#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.

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Enhanced Fan Experiences: The Sports Strategy of the Second Screen

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The Second Screen

Where will the second screen take sports fans in 2014? It’s imperative fans find value, whether they’re watching online, on their couches or in the bleachers.

The second screen. It’s an overused buzz term for the exploding use of mobile devices during television broadcasts. Tired or not, use of tablets and smart phones is big business and a big deal for today’s connected sports fans.

Consider this: 83% of fans say they use social media during games. Sixty-nine percent prefer phones as second-screen alternatives; 48 percent check scores and 20 percent watch highlights via mobile, according to data from March 2013.

Social media has been and still is the virtual hangout, digital man cave or online neighborhood bar we visit to talk about what’s happening with our favorite teams, even more so during epic, live events (like the NFL playoffs, Super Bowl, Olympics, March Madness, etc.). 

Live sports is Twitter. And Twitter is live sports.

“Sports events comprise somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of TV programming in any given month but generate close to 50 percent of the Twitter activity [on TV],” Sean Casey, a senior vice president at Nielsen, told The New York Times in October 2013.

As leagues and teams jostle for this real estate, they must keep fans in mind. (Remember, it should be about them, not you.) Here are four ways I’d like to see sports approach the second screen.

Make engagement lightweight and simple. 
Hashtags are one of the most effective methods for driving social conversations. They’re portable (across platforms and other fan-facing media/creative) and can be measured. They provide fans with few barriers to join larger discussions about players, teams or leagues — and the games they’re playing.

The Missouri Valley Conference will incorporate fan tweets into basketball broadcasts around the #MVCHoops hashtag.

The Missouri Valley Conference will incorporate fan tweets into basketball broadcasts around the #MVCHoops hashtag.

Take the Missouri Valley Conference. Ahead of selected basketball telecasts this January and February, fans can tweet questions and comments with selected tweets featured during the broadcasts. Before the featured games, @ValleyHoops will tweet questions and comments from fans about the game or a specific topic. The league will feature select tweets on mvc-sports.com during it broadcasts.

Using #MVCHoops is an easy way for fans to participate and can be executed quickly and efficiently by the league. It can enhance online conversations and on-air broadcasts.

Drive deeper connections with fans.
Not enough is said or written about the engagement teams are having with fans in social. I feel conversations are not genuine enough and too many teams and leagues have built a barrier, not engaging fully with those who appreciate them most.

Some are getting there. Take the Boston Bruins. The team uses replies to many fan tweets, even personalizing each response with the initials of those behind the scenes.

Game time is go time in social media, and it can be chaotic. But teams should dedicate resources to connect one-to-one with fans more. Share their content. Have conversations. Build stronger bonds. This will only drive further engagement during the off-season and help fulfill social media’s true value — breaking down barriers and connecting people in authentic ways.  

Make off-platform activity worthwhile. 
Fans have lots of choices, especially during games. If they have to leave the platforms they love — whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or others — it must be an amazing experience.

Off-social tools like Tagboard, Wayin and others are getting there, using new technology and creative display to collect conversations and drive deeper engagement. But there must be extreme value in moving away from in-the-moment conversations happening on native platforms.

Desmond Trufant draft hub info

The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons used a social media hub during the 2013 NFL Draft broadcast to add value to the existing online conversations.

Take the Atlanta Falcons NFL Draft hub. The team created real-time content during the 2013 draft broadcast, collecting stats and other info about each draft pick — on the fly, as they were shared in social — and aggregated it for fans to see in an interactive hub on the team’s website.

“As a high-profile, emotional brand, the Falcons are always looking for ways to harness the torrent of conversation surrounding major events and present it to our fans in meaningful, digestible ways,” says Dan Levak, Falcons director of digital media.

The team partnered with Wayin to provide fans something they wouldn’t find elsewhere — on Twitter or other native platforms. This week, the Denver-based social media start-up bought Comenta TV, presumably to strengthen its second-screen efforts.

ESPN used similar tactics during the 2013 NFL draft to enhance its broadcast. And look for NBC Universal to do the same in 2014 (especially the Olympics), after it recently partnered with Comcast and Twitter to create a second-screen experience.

Remember the in-game experience.
When fans attend events, they want second-screen engagement opportunities. Live action and in-stadium display (closed-circuit TV, JumboTron, etc.) are the first screens for fans here, but they’re also hungry to connect through mobile and social.

