Sponsored Content: Partnership Not Ad Space

Years ago the idea of sponsored content was forward thinking. But today, leveraging a team or league’s social audience to bring in revenue through a partnership is commonplace. Everywhere you look there is a logo slapped onto social content as part of an agreement. So much, that sometimes the internet feels like a live billboard.

It’s time to take a step back and evaluate this sponsored content thing. Because slapping a logo on a score graphic doesn’t move the needle for your brand, your sponsor or your fans. Instead, the focus should be on integrating sponsor’s message with your brand in a natural way.

Here are a few examples of sponsored content done right:

 

 

We win. You eat! 😎

A post shared by Carolina Panthers (@panthers) on

 

@jetmckinnon1 delivers in every way possible. #Skol

A post shared by Minnesota Vikings (@vikings) on

 

 

 

 

Of course, this is no easy task. It takes creative thinking, the right partners around the table and collaboration. When done right though, you can elevate your content, add value to your sponsors (and fans) and bring in even more revenue.

So, how do you create sponsored content that actually works and goes beyond a logo like the examples above? Below are a few tips to think about:

 

Know the value.

Your team has worked hard to build an engaged community, so don’t take it lightly. Sponsored posts on social shouldn’t automatically be part of every deal or pitched as x number of posts a year. The audience you’ve built is worth so much more than that! Don’t sell the worth of your channels short. Activating on social should come with a price tag – and a commitment to doing it right. Know the value of your channels and push back when something isn’t right.

 

Ban the word sponsored.

The word sponsored content automatically makes a partnership transactional. And when we have in our head that something is transactional, it’s much easier to slap a logo on a photo. It’s important to combat the idea that you’re just selling sponsor space on your digital channels. In order to actually move the needle for sponsors, fans and the brand, it has to be so much more than that.

When creating content with sponsors, go into it as a partnership. What is your team/league’s goals on social? What are your sponsors trying to accomplish? Why does this make sense? How can we make this the best together? Make it a thoughtful partnership, not an ad space.

 

Find common values and themes.

The best sponsored content is one that has a natural tie to the sponsor. It will take some creative exploration, but it’s so important to find where the synergy is between the sponsor and your team/league. What is a message or value that you can both rally around?

In the examples above, the content and message aligns with the sponsor. FedEx Air & Ground plays, Gatorade’s Path to the Splash and Chevrolet’s Drive Summary are all great examples of strong content that has a natural to the sponsor.

 

Take a content –first approach.

Like everything that goes out across channels, good sponsored content must add value. How is content useful or engaging for fans? Create a series that peaks interest, evokes emotion and is something you would share with our without sponsor money behind it.

Quality content means fans will pay attention. And when fans pay attention, it means more eyeballs for your sponsors and probably more revenue in future years. That’s a win, win, win.

 

Do not disrupt your feed.

It’s important to have brand guidelines and share them when working with sponsors. What’s the box to play in? What are the brand guides that the content should follow? Sponsored content shouldn’t disrupt your feed in a negative way. Instad, the content should flow very naturally with the rest of your feed.

 

Sometimes, you have to walk away.

The worst thing you can do is try to force a sponsor play on social that does not work. Do the due diligence to find partners that align with your message, creative vision and goals. Don’t dilute what you’ve built by cluttering it with noisy ads. If it starts to feel forced, phony and of no value, it simply might not work.

And at the end of the day, sponsored content has huge upside for teams / leagues, partners and fans – if done right. Go into every deal as a partnership, not ad space, and you’ll start adding value all the way around.

Why You Need a Platform Strategy

Social media moves in a frenzy. And if you work in the industry, it’s easy to feel the pressure to “do, do, do”. This pressure can result in a firehouse approach to push out whatever you can, whenever you can.

The firehouse eventually (and often quickly) results in a cluttered space. Consumers have to shift through a lot of uninteresting content to unearth any gems. This cluttered space doesn’t affect the consumer alone—it also hurts brands, teams, leagues.

Everyone in the industry must work to fight the frenzy. We have to pull ourselves out the weeds and think about how we’re distributing, where and why. 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 content on channels should also be different.

