. (Bravo to two hard-working, smart dudes — Mac Slavin and Bryan Srabian.) What happens between the games keeps fans engaged, and Live can help fill those gaps nicely.


3. The boss likes the cost of Live.
Seriously, what does it take to create images, highly-produced videos or even GIFs for use in social media? They take time and people — resources — and most organizations lack these precious commodities. Live video streaming essentially takes an iPhone and a person running it. Voila — instant content. Whether it’s Facebook Live or Periscope — plan for the growth of live streaming video — serious growth — in the next year. You’ll not only create compelling content, you’ll do it on the cheap while likely outperforming posts that took a lot more time and effort to pull together.

As with anything Facebook-related, I worry marketers will abuse Live or lack any strategic approach when using it. So be smart about how you use Live. Don’t be afraid to try new things, but don’t just use it to crack Facebook’s algorithm. Fortunately, fans are interested in even the most mundane things — like locker room tours, batting practice or player Q&As. But don’t be surprised if marketers of non-sports brands abuse Live, or at the very least, use it ineffectively.

Live can and should complement any content strategy. And athletes in particular should use it judiciously. Too much of a good thing is not always good thing — especially on Facebook. There’s opportunity to complement what’s happening on other platforms (Snapchat, Twitter/Periscope) and with other content, so get the most out of Live content with some thoughtful planning. The boss will be happy, and so will your followers.

Are you bullish on Facebook Live? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for being a fan.

Front Office Sports Opens Doors for Aspiring Sports Business Pros

Standard
Front Office Sports logo

Front Office Sports is a resource for students and young professionals in which they can access our extensive database of informational interviews, infographics, and tips.

Sports business people give, and give, and give some more. Why else would a guy with few connections and little experience get to talk with talented, smart people in a highly competitive industry?

Four years ago, that guy was me. I took a chance, started a blog and hoped to fill a couple voids. One was an outlet for writing, which I desperately needed. The second helped fill a gap, because few were covering this curious intersection of sports and social media.

It was uncharted territory. Yet there was a community here, with plenty of guides willing to help me find my way … willing to share and give.

Since then, an explosion of social media in sports led to other voices in this space, and it’s been incredible watching so many with similar passions approach topics affecting the fans consuming the content, as well as those creating it. Talented people like Sunny CadwalladerJessica Smith, Neil Horowitz, Bob McKamey, Tariq Ahmad, Kevin DeShazo and many others.

While it’s a seemingly small pond, it can feel like a vast ocean for those trying to make a splash — and a career — in it today. Adam White likely had that feeling a year ago when he founded Front Office Sports, an educational resource for students and young professionals interested in sports careers. More than just a blog or Twitter feed, FOS is a community that connects the industry’s big fish with those hoping to make it big.

“People who work day in and day out to make all of this happen deserve to have their stories told,” Mr. White told Fourth and 140 recently. “When we think of interviews, we think of players and not actually people behind the scenes. That is why our motto is ‘the game behind the game’ because we are telling the stories of the people who are working behind the scenes.”

Mr. White wanted to create a resource to connect professionals and students on a more personal level, a seed planted by his professors at the University of Miami-Florida.

Adam White photo

Adam White is the founder of Front Office Sports.

“Many times I heard, ‘Connections are so important in our line of work because the industry is so small’,” says White, who juggles his FOS duties with a part-time job and full class schedule at Miami. “I figured if I was going to talk to people, why not share their insight with everyone, so those who were too afraid to reach out or didn’t have the means to could still learn everything I was learning. The whole idea was to help myself learn and give others opportunities to work on the blog while educating others at no cost or effort to them.”

Front Office Sports recently celebrated its first year of operation, and using a team of contributors, now cranks out content daily.

“We cover everything from how they got their start, to their favorite memories, to tips for students,” White says. “This content is important because it is relevant, real and not sugar-coated. The people we interview keep things clear and straight-up, which gives those who read it an unadulterated view as to what sports business is all about and if it is actually for them.”