That starts with connectivity. Many fans (yours truly included) struggle with in-stadium service. Teams should boost cell service or provide WiFi to fans (at minimal cost or through sponsorships).

Then it’s about content. What will get fans in the stands to engage?

The Los Angeles Dodgers used #SocialSept to drive deeper engagement with fans in the stadium, while also connecting with them during road trips.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Dodgers used #SocialSept to drive deeper engagement with fans in the stadium.

Take the Los Angeles Dodgers. While it’s from 2011 (a generation ago in social media terms), the team’s #SocialSept campaign is a simple blueprint for keeping fans engaged via a second screen that’s relevant in 2014.

The Dodgers answered Twitter questions on its TV broadcast, featured tweets with the #SocialSept hashtag on Dodger Stadium screens. And the team awarded prizes for social engagement, including on-field introductions before games.

“The goal,” Dodgers assistant director of public relations Joe Jareck told Lost Remote, “was really was to just give our fans more voice … another way to follow the Dodgers closely and be rewarded for it.”

The NFL is also emphasizing in-stadium experiences around the second screen, thanks in part to declining attendance (only accentuated by blackout threats during the 2013 NFL playoffs).

A sports fan’s second-screen options are endless. So are the ways teams and leagues can reach them during live events. It’s imperative fans find value in these experiences, whether they’re watching online, on their couches or in the bleachers. As it becomes ingrained into the sports experience, the second screen must be about the fan, providing deeper engagement, better access and increasing value.

Thanks for being a fan.

You’re Doing it Wrong: Pro Sports Teams Miss The Mark on Twitter’s Expanded Images

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It’s only been more than a month, but I’m surprised to find professional sports teams are not adapting well — or at all, in some cases — to Twitter’s recent timeline changes.

The blue bird announced Oct. 30 dramatic changes to how it displays timeline images across web and mobile platforms. Immediately, folks like me who do social media for a living began researching what Twitter’s new expanded images meant for our brand, the platform and its millions of users — who do not always embrace change.

Not surprisingly, we created crude pixel measurements predicting the optimized Twitter image — all within minutes of noticing the change. A follow-up email to a Twitter sales rep answered my questions — and got me a handy cheat-sheet. You can download it here, by the way.

What has been surprising in the month or so since this change is the inconsistency and lack of adaptation among pro sports teams. For whatever reason, I’m seeing mismatched and poorly executed expanded images more than I’m seeing well-designed and optimized pictures. More on that in a moment.

Why is this important?

There are strategic reasons teams and leagues should pay attention to the size of Twitter’s images. They matter. Social media scientist Dan Zarrella’s research (which came out before this recent change) found Tweets using pic.twitter.com links (the native photo upload feature in Twitter) were 94% more likely to be re-tweeted. And tweets with image links get two times more engagement than those without, according to Buffer.

Put in simpler terms: Fans are drawn to images on Twitter. And whether you like the change or not, you can’t help but notice tweets with expanded images stand out from normal, text-only tweets.

Large, non-sports brands are jumping on board, adding expanded images to their Twitter creative. But pro sports teams are slower to adapt. It didn’t take long to find some pretty glaring examples. For the most part, all are well-designed, on-brand and slick-looking images. However, executed in Twitter’s new expanded images format, they miss the mark. Sometimes badly.

Here are just a few — shown as they’re displayed in Twitter’s timeline — and as fans would see them in news feeds from desktop or mobile experiences. (You can click through each to see the full image and tweet.)

Atlanta Hawks tweetThe NBA’s Atlanta Hawks misfired with this deal on Twitter. A quick re-size of this image would’ve made for much easier fan consumption.

Colorado Avalanche tweet

#NHLTrophyNight gets cut off — literally — in this example from the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.

Arizona Diamondbacks tweet

No need to click EXPAND — if Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks had optimized this image for Twitter’s new settings.

Vikings tweet

You can get to know Jeff Locke, but wouldn’t it be better if we could see Jeff’s face? Like a shanked punt, the Minnesota Vikings misfired with this image. 

There are hundreds more just like these — every day — filling fans’ Twitter feeds. Check out my Twitter Custom Timeline for more examples of pro teams doing Twitter expanded images poorly.

So why the inconsistency? Posting images in social media is no longer a one-size-fits-all process. Different platforms mean different dimensions, and until this change, everyone — people, brands, sports teams — could get away with using essentially the same image across multiple platforms.

For better or worse, Twitter’s move means more legwork and a different design approach than images for Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, which generally display best in a square shape, or at least can be cropped using the platform’s native tools.