So, what’s the key to maximize each channel effectively to tell your story? It all starts with defining a strong platform approach—and sticking to it.

Defining a platform strategy ensures several things:

 

Reason for being.

When you define a reason for being with each channel it helps to differentiate content across platforms. It’s not about telling a different story across all channels; it’s about molding the content to the platforms.

 

Forces you to think consumer first.

Hopefully when you define a platform approach, the consumer is at the center of your thinking. And, since you have defined a reason for being on each channel, your approach will make for a great consumer experience. across each channel. This way the consumer won’t be bombarded with the exact same content across every single channel and it will feel more authentic the platform.

 

Helps push creativity.

Finally, when you put yourself in a box creativity is unleashed. You and your team will end up with a stronger presence and stronger creative if you stick to a POV and understand what makes each platform unique.

 

So, what does a platform strategy look like? Every brand and team will have a different approach based on audience and goals. But for inspiration, here’s a high level look at how you might differentiate each platform.

 

Facebook

Facebook platform is about mass reach. Video and live are key here, so take the time to think through how to elevate and innovate the experience of live. Facebook also presents a huge opportunity to drive direct ROI. Their robust ad options and targeting capabilities can help you drive ticket sales, merchandise, etc. if you’re strategic about it.

 

Twitter

Twitter is where moments happen. It’s a place for real time. One-to-one engagement with fans is also important, as well as letting your brand personality shine. From a content perspective, GIFS, moving image and short soundbites are key.

 

Instagram

Instagram is the best visual expression of the brand. Period. The creative must be visually eye-catching to get people to stop in their feeds. Think of in-feed posts as more evergreen; Stories more real-time.

 

Snapchat

Snapchat is about real, raw access. The people and personalities behind brands shine. Think about your programming like reality TV; create consistent programming, faces and give people a reason to come back and tune it. And the biggest key? Have fun, doodles and all.

As mentioned, this is just a high level example of how you could define a platform approach. Take the time to put yourself in your consumer’s shoes, brainstorm and create a POV. Sticking to the POV won’t always be easy, but in the end you will have a stronger community, stronger engagement and stronger overall presence.

Focus On Substance + Execution Over The Tools

Every year without fail there’s a bright and shiny tool that takes the social world by storm, from Google Glass to live streaming and Spectacles. It’s easy to get caught up in the bright and shiny in this industry of instant gratification. Early adoption could mean an article as the “first brand or team to use x”. But being the first on a platform or the first to leverage a tool doesn’t equate to success or value for your consumer. As with anything, it’s critical to understand the why and value add behind it.

Yes, working in social/digital means it’s important to keep up with new and emerging trends. But success doesn’t mean you have to jump on to each new thing. Like any tool, from Spectacles to Google Glass, it’s about providing unique access + point of view and creating good content (period).

When Spectacles came out, there was a content dump from anyone who had access to them. The content often felt like the same thing over and over again. Even though we get excited about the new in the industry, there’s a good chance fans don’t care unless it’s new AND interesting. It’s important to understand how you can use the tools to elevate your storytelling, get the right access and provide something new. A few strong examples below (and a great curated list of examples from Blair Hughes here):

 


 

As teams and leagues look to leverage Spectacles and other new tools, it should be about substance and execution over anything else. When it comes to mapping out a strategy and plan, here are a few high-level things to keep in mind.

 

Don’t oversaturate it.

Spectacles or FB live stream can be phenomenal tools in taking fans behind-the-scenes without being obtrusive. But because you have the tool, doesn’t mean you should throw it on a player at every practice. Access quickly loses an interesting angle when it’s the same video over and over again. Resist the urge to use too often.

 

Right time, right place, right context.

In line with the first point, it’s important to understand how live, Spectacles, etc. can play into big moments. Behind-the-scenes access is more valuable when emotions are high. It’s important to understand that holding tools for big moments can be more powerful than abusing them over and over again. Don’t be afraid to wait to leverage something new and interesting when the brand and team has a moment that feels right and big.

 

Find what’s fresh, different.