In the past six months, White says Front Office Sports went from averaging 100 visitors a week to more than 100 per day. He credits the growth to quality content from volunteer staff contributors who also use their networks to draw in new readers — and new content.

“It has been remarkable to see the reaction of those in the industry,” White says. “They didn’t have to do it, yet they chose to take anywhere from 30 minutes to sometimes two hours out of their day to speak with us.”

White freely admits he hasn’t made money from the site, but believes the connections he’s building are invaluable. After a year of publishing, people now reach out to FOS, offering to contribute articles or share stories. In the coming year, he hopes to post more video interviews, establish Google Hangout panels, sell FOS merchandise, and start a scholarship — among an ambitious list of goals.

A true student of the industry, White says building Front Office Sports provides incredible learning opportunities, fueled by a sports community willing to share their time and talents. It’s not unlike the journey I’ve taken — albeit as a non-traditional student of the sports business game.

“Without FOS, there is no way I would have been able to talk to over 110 professionals from across the globe,” White says. “These people are such a well-connected group, but a group that is never afraid to reach out and lend a helping hand. They’ve not only helped catapult FOS to where it is now, but have truly impacted many other lives. That is a true testament to their characters and personalities.” 

I couldn’t agree more, Adam.

Thanks to this community for being so gracious … and thank you for being a fan.

Four Twitter Updates and Their Impact on Sports

Standard
Twitter logo

Recent updates could play a role in how fans — and their favorite teams and players — use Twitter.

Twitter is on a roll.

This established social media platform that often went long stretches without significant changes, now boasts smart new, user-friendly features. The needed upgrades add interest and value for users — and investors.

The moves began in late 2014 and continue through the second quarter of 2015. For sports teams, leagues and athletes, Twitter’s upgrades are worth noting because of their impact on fan usage and engagement. For Twitter, the changes are absolutely necessary to remain relevant, innovative and growing.

Here are four recent Twitter updates I believe are most notable for the sports industry.

1. Log-Out Screen

Twitter’s double-edged dilemma is that it’s not Facebook — something that has traditionally drawn people to the platform. Yet Twitter has not grown as much as some emerging social networks, including the Facebook-owned Instagram, the fastest-moving social platform in 2014. A quick glance at active user numbers reinforces Twitter’s mass appeal stigma.

In April 2015, Twitter unveiled a new log-out screen experience that could help. Using previously unused space, this browser-only destination showcases the platform’s unique value: real-time information. It entices “lurkers” — the many uncounted on Twitter who simply use the network to read news, follow celebrities, politics, sports and more — to dive deeper and discover more relevant and timely content, people and topics.

Twitter log-out screen

Twitter’s log-out experience provides a place for sports teams and leagues to showcase their social media content in real-time.

It’s no surprise sports is the No. 2 Twitter “Stream” in this new experience, serving up real-time sports content depending on fan interest and current conversation. As more U.S. adults fragment their social media usage, Twitter can attract new, non-power users by offering value and driving additional interest to more popular topics — especially sports. For teams and leagues, the log-out screen is further proof they need to produce timely and relevant content — because it could reach an entirely new audience.

2. Ticket Sales

The most revenue-friendly upgrade is the ability to sell game tickets directly on Twitter’s platform. The Atlanta Hawks recently debuted this feature, reportedly selling out the team’s allotment quickly.

This savvy use of Twitter’s Buy Button opens the door to additional ticket offers — beyond pro sports. Imagine the impact and effectiveness of a well-executed game-day ticket sale campaign on Twitter? The options are limitless. This could also open additional revenue streams for Twitter. More importantly, it gives fans an in-platform, mobile-optimized opportunity to purchase tickets — something every team and league should evaluate.

3. Re-tweet with Comments

My personal favorite, this update combines a trend toward richer, more information-laden tweets with the ability to add context and personalization to the social conversation. (It will hopefully put an end to clunky and poorly-worded manual re-tweets and modified tweets, too.) Historically, tweets with images have generated more engagement than text-only content. The re-tweet with comments essentially turns a quoted tweet into an image link and provides the re-tweeter the ability to add an entire tweet’s worth of copy as context.

