We Have A Content Volume Problem

Lately as I’ve scrolled through my social feeds, especially Instagram, there’s been one thing on my mind: volume, volume, volume. I follow a lot of sports teams to keep up with the industry. And while it’s natural sports would take up a lot of the real estate, the volume of content has seemed high recently. Almost intrusive, really.

I see accounts with a million followers getting an engagement rate of less than 1 percent. Pair this with the volume of content that is shared and it’s made me wonder if at times in this industry we dilute our own product.

In the pioneer days of social the platforms were a tool to inform. Play-by-play was all the rage, and in a lot of ways, made sense in those “early days”. Fast forward to now and every fan can access scores and updates through an app or gamecast. Game updates — in the most dry sense — are not a problem.

But it seems that it’s been hard for the industry to shake off this idea that we have to publish and publish often. There’s an internal pressure to be everywhere. What will fans think if we don’t comment on every play? I know this feeling all too well. But in the process, we’ve created cluttered. Hurt our own reach. And, quite frankly, often diluted the quality of work.

It’s time to take a step back and give serious thought to content volume and distribution strategy. A less than 1 percent engagement rate should show a serious need to pivot (and no, don’t blame it on the algorithm).

This isn’t about reducing all posts by 75 percent. It’s about revisiting the approach as the platforms and landscape changes. Take a step back and ask some hard questions. Some points to consider:

 

Sports, it’s crowded.

The sports space is crowded. Thanks to social, leagues and teams are competing with fans, bloggers, the media, brands, etc. for attention. Sure, a team might be a fan’s go-to source, but they aren’t the only one. You have to provide something to different to stand out.

 

The crowdedness, allows us to pivot.

With so much content created around a team, league and brand, it’s important to understand the differentiating factor. What’s the main objective with the accounts? What do you want to provide to fans that only you can?

The point of differentiation is no longer scores, so throw that away. The angle is the brand, the team personality and the access you have.

 

We’re here to entertain, really.

Because scores are readily available, the days of teams needing to provide play-by-play are long gone. It’s not about dry and boring updates. A team’s digital presence should be about inspiring, entertaining, engaging and drawing people in. It’s the emotional connection to the team and the game. Espo said it best:

Entertainment and engaging fans can come in all shapes and forms, whether it’s tone of voice or stellar content. Think about what that means for your brand and start providing it to fans. This is how you build a strong connection with them.

 

Get rid of the pressure.

It’s hard to pivot in this industry, especially if we’re talking about reducing the volume of content. We feel this pressure to be everywhere, all the time. This pressure is often internal though. We put it on ourselves. Our fans don’t expect us to publish fifty times a day — in fact, I would argue that most don’t want it.

The first step to rethinking your publishing strategy is to get rid of the pressure to publish for the sake of publishing. This is the first step. And, it’s freeing.

 

Define the rules.

If you are going to pivot how much content you’re going to publish, it’s important to define lanes so you don’t fall into the same old habits. Write the rules of the road as a team. Define the expectations. Run through mock scenarios so the team gets a feel for the publishing strategy. A few things to think through:

How many times a day should the team publish to each platform? How do platforms differ? What’s the content strategy?

During game days, what’s the expectation and focus? How does the team balance “covering” the games versus entertaining?

Where are you placing the most value? Is it in quality of content or immediacy? This is a big question that teams should be talking through.

 

Focus on quality.

Somewhere along the line this pressure to produce all the time has made us care less about quality. I’m not even talking about high level production. I mean that we’re willing to push out a bunch of “stuff” whether it adds value to our fans or not.

Defining the rules should include a serious conversation about the quality of work that is expected. If it doesn’t add value, then why are we doing this? Your team should get tired of hearing this question, but it should always be asked.

 

Package content differently.

How team’s package their content has become as critical as the content itself. And, your approach to how you package your content can play into the volume you produce and publish.

For example, let’s talk highlights on IG. So many times I see teams sharing more than five highlights from one single game. At some point, all the highlights look the same as I scroll through my feed. And forget the fact they’re often showing up five days later thanks to the algorithm.