The examples above stand out because they are a fresh and different take on content. The @ncaawrestling one, for example, makes fans feel like they are actually warming up with the No. 1 seeded wrestler. It’s a unique POV and different from anything else we’ve seen from that account. As a marketer you have to be able to define your sharp point. How can you leverage the tool to provide something that is different, unique from anything else you’ve ever done? If you can answer that, then you should activate with the tool.

 

Don’t force it.

Because it’s new, doesn’t mean you have to use it. If you can’t figure out a unique angle or a way to incorporate a new tool into your content capture flow, don’t force it. If produced video makes more sense than live, stick to the produced video. If your team can execute behind-the-scenes storytelling more powerfully than raw Spectacles, stick to that game plan. Being able to execute right is key, so focus on what works for the brand, the fans, your team.

At the end of the day, social is about testing and learning, but not at the sacrifice of good coverage. If you focus on substance and strong execution over forcing the tools, then you’ll find the right ways to elevate and add a unique POV for fans.

 


 

How have you seen teams and leagues use new and emerging tools in ways in ways that have stood out? Share your examples below.

Social Media Needs A Seat At The Table

This blog post is here to battle the social dump that goes on all too often in organizations. Where social media teams spend their time managing the “post this” and “post that” instead of a meaningful strategy. Where someone hands over creative and tells social to “build a calendar” instead of helping to shape how it comes to life. This dumping, without understanding, has to stop.

We all know the shift that has happened with consumers. Move over TV, because phone addiction is a real thing. Social media and digital is now the FIRST connection to a brand or team. So why would you treat social media (and the team) as an afterthought?

To create a holistic marketing strategy that actually drives towards business goals, then your social media team needs a seat at the table. No, that doesn’t mean looping them in during a go-to market meeting with final assets. It means looping them in from day one, the moment conversations and brainstorms start to happen around a campaign or initiative.

Social media roles are often looked at as tactical ones (again, going back to the post this and the post that). But social media is so much more than tweeting and facebooking all day. Social media is the heartbeat, voice and constant connection of your brand. Adding value through social requires strong thinking, intention and stellar creative.

Your social team / person needs a seat at the table because their experience in the space can help shape things. They offer insights into your community and what they crave. They know the platforms inside and out. They see creativity on the internet day in and day out. Your social media team, when leveraged correctly, should be a wealth of knowledge into what will work and what will not.

Social media has grown up. The world, consumer and marketing is all digital first. It’s not just tactical, just tweeting, just poking. It’s about strategy and purpose. It’s time to treat it as such.

As marketers, our No. 1 goal should be building a comprehensive, compelling plan that feels cohesive and seamless no matter where it lives. A true and seamless omni-channel experience won’t happen if channels live in a silo. You wouldn’t create plans for other channels without bringing in the experts. Stop pushing “stuff” on your social media team, and instead, ask them how they can help you reach x goal. Your conversations, engagement, reach and goals will drive forward even more.

Twitter Approaches to Rethink

This post tackles Twitter approaches in sports that it’s time to rethink. I’ve picked these trends for several reasons. Some aren’t fan-friendly, while others don’t leverage the strength of the platform. I get the list below has large, blanket statements. I know that some of the things listed here might make sense for your team, league or organization based on goals, resources and situations. My hope is this post might get you thinking about why you approach things a certain way. We’re all guilty of getting in a rhythm of doing things the same old way. If this post makes you sit back and ask “why” at all, then it’s done its job.

So without further ado, here are current Twitter approaches in sports I wish would go away (with a little help from my #smsports friends):

 

No. 1- Play button on images.

There are few things more frustrating than seeing the “play” button on Twitter only to realize that it’s not an actual video but a screenshot driving elsewhere. Not only is this deceiving for fans, but it also makes content consumption more difficult. Fans want to consume easily and quickly.

Today video content can be shared straight on the platform, so why not meet fans where they are? The days of only driving people to .com should be gone. Let your fans consume great content on the platforms where they play and drive to deeper dives that social can’t provide.

 

No. 2- Same GIF over and over again.

