Social Requires Building Blocks

One of the biggest challenges in social media today is content for the sake of content. Teams, brands and leagues are creating at an incredibly high quality — and volume — but often without a true understanding of why. In too many instances voice, tone and creative depends on the flavor of the day.

Social should not operate in the wild, wild west though. It’s the front door to brands today. As a result, the voice, tone, messaging and content should be connected to the brand’s DNA. It’s important to resist the pressure to resort to gimmicks for vanity metrics. In the end, social without purpose will never get its due or move the needle.

In order for social media to truly map back to organizational goals, the strategy requires building blocks. The first couple of chapters of your plan should be platform agnostic: What does our brand stand for? Who is our audience? What are our goals? Why does it matter?

Once you have the foundation in place, then you can mold the creative and tactics to each platform. This should only happen once you have defined the larger picture.

At the end of the day, you can’t have a social strategy if you don’t have a content strategy and you can’t have a content strategy if you don’t have a brand strategy.

To build out a plan that maps back to organization goals, what are the building blocks required? Here’s a high-level look:

The brand.

This the foundational work that will separate your social presence from the rest. What does your brand stand for and what values do you need to bring to life? What is the “it” factor that makes your brand unique?

Your brand foundation is more evergreen; while the content and social strategy will pivot and change (sometimes drastically over time), your brand should foundation is something that will never do a complete 180.

This is where you start with any social or digital strategy. Your brand foundation should be the North Star for everything you do. Period.


The audience.

Who are you trying to reach? If you don’t know your target audience, then how can you create content that will resonate with them?

It’s important to outline target audiences, psychographic and demographic information and understanding what they need to hear from their brand. If you define your audience and what they care about you’ll create stronger and more effective content.


The content.

Platforms will come and go, but the need to reach consumers online is here to stay. And, that’s why content comes before platforms and tactics.

This is where you start digging into your content approach. Define your approach to content, the themed buckets that map back to the brand and then the actual ideas. Once you have defined your content series, ideas, etc. then you mold the creative execution to the platform.


The distribution & tactics.

This is where you get into platform tactics and specifics. What platforms will you have a presence on, how will content be molded to each platform and how will you distribute for maximized reach?

The platform tactics should cascade off the larger brand goals and content priorities defined. A platform strategy is less about the actual content ideas and more about how to get the most exposure/reach and build a community.



A (very) rough example.

To help with the visualization of how you can start to tackle the building blocks, I’ve created a very rough draft of how to approach building them. Please note this important disclaimer on the deck below:

None of the sections are fully built out at all so I’ve included a slide at the end of each on other things that can be included in the plan. This is simply to show how you build, while starting with the brand.

I’ve used my Alma Mater Auburn because it’s a brand I’m extremely familiar with, but please keep in mind this was created quickly during a long car ride of travel. There has been little research done, no attention to detail and not a ton of thought beyond the basics (maybe I shouldn’t admit that, but this is just a side passion project).

There are major holes in this deck, not everything is going to make complete sense, it needs more big picture ideas and should have a much heavier hand in how to drive business results.

All that to say this is merely a very, very rough framework to show how and why the brand comes first.


Note, if you prefer, you can actually view this in Google Docs here.

Let’s Talk FOMO

With the Game of Thrones phenomenon taking the world and internet by storm, it’s brought back a lot of thoughts and questions around the idea of FOMO. How and when should brands activate around moments and trends? What makes one brand jump in on a trend and hit it out of the park, while the next one looks completely desperate and thirsty?

It’s no secret that I have a serious disdain for brands that suffer from FOMO. Too often brands miss the mark versus get it right, and it distracts teams from the work that actually matters.

But, I think people misinterpret my disdain of FOMO with real-time marketing period. Real-time marketing is part of what we do, after all, our work does come to life on the internet. It’s important to have a pulse and understanding of the conversations happening. I would never discredit that. The key is that it has to be done right and with the big-picture in mind.