Instead of publishing five individual highlight posts, what if it could be packaged differently? What if after every game a team leveraged the Instagram carousel? They can highlight the “five plays of the game” and include design elements to make it unique to the brand. An example from the Panthers on how to incorporate highlights + design into Instagram:

#KeepPounding 👊

A post shared by Carolina Panthers (@panthers) on

This idea would take five posts and make it into one. Sure, it might have to wait until after the game, but the product would be stronger, unique to your brand and less intrusive to your fans.

This begs the question – is it about immediacy or about quality?

 

Listen to the metrics.

At the end of this day, this industry is all about being strategic but nimble. It’s a fine line, but the good news is we have access to metrics in an instant. It’s important to pay attention to how your content is performing and make the pivots as necessary.

 
You might go through this exercise and find that your team does have a happy medium. Or, maybe you need to make small adjustments. Either way, it’s important to consider how what we put out affects our performance. It’s easy to hit post, sure. But that does not mean we should do it? Let’s get back to a focus on quality over quantity. The volume will then take care of itself.

Do you think there’s a need for teams to adjust the volume of content? I would love to hear your thoughts below.

A Content Strategy Framework

The need to communicate and tell a story online is here to stay. Algorithms happen and our approach to distribution changes, but we still have a need to bring brands to life. That’s why a content strategy is the foundation of a strong social presence.

Too often in social we throw things at the wall. We test and we try, without understanding the why. But this fly-by approach makes it hard to map the work back to meaningful goals.

It’s hard to stop, pause and think in social. It takes a lot of work to put things to paper. But, I’m a big believer in it, especially when it comes to a content strategy. Here’s why.

First, a content strategy gives the work purpose. It starts with an understanding of your organizational goals and cascades off of that. We’re in the business of making fun things; but more importantly, we’re in the business of driving results (whatever that is for the org).

Second, it helps get buy in. When you work as a team to put things to paper, people understand the vision and rally around it. A good content strategy gets everyone from leadership to the team executing aligned. It helps you push back when things don’t make sense because you have a reason for being.

Third, it gives people a box to play in. The best creative happens when you define lanes.

So, what is a content strategy composed of? Every project and need is different for teams, but here are the critical components I like to put to paper when mapping out a plan.

 

Chapter 1 – The Foundation

The foundation outlines what the plan is set out to do, keeping the broader organization in mind. This is where you give a sense of purpose to the work. Normally when I’m working through a strategy deck, the foundation includes:

Goals.
This is as simple as it sounds. What are the goals of the content strategy? Are you trying to tell a more robust brand story? Do you want to build a deeper connection with fans? Typically, the goals outlined are more broad based and long term.

Objective(s).
This is the hard-hitting statement of what you want to accomplish — and it is measurable. So, for example, at the end of the day you want to increase engagement with your fan base. Make this statement to the point and measurable.

KPIs
A plan without key performance indictors is an aimless plan. It’s imperative to put to paper what success looks like. Period.

Consumer.
You can’t build a plan without understanding who you’re talking to. As part of the foundation, it’s important to put to paper your target consumer. And remember, this isn’t demographics alone. It’s also psychographic. Define their attitude, lifestyle and interests – beyond sport.

Current State & Challenges
The current state is a reflection of the current status of the work, both the good and the work in progress. Celebrate, but also be real. After the current state, go into the challenges. What is keeping you from doing the best work possible? Identify where you need help or where you need to pivot. Be ready to address solutions too.

 

Chapter 2 – Content Approach

The next chapter in this journey is where you start digging into your content approach. It’s not your actual ideas, but more about your philosophy to content to guide the ideas.

Guiding Principles
Guiding principles set the approach to your content. They aren’t hard fast rules per say, but they help define your brand and team’s philosophy to content. For example, a guiding principle could be to “lead with emotion”.

Visual Identity
Your visual language is important. Studies have shown that color, shape, etc. help convey emotion. This is the place in your strategy where you pull swipes of inspiration to set the mood for the look and feel. It’s an important piece that can impact the entire tone of the work, campaign, your brand.