It’s a new set of parameters and requires extra work, something time-strapped digital/social teams don’t have. In pro sports, they’re busy covering games, player movements and managing promotional content. Designing a whole new set of images for one platform is not an easy sell. (Trust me, I’m dealing with the same issues in my day job leading social media content strategy for a Fortune 300 brand.)

Who’s coping well with change? The reviews aren’t all bad. Here are some examples of sports teams hitting the mark with Twitter’s new expanded images. 

Golden State Warriors tweet

The NBA’s Golden State Warriors are early leaders in the use of Twitter’s new expanded image feature, using it to promote an upcoming game time and viewing/listening options. Trailblazers tweet

Here’s outstanding use of an visually impactful tweet from the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, optimized fully for Twitter’s new expanded image feature. It showcases the team’s #RipCity hashtag. The only feedback here would be to bump up the size of the score so it’s even easier for fans to read (and RT) as they scroll through Twitter.

Ravens tweet

The Ravens have mastered the size of Twitter’s new expanded image size, too, but could better use the space available to add more impact to this visual.

The lessons here are pretty simple, I think. First, I get it. It’s early and we’re all still getting used to this change (especially social media pros). But it’s time to take advantage of the tools available. Create a template. Use it. Rinse and repeat.

Social media platform changes, redesigns and updates are inevitable. Those who embrace — and take advantage of — these enhancements have a better chance reaching consumers in new and innovative ways. Your content will stand out, get noticed, be shared more. Give the fans the best experience possible on Twitter, and that starts with using the platform correctly.

Thanks for being a fan.

Editor’s note: Subscribe to my pro sports teams Twitter lists to keep tabs on how they’re using Twitter’s expanded image feature. 

Twitter list of NBA teams
Twitter list of NFL teams
Twitter list of NHL teams
Twitter list of MLB teams

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

Mark Cuban Pokes Facebook’s Promoted Posts

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Mark Cuban

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is one of the more controversial – and confrontational – characters in sports.

Mark Cuban is really good at shaking things up.

This isn’t news. But the bombastic Dallas Mavericks owner is stirring the sports and social media pot with attacks on Facebook. Cuban said what many digital marketers with less skin in the game have been thinking for months. Facebook’s page posts are rigged, forcing page owners to spend more on the platform’s ad programs.

“Why would we invest in extending our Facebook audience size if we have to pay to reach them? That’s crazy,” Cuban told Dan Lyons of readwrite this week. “Why would a brand invest in getting likes they can’t reach without paying a premium?”

You can tell when something riles up Mark Cuban. He heads to Twitter, where he spent a few tweets on this issue, showing just how much Facebook was making him pay to promote content to reach all 2.3 million fans of the Dallas Mavericks Facebook page.

Here’s that tweet:

Mark Cuban tweet

Mark Cuban used his Twitter account to shed light on the rising cost of reaching Facebook fans who have presumably already agreed to be reached.

With business interests extending beyond sports, Cuban’s properties are deeply entrenched in Facebook marketing, as are most savvy brands today. His comments echo other, less well-known characters who claim Facebook is “broken on purpose” to drive ad revenue through promoted posts.

Nonprofits, small businesses and Fortune 500 brands all face this issue. Invest heavily in building – and growing – a Facebook community, only to have a small percentage of those connections see your posts. How small? As little as 16 percent, by Facebook’s own accounting.

The alternative for sports (and all) brands – no matter the size – isn’t simple. While Twitter remains a solid second option for connecting with fans (especially during a game), you can’t argue with Facebook’s numbers, and its ability to filter noise (and spam), one of the arguments in favor of Facebook’s recent page changes. Also, adoption rates for emerging social networks (like Pinterest and Instagram) remain low, especially when dwarfed by the big blue F.

Always ready for conflict – and to innovate – Cuban challenged Facebook, pointing to those newer networks which allow 100 percent reach for social media marketing messages – at no cost.

The characters behind 140 characters: Mark Cuban

“If someone likes your brand, it seems like common sense to me that you can expect your posts to reach 100 percent of those that like your brand,” said Cuban, who suggested a monthly Facebook fee as an alternative. He’s also pursuing those less-popular social channels to reach fans, calling out Tumblr and even (gasp) MySpace.