Ever since brands have realized they can dunk in the dark like Oreo, they have been trying to tweet, poke and post their way into virality. And, too often brands are willing to throw out their vision, their voice and their identity to jump on a trend. To put it simply, FOMO has become a big distraction for marketers. Here are my biggest issues with it, and more specifically, FOMO in sports:


Too many neglect their OWN brand.

From the outside looking in, it seems like most brands are focused more on trying to win the internet vs their own brand strategy. Because it’s easier than ever to activate, we’ve thrown out too many of the fundamentals that make a good marketing strategy. The result is a volume of content that is incredibly high, but it’s often pushed without much purpose and understanding of why.

We need more of an emphasis on “brand” in sports, not gimmicks. Right now there is little distinction between team A and team B beyond the scores. The result is a sea of sameness. Before jumping on an internet trend, teams need to nail their foundation. If a team, league or org does not know what their brand strategy looks like then anything related to real-time marketing is just a distraction, clutter and noise.

If you don’t know what your own brand stands for, then how can you provide a unique POV? We have to stop neglecting our own brands and sharp point for the sake of vanity metrics.


FOMO is not a strategy.

Too often it feels like people think that real-timing marketing is their saving grace to a great presence online. Real -time marketing is not a strategy though. It’s a tactic. A tool in the toolbox. It is something your team should be thinking about, but not obsessing about. If your team spends most of their working day trying to break the internet then there’s probably an issue at hand.


Does it move the needle?

In in a similar vein to the idea that FOMO is not a strategy, we also have to question how much it moves the needle. Yes, real-time marketing moments tend to get a good reaction, but too often the content is not core to a brand. If the content is barely relevant to a brands core, how much is it really moving the needle? It’s like this quote from one of my favorite marketing books Friction:


It’s important to remember that not all engagement is created equal. Hop on a pop culture meme, share a random animal video or throw snark someone’s way and you’re probably going to generate attention. Does that mean it’s right for the brand or is helping a team reach its goals? Not necessarily. This image sums it up perfectly:

Our jobs aren’t to win the internet. Our jobs are bring the brand to life and drive business results — which yes, requires capturing the right kind of attention. Your brand is stronger than the flavor of the day.  It trumps pop culture GIFS, the meme of the week and every other vanity play.

The reality is leadership does not care about vanity metrics. They care about the actual impact on the business. For social to get its due, we have to be disciplined and strategic.

I’ll leave you with this Seth Godin quote from his latest book: Specific is a kind of bravery.  In a world where our work is public and we’re all competitive, it’s easy to get caught up in the vanity plays and tactics. As marketers, we shouldn’t try to be everything to everyone. We should focus on the audience and the work that moves the needle. Define your North Star (your brand POV) and stick to it.


It’s hard to do it right.

Let’s face it. It’s hard to do real-time marketing right. Too often every brand has the same idea. This creates cluttered feeds with the same creative everywhere. Think about it. How many times can a brand jump on the picture of the throne for Game of Thrones? It’s simply not original anymore. Originality, that is relevant, is hard to do right.

If you are looking for an example of how an original play, check out the tweet below from The Masters. The content is relevant to their brand and they were able to put their own spin on Games of Throne in a way that no one else has. That’s the key here.


I do believe real-time moments in social are important. But, they have to be done right like the example above from The Masters. You should never sacrifice your brand for short lived metrics. So, what does it take to do real-time marketing right?


Build a POV.

I’m a firm believer that unique value trumps the “everything”. Teams must take the time to define their brand POV, their strategy and understand where real-time marketing fits in. A POV serves as a North Star for when and how teams should think about activating. It gives guardrails for what makes sense and does not make sense for the brand.

Define your lanes and stay in it. A brand should never be forcing their way into a conversation.


Nail the big idea & original, relevant to your brand.

Too often when brands jump in on real-time moments it feels forced, phony and inauthentic. The reality is it’s really hard to do real-time marketing right. Brands have to nail an original idea. Nail the connection to their brand. Nail the connection with the audience. Nail the creative execution. Nail the timeliness. Brands should only activate IF they can nail all of these things.

