#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.

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

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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

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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.

#DSFE14 Day 1: Putting fans first

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#DSFE14 conference

Day 1 of the Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference included a wide variety of speakers and topics. But the overwhelming theme was obvious: Put fans first.

A common theme from Day 1 of the Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference was loud and clear: Sports fans drive the conversation — and the content — in social media.

The conference’s first panel featured big-name sports brands like the Oregon Ducks, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Bucks and focused on digital and social media platform selection and strategy. But the overwhelming message of this — and most of the #DSFE14 discussion — centered on the sports fan.

Rightfully so. Fans are the bread and butter for teams, leagues and athletes. And, connecting with them in meaningful ways breeds success — not only social media scores, but bottom-line wins.

Sports fosters an unbelievable amount of user-generated content in social media, and time and again, today’s sports and social media leaders reflected on the importance of harnessing that valuable content. Not only does it provide teams, leagues and athletes with a rich funnel of engaging and authentic posts, it creates opportunities to reward fans by providing them things they seek out in social media — exclusive content, access and the occasional virtual badge of honor.

“Fans are narcissistic,” Chris Yandle, assistant athletic director/communications for the University of Miami Hurricanes says. Yandle — and others in similar roles — reiterated how fans absolutely love getting their social media posts amplified or acknowledged by their favorite teams or athletes. It’s something they can brag about to friends and is an easy way to recognize influencers — and generate additional engagement in social media — by sharing their posts, or even just liking/favoriting and responding.

The Seattle Seahawks take this approach to amazing levels, after developing an intricate social media response strategy. “We want to give fans their rock-star moment,” says Kenton Olson, director of digital for the Seahawks and Sounders. “A reply from a brand on Twitter is better than getting an autograph,” he says, noting the Seahawks empowered others in their organization to assist in the massive undertaking of replying to fans in social media.

Keep in mind, the Seahawks saw 400,000 Twitter mentions during its Sept. 15, 2013, game vs. the San Francisco 49ers. To manage that on an ongoing basis, Olson built a three-tier system to filter fan responses — all based on key business goals (including influence and previous interactions), then activated his team.

The Seahawks deserve credit for winning NFL social media supremacy — besting its Super Bowl opponent in a similar manner to the actual game. During the lead-up to Super Bowl 48, the Seahawks racked up 3,177 @ replies — sent directly to fans on Twitter — compared to just eight sent by the Broncos. It generated 167,500 engagements and nearly 213 million impressions.

The Padres, under leadership from NFL social media veteran Wayne Partello, also put fans first. Partello created a new mission statement crafted with the fan in mind and addressing the crowded nature of sports news. “We’re now in the media business,” Partello says. “We have to tell our story. If you’re not telling your story, others will do it for you.”

Another theme emerged from Day 1 of #DSFE14: Data is king, and it revolves around the fan. Turner Sports looks at social media from a data perspective. And, thanks to technology, Turner can learn a lot about its fans — including what content they want to see in social media.

Turner Sports even created a social media command center to analyze data and use it in real-time decisions related to social media content and fan interactions. It activated a mobile version of this command center during NBA All-Star Game weekend, generating more than 245,000 fan engagements, and uncovering an interesting problem.

“We could not give them enough content,” says Jeff Mirman, vice president of marketing for Turner Sports. “They wanted more. They more they got, the more they engaged.”

Athletes should take a similar approach to teams and leagues — put fans first and use social media as an engagement tool (not a megaphone or sponsor mouthpiece). Case in point: Jimmie Johnson Racing, which finds extreme value in fan engagement in social media through some innovative and fan-friendly content campaigns.

Johnson strives to provide fan value through his various social media platforms. It can be anything from turning a negative hashtag conversation into a brilliantly funny content opportunity (check out #blamejj, which generated 70 percent engagement on Instagram), to weekly giveaways that build fan momentum over time (see #jjswag on Twitter).

Johnson understands fans should be first in social media, according to Lauren Murray, who manages his social and digital strategies. He wants them to be the first to know news about him — and he uses social media as a tool to deliver that news in authentic ways.

#DSFE14 featured some incredible talents in the sports and social media world, and this is just a sampling of the conference’s first day. Continue to monitor the Twitter conversation and connect with these leaders as they implement what they’ve learned here. (For more about Day 2, see our previous post.)

Thanks for being a fan.

Fourth and 140 Signs Media Partnership for Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference

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Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference logo

Join today’s sports and social media leaders at the Q1 Productions Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference March 3-4, 2014, in Dallas.

It’s about time.

We finally have a blockbuster sports and social media conference for the ages. Some big names highlight the Q1 Productions Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference, coming to Dallas March 3-4, 2014.

And, I’m excited to report, FourthAnd140 is officially on board as a media partner with Q1 Productions for this event.

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. It’s a who’s who of #SMsports, so check out the agenda today.

FourthAnd140 readers can receive a $100 discount on registration. For more information, email sports@q1productions.com and mention the discount code F140.