I love GIFS that enhance play-by-play coverage. That said, it gets redundant when teams use the exact same GIFS over and over again. If you plan GIFS for certain moments (like touchdowns, interceptions, etc.), create multiple options to pull from so you can mix it up. GIFS can be repurposed and used again, but there’s a fine line before the content gets boring.

The @Seahawks score GIFS are a great example of using templates to turn out content quickly but also keeping it fresh. They mix up the visual with different photos for every score update:

 

No. 3- GIFing just to GIF.

I love GIFS, but they can be overused. Take the time to think through a strategy for your GIFS and figure out the moments where you can use them for the greatest impact.

Remember this: GIFS are a treat and not an every tweet thing.

 

No. 4- Not engaging with fans.

All too often teams and leagues just push on the platform. Twitter isn’t just a broadcast platform; it’s a community where teams and leagues need to engage. The platform is an opportunity to foster relationships and cultivate brand ambassadors. I’m amazed at how many teams still don’t take the time to engage with their fans.

When a team / league @replies to a fan on Twitter, they’re encouraging them to be brand ambassadors and igniting their passion. A reply to a fan encourages them to tweet their love of the team / league even more. Additionally, people often retweet brand responses and replies to them. This is a win, as there’s nothing more powerful than earned media and word of mouth.

The ability to listen and connect directly with fans is one of the things that sets Twitter (and social media) a part from traditional media. Take advantage of it.

 

No. 5- Using retweets as engagement.

Many teams retweet fans like crazy, but don’t engage. The idea of using retweets as a form of engagement needs to change. I believe in retweeting, but the tweet should add value to entire audience. Don’t retweet as an acknowledgement. Reply to acknowledge and retweet to add value. If you only retweet then you aren’t engaging.

 

No. 6- Play-by-Play.

There is still way too much play-by-play on Twitter. The platform isn’t about replacing the broadcast; it’s about enhancing the viewing experience for those at home. There are so many ways for fans to consume play-by-play if they want it. Don’t clutter your feed with boring and mundane play-by-play updates. Focus on the big moments, color commentary and “insider” stories that add more value.

When you look at the stats, you’ll notice fans respond to color commentary and fun reactions much more than standard play-by-play. Look at these examples from the @Panthers (who in their defense don’t do much play-by-play) and the engagement each with each tweet:

As you can see above, the tweets that perform best are fun; they make it seems like the account is sitting in the living room with you. They are anything but dry and boring play-by-play (and this is from a team that doesn’t even do that much play-by-play).

 

No. 7- Not creating for the platform.

Square images don’t belong on Twitter. We all know that, so stop trying to force it. No matter the platform, all content should play to the platform’s strength. This means creating content specifically for Twitter (2:1 ratio). Make it easy for fans to consume your message. Size your graphics accordingly.

 

No. 8- Pushing Facebook and Instagram Links.

This one goes along with creating for the platform. Long gone should be the days of cross-promoting Facebook and Instagram links to Twitter. First, what works on Facebook and/or Instagram might not work on Twitter. Second, Facebook and Instagram links aren’t media rich. If you have great content, tailor it to Twitter and share it natively. It’s okay to share similar content across platforms, but it should be repurposed appropriately.

 

No. 9- Forcing Humor.

Somewhere along the line in sports we’ve gotten the idea that humor and gimmicks are what it takes to win on Twitter.

This is sports though! Sports are full of emotion, stories and big moments. The beauty is that you don’t have to resort to gimmicks. Save humor for the moments where it really makes sense. Don’t force it!

Additionally, don’t cross the line for the sake of vanity metrics. Stay on brand and remember that everything you tweet is a reflection of the organization through and through. Twitter and social media is suppose to be fun, but it shouldn’t come at a cost.

 

The bottom line is this: Take a step back and evaluate why you do what you do. I know some of these things might make sense for your team or league, but make sure content consumption is easy for fans and that you leverage Twitter’s strengths. Twitter isn’t just about broadcasting, so be thoughtful in everything you do.

 


 

When I asked the what trends people who like to see go away, I got some great responses that I didn’t get a chance to include. You can view the entire thread here.

 

 

Thanks for reading!