Brands that win in real-time marketing are original, authentic and true to their core. If you are going to activate, you have to deliver something that is fresh, new and something only the brand can own. That’s no easy feat, but the expectations should not be taken lightly.


Know it’s okay to say no.

At the end of the day, the internet doesn’t need more brands chasing the flavor of the day. It needs brands focused on adding value. Build a POV and know it’s okay to not jump on every moment. In fact, it takes a lot of guts these days to say no. Discipline matters.


I’ll close this blog with the idea that less is really more these days. We need less distraction, more focus. Less clutter, more quality. Less frenzy, more purpose. Less vanity metrics, more value. Less external pressures, more brand focus.

Don’t let FOMO distract you from the work that really matters. Yes, it can be part of the plan, it’s not more important than nailing your goals, bringing your brand to life and owning your point view.

Insight Into Evil Geniuses’ Social Media Philosophy

This a guest post from Matt Demers, the Social Media Director for Evil Geniuses (esports team).  A few weeks ago, I saw tweets from Matt outlining their approach to social. His insight was thoughtful, interesting and something I think we could all learn from. Thankfully, he agreed to share a glimpse into their at Evil Geniuses. Enjoy!

Imagine that it’s game day, and you’re ready to make your usual hype posts and recaps of what your fans need to know. Now imagine that a good part of your fanbase has no idea about the game; they’re following you for something else, and that something else isn’t scheduled for another week.

In the world of esports — or professional video games — a team is not limited to one sport. For many organizations, they are active in many titles across a wide spectrum of genres, tones, and moods; think as if your baseball team also had an American Football, hockey, and rugby roster, all with different stars, lineups, and information.

For Evil Geniuses — the team I work for — this has led to an interesting conundrum that I didn’t have to deal with until we got to the point where we needed to expand.

As someone who’s played video games in the genres we cover, there’s a lot of crossover knowledge. Having the time to be able to learn or play the games we ventured into meant being able to do my job well. In training our new social media associate, it became clear that our strategy would have to rely less on my instinct. The challenge was continuing a genuine feeling of community and understanding that is essential to our jobs.

In a couple tweets the other week, I laid out what was what stuck out in my mind as our social media philosophy, and Jess was kind enough to invite me to expand on them here.

Show that we’re paying attention.

Having worked in a sports newsroom, I knew that some aspects were the same whether they were talking about the turf or the keyboard. As the esports industry grows, both myself and our designer started look away from the established “gamer” aesthetic to be able to see what traditional sports was doing.

We had to be careful, though, as the culture of video games is different that the culture of sports. I quickly realized when I started that a lot of our audience didn’t have the experience of growing up around a traditional sporting relationship; we could not guarantee that a simple one-to-one copying of what’s worked for the NBA or NFL would work here.

For instance, not all our fans have the context of a long-term build of talent or growth. Every loss is a reason to dump any number of our players because any loss must mean a problem. While this type of reactionary behavior is present in traditional sports, there may not be those who are familiar with the patience needed to see a rebuild come to fruition.

In covering our games, we make every effort to actually play and take part within them to understand what it means to live in that world. This sounds pretty simple and a no-brainer for all sports social, but I’m sure many of you will know how much adding layers of knowledge or analysis can help your coverage.

Fans can tell when this kind of analysis is being faked; their noses are trained to sniff out that lack of authenticity, and they are wary of being marketed to.

They appreciate extra details, like knowing the overarching metagame of a title or how the game has changed recently. Game developers constantly iterate new versions of their titles for public and professional consumption, and this means new environments for fans and pros alike. Simple things like tone and language matter when going from one game to another; I would not use the same vocabulary when reporting Street Fighter as I would Dota 2.

It’s like the differences in basketball and football culture: each community has their own set of expectations and rules of engagement.

While there are arguments for the negativities of elitism and gatekeeping, these communities want to know their support is being sent to the right places. They want to know that we get what makes them special, and we’re not there to make money off something hot.