“Q1 is thrilled to partner with such industry leaders as FourthAnd140.com, for its innovative coverage of sports and social media,” says Kate Jeter, Production Director. “We value the strategic focus of this leading blog source to help our conference attendees get the most out of their time together.”

For more information regarding the Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement conference, visit the Q1 website at www.q1productions.com/sportsfanengagement, and follow them on Twitter at @Q1Sports.

As we draw closer to the conference, I’ll share some insights from a few of the speakers, giving FourthAnd140 readers a preview of what to expect March 3-4 in Dallas.

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:
Nathalie Davis
Production Manager
Q1 Productions
312-822-8100
sports@q1productions.com

Power to the #: Tagboard and the Sports Strategy of Hashtags

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Tagboard's logo

Tagboard helps some of the biggest brands in the world play a more active role in the social conversation by encouraging their audiences to share their experiences on a branded, moderated platform.

User-generated content is the gold mine inside social media. Across its varied platforms, one of the simplest but most effective ways for sports brands to mine that gold is with hashtags.

Take a look around. They’re everywhere. More brands — of all kinds — are developing hashtag strategies to capitalize on the conversations in social media. It’s the new, or at least next, call to action in marketing.

“There is a lot of buzz about the hashtag being the next URL,” says Dan Redwine, director of community outreach at Tagboard. “It’s the new way for people to connect, share information and engage around any subject.”

You’ve heard about hashtags, but if Tagboard doesn’t ring a bell, I suspect it will soon — especially if you follow college or pro sports (or attend their games), enjoy brand journalism, or just like the latest social media trends.

With roots in tech-savvy Seattle, Tagboard expanded its niche social media service outside of Washington, where a year ago it was a fledgling start-up. Fast-forward 12 months, and Tagboard is cashing in on the hashtag craze, providing content-hungry consumers — especially sports fans — with a new fix.

Following a recent $2 million funding injection, it seems Tagboard provides content-hungry brands with a valuable service, too.

Tagboard is basically a collection point for hashtags or similar social media-driven topics. For consumers, it is aggregated content on steroids — pulling data from across myriad social media sources, while its paying customers — companies, brands, teams, etc. — customize the look-and-feel of their respective pages, displaying them to various audiences.

But this tool is more than a flash in the pan. Yes, it’s a start-up, but it’s gaining traction — and paying clients — in established sports markets like Major League Baseball and NCAA football. Why? Tagboard is built for sports — or any brand producing highly engaging, exceptionally visual, event-driven content.

“We never planned on having such a strong sports focus,” Redwine told Fourth and 140 recently. “However, the sports community is full of ideal Tagboard users, because they’re so passionate about their teams. That being said, we also focus on a lot of different verticals, but for the sports teams, I think mainly it’s our ability to leverage the game-time setting with our live-event mode.”

Redwine says Tagboard works with teams on a variety of engagement strategies — like displaying user-generated content on the big screen at Safeco Field for the Seattle Mariners (see video below), or on Stanford’s ribbon board display and web site.

“Our main objective is to make sure every fan is heard and that we are engaging in that conversation with them,” Mariners director of marketing Kevin Martinez says in an interview on Tagboard’s blog. “We really pride ourselves on being responsive to our fans. Without Tagboard, we would not be able to have such a high presence of social media in our game presentation. We have seen the amount of posts spike 10-fold.”

Despite hashtag success stories like the Mariners are seeing, traditional marketers are skeptical. I’ve heard them, too. From lack of value, to too risky, to off brand.

Tagboard provides a tool to mitigate those risks and deliver more value to marketers — in just about any industry.

First, let’s address the risks. Calls to action (CTAs) in traditional, paid media generally drive to owned (and therefore controlled) properties, not the Wild West of Twitter or Instagram. Using paid media to direct consumers to a hashtag instead of a website is difficult to quantify in traditional, “buy my stuff” advertising terms. And it can distract from those more established CTAs — like “visit our website” or even more recently, “Find us on Facebook.”

Execution is also risky, especially given Twitter’s snarky and skeptical nature, which can ruin even the most perfectly planned hashtag implementation. And there’s no ownership or copyright of hashtags — especially across different networks, not to mention the purported uselessness of Facebook hashtags.

Tagboard tackles both concerns, offering more control in a moderated environment, where board owners can choose to display the best-of-the-best content. It’s also promising improved analytics features.

The lesson here is that hashtags aren’t going away. It’s why a hashtag strategy should be discussed at the upper levels of an organization, whether it’s football or financial services. These are more than mere words or catch phrases. They enhance a brand’s existence, tell your story, connect you to a larger audience — in paid, owned and earned settings.

Hashtags should be treated (and chosen) with respect, and not delegated to a game-day intern or disengaged agency. And, as Tagboard proves, hashtags should be taken seriously, even if it’s a little silly giving so much power to the # sign.

Thanks for being a fan.