Content Pillars
Content pillars are the topic buckets for your content. It’s your thematics. They’re the heart of the matter, really, and should ladder back to organization goals. Every content pillar should convey a message that is important for your team, league or brand. Examples of this might include “fan content, legacy, brand values”.

Platform Approach
A platform approach is a high-level look at how you’ll mold your content ideas for each platform. Essentially, it’s nuances of what works and what doesn’t. Social media content shouldn’t be an all-out blanketed approach. Instead, it’s imperative as marketers that we play to each platform’s strength. There should be synergy to your channels, yes, but the way the content comes to life might be a bit different.

 

Chapter 3 – The Ideas

Now that the foundation is laid, it’s time to get into the fun stuff. The ideas! This next chapter lays out all the franchises or content pieces (at a high level) that you want to produce. Here is what’s included with this.

Map Back to the Pillars
Here you ideate around each content pillar. What unique content can you create to convey the message that’s important to your brand? The ideas can stem from everything to a photo series a podcast to a video series. The sky is the limit really as long as it maps back to what you’re trying to accomplish. As you flush out each content series, be sure to denote the platform and any creative nuances.

What’s Needed To Get It Done
Remember the challenges you addressed earlier? Now you need to tackle those and outline a solution (from a resource and process perspective) on how you can get this done.

 

Chapter 4 – The Distribution

You can’t have a content strategy without a distribution strategy. The last chapter should outline at a high level look at how the content will be distributed. This can be an organic approach and a paid approach.

 
This is just a high level framework of what a content strategy can entail. Every project has different needs, but putting thoughts to paper is critical. It helps define the work, the purpose and the mission. Now the sky is the limit for telling your brand, team or product story. Start strategizing and ideating!

What have you learned from working through a content strategy? I would love to hear your thoughts below!

Insight Into Crafting a Visual Identity

We often talk about the importance of written language. Words are powerful, but so is design. As digital platforms have become increasing visual, design has become increasingly important. It’s another form of language to communicate your brand; an extension of it, really.

Consumption today happens in a split second. Consumers scroll, tap and move through their social feeds without giving things a second glance. As they scroll, content needs to stand out. It should be clear which team, brand or league the content is from with or without a logo.

Visual identity matters because social is the front door to your brand. If you want to put your best foot, you must create a look and feel that is ownable and stands out. Below are a few examples of NFL teams this season:

 

Seattle Seahawks

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

 

LA Rams

Creating a visual identity like the ones above takes a team effort and a commitment to the cause. Below, Tyler Trout from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sr. Designer, Graphic Design) and Kenton Olsen (Director, Digital) from the Seahawks give some insight into how they’ve invested in a visual identity and made it happen.

 

Why a visual identity matters.

Tyler: It is important to have a visual identity because your brand is the first thing viewers see before making a decision to buy in or not. If your message or look is all over the place and not consistent with what they saw the first time then there is a sense of disorganization and separation. Almost like a dividing line between when the company had a vision and lost its vision. Starbucks, Target, Apple, Nike all give you overwhelming visuals of different branding, but their looks looks are distinct and undeniably memorable.You can picture each brand without even seeing them. If they did not focus on their visual identity, then their brands would not be as recognizable or as memorable.

Kenton: From a digital and social perspective having a consistent visual identity is important for us because it differentiates our content from others in the digital space. It also allows our online content to mirror creative in the physical world.

 

The keys.

Tyler:The key to keeping things consistent is to focus on your brand first and then push the fundamentals. Once we establish the identity, then we can push ourselves to be as creative as possible within the parameters we’ve set. By pushing fundamentals like typography, composition, hierarchy, imagery, color, etc. we can expand and reinforce our brand with new ideas that all look and feel like the brand but are noticeably different from the last time you presented it.

Kenton: Great photography. We have some of the best photographers in the NFL. They make all of our content feel fresh, while keeping visual style the same.

 

Creative’s role.