To be able to build up the goodwill that allow them to trust us, we have to provide them with information and content that they are either unable to find on their own, or that they would not have thought to look for. This means leveraging statistics, trends, or behind-the-scenes answers that are out of their reach.

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We also need to be careful of what the “cost” for this information is. Fans will notice if they can only access information after paying admission by watching advertisements or sponsor roll; by giving this extra value without catches, we look to build a relationship based on shared enthusiasm.

Our choices on what to include come from a frame of mind that looks to prove ourselves as competent to our audience; we know that any error will be called out by those looking for the opportunity to one-up an authority.

Participating in a community allows us to see the strengths, weaknesses and pain points that others may miss. Especially when esports may be divorced from a player base that plays the game casually (who don’t watch competitive), it humbles us to what are a very picky customer base.

As a rule, authenticity is king. Above all else, we want to avoid being Steve Buscemi in 30 Rock. We do not want to come off as saying “How do you do, fellow kids?”


Establish stakes.

Going back to the issue of having many games to cover, we often run into the problem of our fanbase “signing up” for coverage with one title, and having to clash with others they may not care about.

One of the ways we deal with that is to write copy in a way that introduces players to a new title softly. While we can’t hope to onboard someone to a new title (which may take many hours to get comfortable with), we can try to give them a hook to hold onto while they test the waters of something unfamiliar.

For example, over the past year we’ve seen a major rise in our fanbase after acquiring a roster for Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege. The game is a slower, tactical shooting game that is simple to watch with many details; while it can be easy to say “the team with more people alive has an advantage”, it’s harder to explain how they got that advantage.

In picking up the game myself, I found a steep learning curve. Not only are you learning capabilities of “positions” played by the user, but the playing field itself has nuance in how it’s attacked or defended.

The challenge then becomes giving someone who has not played (or may never play) the game a reason to care. For people who do play the game, the shared context of playing a game at a casual level and then seeing it played professionally fills in the gaps. If you’ve ever thrown a baseball, you know why an MLB pitcher is special; it is our goal to bridge that gap and show why it’s special.

This relates to the “paying attention” paragraph because our copy, choice of highlights, and efforts need to center around elevating our players’ stature to the level of a true professional.

Part of esports’ appeal is that accessibility; you can play a pick-up game with your favorite player if you both were at the same skill level. You can enter a tournament with 2000 other entrants and meet one of our players in pool play. But if you don’t have that shared context of playing the same game, establishing an emotional connection is a lot harder.

Reminding our fans of where we are in the grand scope of the tournament, what we stand to achieve, and how we can do it is key to our mission of building fans of Evil Geniuses, not just EG Rainbow Six fans. Each of our tweets can be the on-boarding of someone into a title they may not have touched otherwise, and any details we can provide (without alienating the hardcore who have already arrived) allows us to cross-pollinate attention and develop a more healthy audience.

Don’t start anything we can’t keep consistent.

In esports, there is a tendency to split your accounts on a per-game basis, but I personally don’t agree with it; I find that it shunts less-popular titles into a corner where they are not given the opportunities to blossom. In general, if they are not given the resources to grow, they won’t.

It also runs into the problem of content gaps, as not all video games have active schedules. It became clear that starting separate accounts would lead to a splitting of bandwidth that would also leave them unattended when competition was not in session.

This attitude also guides me when it comes to considering new platforms to expand to; we need to be able to maintain these platforms with new content so that do not stagnate. While again, this may seem like a no-brainer, the realities of esports makes generating this content different and introduces new challenges.

Often, our players are not playing full-time, nor are they unified in one central facility. Some of our players maintain part-time jobs, or compete in competition via the Internet from different cities. This makes simple things like photos, video or behind-the-scenes social difficult, and the stakes of live events where we are all in one place higher.

It means the condensing of our social to a few key platforms (currently Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) helps keep us focused and avoiding the fear of missing out. If we cannot ensure a consistent experience, we refuse to chase the shiniest thing.