Where’s this all leading? Cuban can afford to hedge his bets on new sites. But for smaller teams, and especially budget-conscious colleges and universities, time is as scarce a resource as money. Spreading yourself too thin across multiple social channels is risky and expensive. It requires more people and more content, which can ultimately drown in a sea of junk.

Cuban’s math may also be fuzzy, as Loud Door’s founder pointed out in an open letter to the billionaire. Jeff French argues Facebook is still the best option for marketers seeking an economical way to reach consumers via social media.

As with past Facebook innovations, other social channels could follow suit, implementing revenue models and formulas to dampen noise (and raise capital). “Being broken pays off, so social media is often deliberately broken,” writes Ryan Holiday in this Observer piece from September. “In fact, nearly every major social network, site or app has greedily pursued this logic.”

For Mark Cuban, it’s less about Facebook cynicism and more about making a statement, and he’s done that. Will it derail Facebook’s promoted post strategy? Unlikely. But Cuban has a strong voice and he could lead other sports brands away from Facebook, and with them, fans of other brands. That kind of movement could get Facebook to listen – more than the loud ramblings of an eccentric NBA owner.

Thanks for being a fan.

Image by Keith Allison (via Wikimedia Commons)

Twitter Powers Jeremy Lin’s Rise to NBA – and Social Media – Superstar

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Jeremy Lin is dominating the NBA - and discussions on Twitter.

By now you’ve probably heard of Jeremy Lin. The newest NBA star and point guard for the New York Knicks burst onto the scene this week, scoring a bucketload of points and helping his team win four straight games, including a 92-85 win over the Los Angeles Lakers Feb. 10.

Lin’s rise from bench warmer to burning-hot superstar is an amazing story. A week ago, he’d never started an NBA game, or scored more than 13 points. Lin is also an Asian-American, something unheard of in the NBA, but also inspirational to many with similar backgrounds. This is a guy who has been sleeping on his brother’s couch!

It’s an incredible story. And you know who likes a good story? People on Twitter.

Since taking the reigns at point guard for the Knicks less than a week ago, Lin’s playing prowess was matched only by his social media status. Want some proof? Just try to keep up with the numbers.

Let’s start with Lin’s Klout score. On Feb. 5, it was a flat-lined and pedestrian 58.77. It ballooned to 73.63 in just six days. During this same time, Lin’s True Reach was just 9,000 before ballooning to more than 89,000. His follower count traced a similar path above 150,000. It’s a number that will look silly at the end of the NBA season, because I suspect it will be six or seven times that come June.

Kloutastic: Jeremy Lin's rise from obscurity to social media stardom - in less than a week.

Lin’s story is not just about follower count, it’s also about the conversation. And Lin dominates the talk on Twitter every time he suits up. According to Trendistic, “Jeremy Lin” was included in as much as 1.69 percent of tweets worldwide on Friday, Feb. 10 (9 p.m. CST). In his previous three games, he garnered 0.12, 0.17 and 0.19 percent of the Twitter conversation, respectively.

Not to be outdone, Lin’s Facebook page swelled above 260,000 likes with off-the-chart engagement levels (107,000+ People Talking About This). Posts as recent as Feb. 4 received 23,000 likes and more than 3,000 comments.

Trend-LIN Topic: Jeremy Lin creates incredible buzz on Twitter every time he plays.

Lin’s rise captivates audiences outside of New York City, which is where Twitter and Facebook fan the flames of “Linsanity” – one of the many user-generated hash tags created to describe him. These variations – along with the regular spelling of his name – dominate Twitter’s trending topics before, during and after Knicks’ games.

Lin’s story has overwhelmed the social media landscape – in just six days. That is unbelievable.

Perhaps it’s also why some say Lin is already a polarizing sports figure, similar to Tim Tebow (who is Lin’s hero, incidentally). Too much Linsanity, too fast, could quickly turn off fans. Others say – like Tebow – Lin’s faith is an issue, and that you either love him or hate him.

I don’t see it that way. What I see is a kid getting his chance and taking full advantage of it. Unlike Tebow, Lin was not a highly-regarded pro prospect. He was undrafted, worked his way up through the NBA summer league but was cut by the Houston Rockets in December. He’s only getting a chance on the Knicks because of injuries.

Lin’s story is compelling and worth talking about, not only to Knicks’ and NBA fans, but people everywhere who just might have found the NBA interesting again.

Where does Jeremy Lin go from here? Follow along on Twitter, and you’ll get a front-row seat.

Thanks for being a fan.

Photo credit: Jeremy Lin’s Facebook page