Matt Ducheme quoted tweet

A quoted tweet provides 116 characters for the re-tweeter to include, providing a more engaging and share-worthy piece of social content.

For sports teams, leagues and athletes, a re-tweet with comments creates deeper fan engagement opportunities and additional broadcast content sources. Instead of a reply, standard or modified re-tweet, this feature provides a fuller story for your followers that can drive increased sharing and conversation.

4. Revamped Trending Topics 

Twitter Trending Topics

An expanded Trending Topics section provides additional utility for sports teams and their fans.

On certain days, sports is the news. A quick glance at trending topics is proof positive that sports and Twitter go hand in glove. In April 2015, the blue bird revamped this section on desktop and mobile experiences.

Both provide context for users around trending topics, shedding light on popular (and sometimes ambiguous) hashtags, conversations and other events people are talking about. It also spelled the end of Twitter’s Discover section.

Again, this is part added utility for power users and part translation for Twitter novices. The lesson for sports teams and leagues is — trending is still relevant and drives users to consume and engage on Twitter.

Creating original social conversations or joining existing ones on has value, and monitoring these trends is vital.

Honorable Mentions

Twitter made several other platform tweaks recently, though I don’t see them having as much impact on sports. Here’s a brief review of those changes:

Vine HD Video: Twitter complementary service Vine now supports higher-quality video (up to 720p). This provides better video experiences for fans and added emphasis on video quality for sports teams and leagues that create this looped content.

Direct Messages from Anyone: A feature once available to only Verified accounts, this enables a user to send private, direct messages to anyone on Twitter — even if they don’t follow the user. It also creates the ability to reply to a DM, even if the sender doesn’t follow you. This is a feature that should be used — by anyone — with care. And, I can only reiterate what other social media pros have said: Tread lightly with DMs.

Periscope App: Some sports teams and leagues have experimented with Periscope, and like other complementary apps, it can enhance content strategies with the ability to live stream certain events. I’ve written previously about how live video streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat can impact sports and social media — and agree with some that additional app updates will only drive more usage across sports. Look for live streaming to grow in the year ahead.

All these updates are good news for sports fans and important trends for the sports industry to follow. Twitter wants — and needs — to improve its product to stay viable as the social media landscape evolves (and investor demands increase). Hopefully, future upgrades will continue to serve the needs of everyday sports fans, while balancing the need to grow and differentiate.

Thanks for being a fan.

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

Standard
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

Standard

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.

Twitter’s New Profile Design: The Impact and Early Results for Sports Teams and Leagues

Standard
Twitter logo

This week, Twitter rolled out a new profile design and updated features for all users. Sports teams, leagues and athletes are using this new space to showcase their brands.

Twitter made some dramatic design changes to its web interface recently, which are now available to all users. For sports teams and leagues, the news first came via blog post a couple weeks ago, so there was time to prepare. Some were more ready than others. More on that in a moment.

First, why did Twitter makes these changes? Social media profiles are becoming an extension of our personal brands, and Twitter’s previous design and features apparently did not keep up with the times. So, the big blue bird added a larger profile photo and custom header options, plus new ways to feature tweets (by engagement, pinning and filtering).

The visual changes — the most obvious of this latest update — homogenize Twitter’s look-and-feel, however. Profiles are eerily similar now on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus, all boasting large “hero” images and similarly-placed profile photos. The tweet customization is a nice addition for Twitter, but traffic to Twitter profiles will always be lower compared to news feed views, just as they are on Facebook brand pages. Consider these new features are only available on desktop, and the number of eyeballs gets even smaller.

Overall, it’s kind of an underwhelming update to me, though nonetheless interesting and equally challenging to use this space to creatively showcase your brand — whether you’re an individual, business or sports team.

Noteworthy in Twitter’s strategy was its inclusion of a sports league and athlete in its preview phase of the new profile roll-out, featuring boxer Floyd Mayweather and the Australian Football League.

Australian Football League on Twitter

The Australian Football League was one of the first sports league to get Twitter’s new profile design.