My reasoning is that while our fans may question “why are you not on [platform]?”, they will always remember an experience on a new platform done badly. This will be doubly as loud when resources are expended to onboard people to that new platform, only to have it die. As we expand our social team from one person to several, and have constant contact with a flow of new content through in-person traveling with the team, we can take more chances.

This not only involves platforms, but content itself. If we cannot ensure that we will nail a video or blog or podcast every single week, we must be able to put a launch on hold until we can ensure it’s done right. In my experience, a few things done really well is better than a lot of things done with varying amounts of success.

Wrapping it up.

Video games represent a new and challenging environment, mostly because of the clash of two separate cultures. As someone who never was a lifelong fan of a sports team growing up, it took a few tournaments before I “got it.” In delving deeper into esports over the past five years, I’ve met so many people who come from different walks of life that still “get it” in the same way.

That shared joy and pain is what makes it fun to do our jobs, and share in collective successes and disappointments as fans. But, as professionals, the chase to be ahead of our competition means possibly losing or forgetting why we’ve tried to make sports a greater part of our lives and careers in the first place.

I urge all of you to consider demographics that you have never thought of, and chase that authentic, genuine connection over something that brings a lot of enrichment to our lives.

Even if you’ve never picked up a controller before, the spirit of competition is something that drives both traditional sports and esports; if we’re looking for a common ground, I feel happy meeting halfway there.


A big thanks to Matt for the valuable insight. For anyone interested in esports and/or digital, give him a follow @MattDemers and check out his work with Evil Geniuses: Twitter, Instagram, Twitch & Facebook


Success In Social Is Not Black & White

Success in social is not black and white. In fact, it’s complicated. Beyond the engagement numbers, the follower growth and the memes that sometimes go “viral” is a much larger picture.

It’s easy in this industry to get bogged down in the public-facing data. To focus on the engagement, the fan sentiment and what the industry holds as a gold standard. But success is greater than the numbers, especially the vanity ones.

Social media today is the front door to most teams, leagues and brands for fans. It’s a connection to what a team stands for, well beyond the scores. The nature of the platforms (conversational, nimble, always on) makes social one of the strongest branding tools.

Success is also about how well you tell the brand story. It’s about representing your brand and bringing it to life in the right light. It’s about executing on the organizational goals. It’s about communicating the messages and values that are a priority.

Here’s the thing. Fan content is going to perform differently than on-the-field content, so we can’t compare. Player reaction GIFS are meant to evoke a different emotion than branded graphics. Value-driven messaging is different than a pure, fun engagement play.

We have to be careful about what we let dictate our decisions. It’s not always about comparing your performance to another team. It’s not always about fan sentiment (because the haters are always louder). It’s not always about beating your engagement average from the last week. And, even more, it’s not always about winning the internet. 

Different content serves a different purpose. Different teams have different goals and initiatives. Things aren’t always apples to apples. And because of that, we can’t compare them. 

Success is complicated, multifaceted and ever-evolving. At the end of the day, the work is about much more than one or two tweets. It’s about the totality of everything. Take the time to understand what matters to the organization. Define the north star and invest your energy there. Keep the outside noise away where it makes sense.

We can’t get so bogged down in the data and enemy of comparison that we forget about the bigger picture. Sometimes, it’s important to remind ourselves of that.

Bringing Fans Into the Fold

During Hashtag Sports several weeks ago, I listened in on a panel about B/R’s House of Highlights. And, there was one point made that stuck out to me:

We have to meet fans where they are. It’s not about control, but making content accessible. See the big picture and don’t operate in fear.

Bleacher Report’s acquisition of House of Highlights was a smart move because they understood their audience was there. Instead of trying to shift where fans are consuming (which is hard to do) they went to them. For B/R, House of Highlights was a strong touch point to reach their core consumer.

