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?

Insight Into Wimbledon’s Social & Digital Strategy

Every year I look forward to Wimbledon. For the matches, yes, but also for the show their digital team puts on. Wimbledon serves up a strong dose of inspiration for anyone in the industry, from stunning creative to brand consistency. They set an example of what digital and creative excellence looks like for those of us in sports and beyond.

I’m really excited about this blog post because Wimbledon’s Head of Communications, Content and Digital — Alex Willis — gives insight into Wimbledon’s digital strategy in a Q&A below (jump to it here). Before we dive in though, here are a few things that stand out about Wimbledon’s approach:

First, they are thoughtful about their brand.
From Wimbledon’s visual identity to their voice/tone, it’s clear they take pride in their brand. Their creative is instantly recognizable year after year. And, it’s held to a standard one would expect from Wimbledon. Strong visuals and voice are the foundation of a great presence. Wimbledon delivers on it.

Second, they disrupt through creative executions.
Original content is a great lever trying to capture attention. Whether you vary your executions or leverage design in unexpected and fresh ways, strong creative can disrupt in so many instances. Wimbledon understands this. They offer a wide range of content series and creative executions throughout the tournament (and also get bonus points because content varies on platforms). Take a look at the wide range of content they produce.

Too often voice and tone is the tool teams leverage to disrupt and get attention. The problem is it often ends up being snarky, troll-ish or over-the-top. The lines blur between what is right for the brand and what the social media manager prefers. It’s a slippery slope.

Wimbledon has a knack for capturing attention, without taking away from the brand. They prove that when you have a purpose, know your why and focus on strong creative, everything is elevated. You will tell a better brand story, engage your fans and make your social feeds stand out.

And finally, they celebrate everything Wimbledon offers.
In sports, it’s easy to get caught up in the scores. Butm it’s our job to bring to life much more than that. From the history of our organizations, to fans and everything behind-the-scenes, sports has so much more to it than the scores alone. And, fans crave the “other” things.

Wimbledon does a fantastic job celebrating all that the tournament has to offer. It’s clear the digital team has a content strategy a and clear focus. Their thoughtful approach to go beyond the court provides a unique glimpse into what Wimbledon is all about. From its history to small moments we don’t see on TV, they truly bring to life everything Wimbledon has to offer. Below are a few examples of what you might see.

A (day)break to love… 🌞 . #Wimbledon #sunrise

A post shared by Wimbledon (@wimbledon) on

Almost. Time. #Wimbledon #sixdaystogo #TakeOnHistory

A post shared by Wimbledon (@wimbledon) on

Our jobs are to be the eyes and ears of the fans and bring them inside our world. When you open up your content strategy well beyond the scores, it add depths to your content and presence. Don’t forget about the “other” stuff. As Wimbledon proves, it matters too.

Enough on my perspective though. Alex Willis, Head of Communications, Content & Digital at Wimbledon, has an immense amount of knowledge that I’m eager to share. Below she gives insight into everything from their overall strategy to how they make the magic happen during the tournament. She’s someone I admire in the space for not only doing strong and consistent work, but for always raising the bar. I hope you all enjoy!

What’s the overall digital strategy surrounding Wimbledon? What role does digital play in the event?

Digital… or content, delivered through a variety of platforms, is absolutely fundamental to our goal of keeping Wimbledon relevant, both in the present, and in the future, making sure that for all those who love Wimbledon because they grew up watching it on TV, in 10 or 20 years time there will be those who love Wimbledon because they grew up following it via mobile and social. It is our mouthpiece to the outside world, the thing we use to make a traditional institution human. It is the engine that drives our marketing, the principle that Wimbledon is always trying to be better – in pursuit of greatness – but it is also our way to give anyone, anywhere, a Wimbledon experience, whether they are a Federer or Serena fanatic, or they just like videos of tweeners. It also, naturally, represents a critical part of our commercial product for our official partners and broadcasters.

It appears you all have a really thoughtful content strategy, ensuring you not only cover the live event but also tap into the brand’s DNA. Can you talk about your content strategy and the key areas of storytelling you are focused on?

One of the things that helps us so much is that Wimbledon as a place, brand and event has such a strong purpose. Having that purpose, and identity, helps us challenge everything we create – does this feel Wimbledon to you? – while also in turn challenging what that means. So rather than compromising the brand or the live, we think the ability to put a Wimbledon spin on the live is what helps us differentiate it – whether it’s through beautiful imagery of flowers and grass and whites, whether it’s through a little idiosyncrasy and humour, whether it’s just through a certain standard of execution, taking the time and attention to make it just that little bit more special.