Since the new Twitter web profile became available to everyone on April 22, sports teams and leagues have been hit-and-miss on adapting to the changes. Here are a few I noticed on Day 1 and some insight into what I noticed:

Chargers Twitter header

The San Diego Chargers were one of the first pro sports teams to take advantage of Twitter’s new profile.

One of the challenges with Twitter’s new header image is its sheer size. The space is massive, almost unwieldy, at 1,500 by 500 pixels. Just finding a photo — stock or not — to work well in this space is difficult. (Trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time creating header image options in my day job doing social media for a financial services brand.) Here, the San Diego Chargers used a combination of styled images to fit the space in stunning and on-brand fashion. (Hat tip to Joel Price and  Alex McLeland from the Chargers for their creativity here.)

Another obstacle with Twitter’s header image is creating seamless web and mobile experiences. Twitter offers little to no guidance, which is frustrating. (Download the new Twitter profile one-page cheat sheet here.) As seen below, the St. Louis Rams header displays well when viewed in a mobile experience (and as a thumbnail from web browsers).

St. Louis Rams Twitter header

The St. Louis Rams Twitter header image is optimized for mobile viewing.

But when viewed full screen from a web experience, the Rams’ Twitter header image literally misses the mark. The profile image covers the text on the header and the “hero” image is somewhat less heroic when it cuts Tavon Austin’s face off.

Rams Twitter header - web

But the Rams Twitter header has some issues when viewed on the web.

Which approach is better? Given 76 percent of Twitter’s monthly active users access the site via mobile, maybe the Rams have it right. Focus on a kick-ass mobile experience first, because that’s what three-quarters of your traffic will see. But I still appreciate the desktop experience, which offers amazing opportunities to showcase photography and design creativity.

Which is better? There’s likely common ground, which for now requires some trial and error with Twitter’s header image, and some serious design skill (and patience). The Kansas City Chiefs may have found that happy medium. While perhaps lacking in splash, the team’s mobile and desktop versions nonetheless bring a consistent experience for fans.

Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header - mobile

The mobile version of the Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header is more consistent with its desktop counterpart.

Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header - desktop

The desktop version of the Kansas City Chiefs Twitter header image.

What works and what doesn’t work? Perhaps the fact that some teams haven’t activated the new profile (as of April 24) is proof their respective creative teams are working behind the scenes to get it just right. Or maybe it’s just not that significant. But I thought it was worth exploring some of updates, because while Twitter often changes small features, rarely does it unleash such a dramatic new look for all users.

So, which teams, leagues and athletes are taking advantage of Twitter’s new profile — and doing it well (or poorly)? Tweet me what you see or leave a comment below.

Thanks for being a fan.

#DSFE14 Day 2: Innovation, technology and data

Standard
Day 2 of the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference focused on innovation, technology and data -- especially how it affects content and fan interactions.

Day 2 of the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference focused on innovation, technology and data — especially how it affects content and fan interactions.

As the Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference rolled into its second day, the fan remained at the center of the conversation. But sports teams and leagues must understand fans better, and offer them reasons to connect in social media, online and at sports venues.

It was another amazing day filled with loads of valuable information. Here are some of the highlights.

Enter the Quack Cave
A leader in social media led off Day 2, as Oregon’s Craig Pintens shared the Ducks’ approach to social media. It’s simple. Be a national brand and activate a social media strategy focusing on heavy engagement, fan-centric and unique content (especially around the Duck’s buzz-worthy Nike uniforms), and creating and amplifying brand advocates.

“Influence is more important than growth,” says Pintens, who launched the first-ever social media command center among NCAA brands. The Quack Cave employs a mix of free and paid technology, including Postano’s social curation platform, to connect with fan advocates in social media, generating added interaction in the Duck’s already vibrant communities.

Rather than hire dozens of full-time social media pros to staff 30-40 accounts, Pintens enlists an army of student volunteers, eager to earn valuable experience and evangelize the Ducks’ brand. Quack Cave captures all things Oregon — across sports — and empowers students to join those conversations and share them. The Quack Cave site provides a one-stop shop for fans.