This idea got me thinking. Teams, leagues, etc. spend a lot of time focusing on their own social channels, distribution and growth. These things are important, but there’s another layer to ALSO think about. And, it’s how can we lift conversation around our brand and get more eyes on our content?

Instead of trying to shift how and where people consume our content, we need to start thinking about how to make our content accessible. We need to start asking some hard questions and think about distribution differently, especially with the rise of algorithms and clutter online.

Athletes are an obvious choice to help distribute content. Most teams and leagues understand they should be thinking about that, but we don’t really talk about the fan’s role in content distribution. And I wonder, is this something we should consider?

Think about it. PGC brands pay a lot of money for influencers and even micro-influencers to share on behalf of the brand. They lean on them for product launches, brand campaigns and pulling in a new audience.

In sports, we don’t have to find people to pay to share on behalf of our brand. In sports thousands, even millions,of fans, would consider it an honor to be share something from the brand. We’re extremely lucky in that respect. And, it’s something we should not take for granted. Fans can help us reach a new audience while also adding a level of credibility. Yes, word of mouth still matters.

“Wallpaper Wednesday” is a small example of an appetite to align themselves with their favorite team. Fans love them, ask for them, expect them. And, it’s a small example of how teams have thought about catering to their fans and their own channels (or devices).

Let’s take it a step further though. Is there an opportunity for teams to create a bigger mechanism for fans to spread the word about games, initiatives, milestones, etc. on a consistent basis? I keep going back to the idea of creating a “VIP virtual fan club” where fans are granted access to an exclusive group. This would be about making fans active participants vs passive participants, encouraging and empowering them to share their passion for the team.

What could this “VIP, virtual fan club” be about or include? While this is in no way a flushed out plan or concept, here are some general ideas (simply to get the wheels turning).

What’s the general idea of a VIP virtual fan club?
It’s a virtual group of people who love the team and want to advocate on behalf of the brand. The team should help empower (and thank) this group to share their passion for the team, and also, help generate conversation and community.

What it needs to be successful.
The virtual fan club needs to feel exclusive enough where people feel part of something special, but also, large enough to make an impact.

The group needs a community manager from the team and a “meeting” channel for them to feel part of something bigger. For example, a closed Facebook group could work for this or even a Slack channel. The channel should feel community driven. It’s a place where the team can help curate conversation and also distribute content for the fans to use on their own channels easily.

What could the “virtual club” provide to teams?
From a digital perspective, these people become another avenue to distribute content. The content can range from video series to things like All-Star Vote or reminders about tickets going on sale. Teams would have to focus on content that people actually want to share — like hype graphics — that connects on an emotional level and gets people excited. By empowering and encouraging fans to share content created by the team on their own channels, you’ll reach a new audience and add a level of credibility (people still trust peers more than brands).

Additionally, this group can become a focus group for your team. They can give insight into what they look for in content, feedback on the game experience, etc. It’s an opportunity for the organization to connect with fans on a personal level outside of season ticket holders.

What do they get it in return?
Exclusivity and community can go a long way when executed right. Showing appreciation and giving fans a voice is often a reward in itself. Additionally, the group can be surprised with swag throughout the year, discounts and even group meetups hosted by the team.

What’s the evolution?
Maybe, this becomes a larger membership play where teams open it up to anyone who asks to join. This would allow teams to get first-hand data of their fans vs relying so much on social channels (owned vs borrowed). I realize to scale would take a large commitment, but maybe fans feeling like active participants could pay large dividends (and again, you would actually own this data).

And yes, there are things to think through.
As mentioned, this is not a complete plan or even a concept. Teams would need to understand the resources that this would take, how to exactly track results and understand the risks and rewards.

That said, we shouldn’t underestimate how much our fans want to be part of our organizations. There’s something powerful and interesting about the idea of a community where fans feel part of the journey and teams actually own the data. Let’s work on making our fans active participants vs passive participants. If we can crack that code, it could be a really powerful thing.

I would love to hear any ideas you have about bringing fans more into the fold? And, have you seen any teams that have done this particulary well?