Tyler: I am lucky enough to work with 4 graphic designers (3 fulltime and 1 intern) and each are a necessity to our brand. Some of us have specific responsibilities like designing for events around the region or designing for a corporate partnership. When it comes to social, we all help to create content that get used throughout our platforms. We understand our brand and all try to develop new ways to push it.

Kenton: We work very closely with our Marketing & Brand team. They are tremendous in involving us with developing the creative direction for each season. Having a creative team that involves us in the process is helpful because we can ensure all of our digital designs compliment those our fans may come across in the physical world. It also allows us to provide input on what creative wells will work well on digital versus elements that may be tough to work with.

 

Gameday flow.

Tyler: We have two designers working every game. One designer will focus on scoring drives and quarter graphics and the other will focus on content/photos for IG and IG story. Our contracted photographers give their cards to a runner on field who then loads and sends to us to use throughout social. As far as tools that make it easier…We use Photoshop, Dropbox, Topaz, and sometimes AP Images. We’ve looked into getting wireless for our photographers so we can instantly get the photos but we’ve heard through other NFL teams that the connection becomes an issue and they have to revert back to card running.

Kenton: We are fortunate to have an extremely talented social media producer and amazing designer that is dedicated to our digital content. They collaborate together to ensure we have consistency across our content. On game days specifically we have a system in place where our photographer(s) will add photos to a central repository. With technology in modern cameras (and improved connectivity) we can often see a photo from the field within a minute of it happening. Once that photo hits our repository our team collaborates over Slack where that photo will be used. Our digital designer will handle more intense graphics, while other staff members will take on less intensive tasks. These treated images are then sent to our social producer who will distribute as he sees fit. The current process is very focused on photos, but we are in the process of integrating more video into this same workflow thanks to an amazing new control room at CenturyLink Field. Another key to our consistency on game days, and throughout the week, is our designer has put together templates that are easy enough for anyone in our department to use. Pretty much anyone can take a photo and turn it into a graphic that is consistent with our visual identity.

 

Tips for making it happen.

Tyler: My tip to any team trying to find a visual identity is to create a style guide to your brand and push yourself within it. Reach out to different departments and help them understand why this is important and how they can help to maintain this identity and vision. Focus on the QUALITY of your brand instead of quantity. And always challenge a traditional project and ask why it is done that way and can it be done more effectively. So many designers just do what is asked instead of thinking if this is actually effective.

As far as any other tips, it would be to hire a project manager. That position is so crucial in the creative world because it allows us to do what we were hired to do.

Kenton: I have two pieces of advice for others looking to improve consistency. First make sure you work with your organization’s overall brand team. While it is nice to be consistent on digital, being across all channels should be a focus. Invest in resources. This can be anywhere from having a dedicated designer, to building templates anyone can use, to equipment to allow you to get content faster.

As Kenton and Tyler’s answers show, creating a visual identity and seeing it through to execution takes teamwork and dedication. But, it’s work that’s worth it. After all, you want to put your best foot forward.

Thanks to Kenton and Tyler for some fantastic insight. Be sure to give them a follow on Twitter: @Kentono and @TheHooksta.

Approach Each Season Like A Campaign

The power to connect brands with people is what attracted me to marketing. Iconic brands from Nike to Starbucks understand the power of authenticity, values and strong messaging. And, even more, the power of human emotion.

Good ads are an art. They don’t sell; they move people to stop, pay attention, share and (hopefully) convert. Good ads entertain and connect on more than a superficial level.

This idea of emotion in marketing has been a personal point of interest for me. Years ago I interviewed at Nike (before my time at UA). When I stepped onto campus I cried. Yes, literally. Not because I was a sneakerhead. Because as a marketer, this was the brand that had paved the way in making an emotional connection with consumers, especially in sport. They bought into the idea of entertaining and storytelling above selling. I felt a personal connection.

An quote article in FastCo said it best:

Popular brands had multifaceted personalities. They could make you laugh, or cheer, or lean forward and take notes. They’d stopped hammering away at a share of mind, and were expanding to achieve a share of emotion.