The Quack Cave even joined the #DSFE14 conversation.

“We want to be your second-favorite team,” says Pintens. “The Quack Cave is about finding Oregon in places you wouldn’t expect to see it.” Which is smart, considering 81 percent of Duck merchandise sales come from outside the state of Oregon.

Second-screen best practices
Teams and leagues see opportunity — and challenges — when it comes to the second screen, especially given 88 percent of fans use one when watching sports. From in-stadium connectivity (an issue WWE faces as it travels from arena to arena) to in-game content, each organization faces similar opportunities when trying to reach fans during the action.   

But, admitting their events are truly scripted, WWE seeks fan input via social media to give them control of the story line and keep them engaged via a second screen.

The University of Oklahoma seeks an idealized fan experience, bringing emotion and value to the second screen. How? Provide what fans can’t get anywhere else: access, analysis and immediacy. And make sure to provide platform-appropriate content, understanding the differences, for example, between Facebook and Twitter communities.

“We customize the content to our fans,” says Russell Houghtaling, Oklahoma’s director of digital media, noting the team invested in Bluetooth-enabled cameras to capture and share in-the-moment photos. “Emotion is why people love sports. We want to transfer that feeling to people on their couches.”

#ClubOrange rewards fans
Oklahoma sold out 92 straight home football games, so it’s important for the team to connect with fans who may never be able to attend a game at Memorial Stadium. 
The Phoenix Suns created #ClubOrange to provide fans with things they won’t find inside the arena.

The Suns’ Gorilla delivered pizza — and a unique experience — to Club Orange members.

“Money can’t buy experiences,” says Jeramie McPeek, the Suns’ vice president for digital. Club Orange rewards a variety of fan social media activities, including retweets, check-ins and hashtag usage. Fans earn prizes they can’t get anywhere else, including autographed gear, photos, and exclusive experiences — like a pizza party with the Phoenix Suns Gorilla.

The team collects fan data through the program and uses it to stay in touch with current and former season ticket holders via social media. The goal is to retain and even grow season those numbers.

Packers everywhere
By contrast, 110,000 Green Bay Packers fans are on the team’s waiting list for coveted season tickets to Lambeau Field, and only eight to 10 percent of its fans will ever get to a game. So the team built Packerseverywhere.com to create a “virtual Lambeau Field” filled with photos, tailgating recipes and a where-to-watch guide for more than 1,000 Packer-backer bars.  

More than 200,000 fans signed up for the new fan program, and — incredibly — half were not in the team’s existing database. Now the Packers use this portal to bring more fans into their sales funnel while connecting them to other fans through engaging, social media-friendly content.

“Fans become entertainment for other fans,” says Joan Malcheski, Packers media group and brand engagement director. Rightfully so, given Packerseverywhere.com boasts more than 40,000 pieces of fan content from 64 countries. Talk about a global brand!

Sponsors are a crucial part of the fan equation — in digital and social especially. But #DSFE14 panelists urged athletes, teams and leagues to remain diligent in these spaces, keeping content authentic and relevant. 

“Find natural fits for your sponsors,” says Jaime Carlin, marketing director for the Texas Motor Speedway. “Weave it into your story. Social media has a tremendous value. We can’t give it away.”

NASCAR uses sponsor-driven campaigns to continue conversations after race-day buzz dies down. But as Tim Clark, NASCAR’s director of optimization and programming, points out, it has to be genuine.

“Fans are smarter than we think,” Clark says. “They’ll see through sponsored content. If you’re creating something for a contrived reason, you’re probably going to fall flat.” Instead, teams and leagues should look for opportunities to partner with big brands to split costs and work together on sponsorships, campaigns and content that’s authentic to both brands.

There’s plenty more from both days of the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference, and I encourage you to check out the Q1 Sports event blog, review the conversation from the #DSFE14 hashtag, and read my recap from day 1.

As a media partner for this event, I’m humbled to have been invited and appreciate meeting and hearing from so many brilliant minds in sports and social media — and the powerful sports brands they represent.

As always, thanks for being a fan.