In terms of storytelling areas, we try to focus it roughly as follows: celebrate the sense of place, the traditions, the atmosphere, the fans; celebrate the excellence of the players, their stats, their celebrity; celebrate the sport, the history, the rivalries, the nationalities.

Speaking of content strategy, you all had a beautiful campaign called #TakeOnHistory that celebrates the history and evolution of Wimbledon. Can you give some insight into the campaign (what you all were trying to achieve and the creative direction)? And, what did you learn are the keys to success for launching a brand campaign?

2018 is an important year in terms of milestones – it’s the 150th anniversary of the founding of the All England Club, it’s the 50th anniversary of Open tennis, it’s the 125th anniversary of having a women’s tournament… so we wanted to settle on a way to celebrate this history, but not in an old fashioned way, and importantly in a way that our broadcasters would embrace. They are all about reaching younger audiences and so black and white footage, the traditional archive montage, wouldn’t cut it. So we settled on an animated approach, with the animation style evolving through the decades as we picked out certain players and certain evolutions of the Club, such as colour TV, electronic scoreboards, roofs and all, to try and bring this history to life in a modern way. The idea being that history is our constant inspiration to be better than we were the year before.

In terms of keys to success – we have a very simple message – sometimes we can get so into the detail of a particular campaign that you forget what you are trying to achieve. We spent time selling it in to our broadcast partners in advance, so that they would play it out, not just in the broadcast but on social too. We got player support – Federer, Serena and Nadal cross posted it. And we created additional pieces of content to support it – an illustration of moments from the open era, which built over time, a montage of all 100 Championship points of the open era, individual player story features. All of that has helped convey an integrated message.

I’m always impressed with the diverse portfolio and quality of content from Wimbledon. From your experience, what are the keys to strong social content?

Be very clear with what you are trying to achieve. Make sure each piece of content has its place in your overall ecosystem – and we really recognise that we have very different audiences out there. Don’t rush to push something out that you aren’t happy with – take the extra time to make it right and sometimes don’t even do it at all.

With Wimbledon happening once a year, how do you keep fans engaged?

A big challenge for us. We have our particular place in the season and we want to respect that, and to support the other Grand Slams rather than try and steal their share of voice. We have found that there is an appetite for Wimbledon content during the year though, and our social audiences do tend to grow year on year, and that broadly fits into: commentary on the tour, reflecting whats happening; archive footage and re-living famous moments; and what’s happening at Wimbledon itself – the renovation process, the building works, but also the work of the other bits of our business – the Museum, the Foundation.

Switching gears a bit. You all have been declared a “digital media brand” by media publications. How do you balance the traditional history of Wimbledon while still be forward thinking? And, why is the technology piece so important?

We’re privileged to be thought of that way and it hasn’t always been the case. We’ve tried to focus on sticking true to our traditions, celebrating them, but also not being afraid to push the way we convey them, even stretch them. So we try to think about using innovation to preserve those traditions, rather than it being a trade off. The digital platforms are a good example of that – they are pretty complex from a tech standpoint, but we try to bury all that under the surface so you just have a beautiful experience. So the technology is the enabler rather than the driver. It’s so important because not only does it enable us to push things forwards, we can’t stand still, we’re also still changing the perceptions of our brand, and being able to demonstrate a role for AI, AR, etc at Wimbledon is still surprising to people. But it has to be meaningful. It can’t be hype. Because that wouldn’t be very Wimbledon.

What’s new for digital at Wimbledon this year (or the ones you’re most excited about)? And, why did you take on the new initiatives?

We’re very excited about our new platforms – we hope we’ve built beautiful experiences on web and mobile that have a very clear roadmap to become even better, fully personalised and much more fluid than we’ve had in the past. Why? Because we needed to overhaul them to truly put them at the centre of the business, join them up with our CRM, and develop that vision of a personalised experience for anyone.

Very excited about our Facebook Messenger App – you can subscribe to any player in the draw and receive alerts on their progress, live scores, video content. Being able to give a new audience access to deeper, richer info and of their choice has been fascinating.

And the Take On History campaign – I think it’s the first time we’ve truly managed to create something that hangs together across multiple platforms, that has a life beyond the high spec ad.

Can you tell us about the “day in the life” of running digital for Wimbledon? How many make the magic happen (if you can give insight into how many content creators, that would be awesome)?

We have a team of around 30 people in the digital team for the tournament – and this year we tried something new. Rather than separating out people by platform – ie we had a video team, a social team, a photo team, a web team, etc… we separated them by the behaviour of what they are creating / what the fan will be consuming.