Enough with the personal and embarrassing anecdotes though. My point is that as marketers — and as marketers in sport — emotion is one of the most underrated tools we have. It makes the subject relatable for the consumer and connects at a deeper level. We all laugh, cry, smile and cheer. That’s how we connect as people. And, that’s how people connect with brands.

The idea of storytelling is daunting though. It’s too vague, too big, too vast. Sure, teams and leagues can tell a lot of different stories, but how do you make it impactful? They key is to hone in and focus.

If you want to tap into more emotion, consider taking a page out of how consumer goods (especially sporting) approach their marketing. Product launches and company priorities come with campaign roll outs. A strong message, a reason, a rally cry that’s consistent across all channels.

To do this, think about every new season as a brand campaign. That doesn’t mean every season comes with a new tagline (although that could be a component). It means creating a compelling narrative through which content and creative filters across all channels. Below are two examples:

 

South Carolina’s Here

The campaign was not just about football and the gameday experience. It was bigger than that. The campaign was about the culture of the school and town, a retreat from the grind, the commonality that ties all Gamecocks together and the passion of the team and fans. Instead of just selling football tickets, South Carolina told their story.

 

MLB’s This

Back in 2018, MLB launched a creative campaign called “This is Baseball”. Focused on the word THIS, it was ode to the great things in baseball that need no explanation (exactly how THIS is used in social media). The campaign’s strengths was in its simplicity and ability to integrate across teams. THIS campaign was relatable to every fan, no matter which team they root for.

As you can see from above, creating a campaign helped the Gamecocks and MLB rally around a common theme. It made their message clear and strong. And, it helped them move beyond the scores to the emotional side of sport.

Campaigns like this have a revenue purpose too. They might not be a hard ticket push, but they sell an emotion and an experience. And that is more likely to get people to click and convert than screaming “buy this”. A great brand campaign paired with a smart paid plan has the potential to be a big win.

The process for creating a true brand campaign is long, tedious and collaborative. But, here a few thoughts to get going:

 

Know your brand pillars.

Even if you think about each new season as a brand campaign, the DNA of your brand should not change. A great campaign has a clear message hierarchy. One that starts at the core of what your brand stands for and cascades off of that.

 

Find the idea.

A brand campaign isn’t about a new hashtag. It’s about a thematic that brings to life the brand’s story. The best campaigns come from an insight. Pull insights from the current team’s personality and nuances, fan chatter or something rooted much deeper in the brand’s DNA. Find that big idea to rally around.

 

Simplify.

Too often as marketers we try to get fancy and lose our consumer. It’s important to talk with them, not above them. Go through the process of fine tuning and simplifying your message. Simple is powerful.

 

Create a visual identity.

Today’s world is increasingly visual, which means your visual identity plays an important factor in convey the message. A great brand campaign should come with a strong visual identity.

 

Think through tactical and creative executions.

Once you have nailed the idea, it’s important to think through how the campaign can come to life across all channels and executions. A brand campaign is about a cohesive story across all channels. Nail your idea and then execute well.

 
Teams and leagues have never competed with more attention than they are now. Every space is cluttered and it takes something special to stand out. If you can think of every season is an opportunity rally behind something more, then that’s a good place to start. Emotion matters. And in sport, there’s plenty of it.

What examples of a brand campaign have you seen from team or leagues?

Bleacher Report, The King Of Original Content

It’s crowded in the online sports world. Today, fans have a multitude of options for conversation, content and information. Teams, leagues, publishers, brands, bloggers – and even fans – all share content across channels.

This crowded space makes it even more important for brands to understand their why. Sure, it’s tempting to resort to gimmicks — but gimmicks don’t last. Instead, focus on building something that is different from everything else. It’s about original content that entertains and adds value.

If you want an example of a brand that has cracked the original content code in sport, it’s Bleacher Report. They have defined an audience, voice and creative approach that delivers on social.

It wasn’t that long ago that Bleacher Report was a blogging site trying to gain credibility. But over time – and with buy in from Turner – they became an industry leader in sports, culture and content. Here are some highlights:

Marshawn f–ks up a race car 😳. Watch the full premiere of #NoScript

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

In this fight alone, Conor says he will quadruple his net worth.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Aaron Rodgers is on another level in the 4th quarter.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Wiggins came up clutch.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Watch out NBA, Thunder are here to play.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Leaked text messages between Kyrie and LeBron during trade saga.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Still King.

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

As seen above, again and again they produce content that outshines everyone. So, what’s their key to success? A few takeaways below:

 

Define & own your POV.

Bleacher Report starting seeing success when they defined their sharp point and owned it. For them, it’s not about being the next ESPN. Forget the x’s and o’s – there are plenty of people covering that. For Bleacher Report to stand out, they found their sweet spot at the intersection of sports and culture.

As CEO Dan Finocchio put it in this article from Recode, they are building the next MTV (just without the whole TV thing).

 

Invest in creative.

In 2016 Turner invested $100M to build a 35 person social content team at Bleacher Report. This move has been the key. Investing in a strong creative department has allowed Bleacher Report to go well beyond highlights. With the team, they’ve been able to create original content series unlike anything else in the industry.

Bleacher Report took a risk by investing so much money in creative. But through it they built an engaged audience, credibility and a brand– all things advertisers want to associate with.

There’s no such thing as a great social presence without a great content strategy — and the resources to execute against. Bleacher Repot is proof of that.

 

Know the pulse.

Bleacher Report has a pulse on the sports and culture space. And, it’s allowed them to create creative that has a shelf life well beyond the play of a game. With content series like “Game of Zones“, they have found a way to brilliantly merge sports and culture. The content resonated with their audience, making it both engaging and shareable.

If you work in the content business, you must have a pulse on what’s going on – in culture, in sports, in entertainment and your fans. That doesn’t mean every team, league or brand must merge culture and sports with their content like Bleacher Report does. But, having a pulse on the conversations helps you understand what fans capture. Spend time studying the internet.

 

Plan, even when it seems like you can’t.

Good content does not come out of thin air. Period. Even in sports, you have to plan for the unexpected. For every great illustration from Bleacher Report after a game, there are probably five that don’t get pushed out. That’s because they have to predict scenarios ahead of time to produce content that is original. This quote from James Grigg, international operations director at Bleacher Report, sums it up best:

“We plan creative concepts so that when something does happen, it looks very spontaneous. People may think we’ve produced 30 pieces of content around these moments within 12 hours, but really, they have taken a lot of careful planning.” (via Digiday)

Sports are all about the now. Yes, you might end up producing pieces that aren’t published– but the use of resources is worth elevating the game. You have to prepare for the moments when the most eyes online… and in sports, it’s real time.

 

Vary your content.

There is no offseason in social media and sports. As such, it’s important to mix it up. Bleacher Report does a great job of varying their content, from animated videos, infographics to inspirational features. Below is a small example of the mix of content you will see.

Alicia Woollcott is not your average homecoming queen

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

4 Super Bowl wins and 15 Pro Bowl appearances. Is the class of '04 the best QB class of all time?

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

Eagles give SuperCam the L

A post shared by Bleacher Report (@bleacherreport) on

 

Distribute where your audience is.

If you want to win in sports today, you have to meet your fans where they are. Long gone are the days where every single post can drive fans to a website to read more or consume a video. No one has the attention span for that extra click over and over again. A strong social presence requires a smart distribution strategy, and Bleacher Report has done that.

Bleacher Report has taken a platform agnostic approach to content distribution. Meaning, they don’t care where a fan consumes their content as long as they engage and build brand affinity. The publisher has adapted their content with the platforms and the changing trends – and they’ll content to evolve as the space does. They’ve made it easy for their target to discover, consume and share their content. That’s key for any team, brand or league.

 
This post only scratches the surface of what we can learn from Bleacher Report, the king of original content. What lessons have you taken away from their approach to social media and content? Share them below.