So the live team has the creators managing twitter, the website homepage, live clips, live blog, live streams, all sitting together. And the features team has the creators managing long form video, long form stories, photo galleries, all sitting together. Both supported by a production team in the middle who are editing and uploading for both teams to tap into. We’ll see how it turns out by the end of the event, but so far it is working out well.

We also have a dedicated team on foreign language content for China, Japan, India, Korea and South America.

In terms of my day during the tournament – it’s mostly spent planning each evening and reacting all day to what’s going on. Trying to pick out the stories we think will differentiate us, deciding how we cover them and then changing tack when the story changes. And importantly making sure the team has what they need – being a bridge between the other bits of the organisation – the schedulers, the CEO, the comms team, to ensure that the flow of information is there to enable them to be best equipped. And make sure everyone has enough to eat and goes home eventually!

During the rest of the year, we’re down to a very small few, and we are planning, assessing, learning from others, and generally trying to move Wimbledon forward every day.

Working a live event is fast-paced. What three tips do you have for social media managers in sport?

1 – Make sure you know where you fit in the overall strategy. Own your place.
2- Tone of voice or character or purpose is everything.
3- Don’t be afraid to try new things, even if they don’t work. Everything’s a learning experience.

It’s clear your leadership has invested in digital and content. For those trying to get buy-in in their organizations, what advice do you have?

Start small, take leadership with you and build trust. We are so privileged to be trusted to do what we do at Wimbledon, but that’s because it’s been a gradual shift rather than a rapid climb. We are lucky that the Wimbledon philosophy of taking a long-term view supports that – as opposed to short-term immediate gain, but getting upward management right regardless makes such a difference.

Finally, when does planning for 2019 begin?

It has already started! We have a list of things on the truck that we are already working on to roll out the day this tournament finishes, and we will spend much of the second week thinking about things we could do differently, better…it’s so much easier when the event is going on around you. But we also have to balance that against the fact that we have no idea what will be possible in the platform space this time next year. So we have to be structured, but flexible at the same time.

A big thanks to Alex Willis of Wimbledon for taking the time to answer questions. Please, give her a follow here (along with the Wimbledon accounts): @alex_willis

Set Yourself Up for Career Growth

There has been a lot of talk about the highs and lows that come with working in social. The “newness” and growing pains associated with this industry can be exhausting. It often results in countless reorgs and lack of a clear path of growth for people on teams. No doubt, there has to be a shift within organizations to set their digital teams up for success.

I recently wrote about what digital teams need to survive and thrive, but there’s another side to this story. And, it’s about what we can do personally to set ourselves up for success. The key is to be proactive with your own career.

The list of tips on being proactive could go on forever, but below are four big keys to consider for anyone working in social.

 

Advocate for the work.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about working in this industry is never make an assumption. Do not assume people understand the work. Do not assume they know what you do on a day-to-day basis. Do not assume they know the hours it takes. Do not assume they know your long-term goals.

If we want organizations to take digital roles seriously, we have to find ways to bring the work to life. We need to show the totality of the work that’s going on and not shy away from celebrating success. This can come in many forms.

At one organization I was with we used to do a weekly email called “7.5”. Each week we highlighted “7.5” things the team and senior executives needed to know about our digital channels. This included big wins, lessons learned and industry updates. The extra “.5” was always something more lighthearted and fun. Sure, the email highlighted the success of the team, but it was also informational, educational and fun. And, most importantly, showed how the team was helping to move the needle for the company. It wasn’t boastful, but educational, and made people more invested and interested in the work.

The weekly email is a very small example of how you can help advocate and educate others about the work of the team. Every organization responds to information differently, so find the best medium to bring the work to life. But remember, it’s not about boasting as much as it is educating and showing how the work back to organizational goals.

 

Move on from the tactical role.

The more tactical roles in social media are bright, shiny and fun. There’s a certain thrill that comes with covering games and being in the middle of the action. Anyone that’s work in social knows what a “case of the refresh” means. It’s addicting at times, right?

Eventually though, to move up the ladder, you have to peel yourself away from the actual execution and control of the channels. You have to go from a tactical role and into a strategy role – and one that is bigger than social. You have to start focusing on digital as a whole and larger marketing initiatives. Find ways to take on other projects within your org outside of social to give you more visibility and a wider range of experience.

No one can expect to stay in the exact same role, doing the exact same work and get promoted. It’s critical to push for more work outside of the tactical platform work if you’re looking to grow.

 

Take time to career map.

If you asked me early in my career what I wanted to do long-term, the answer was always “work in social”. It took years and stops along the way to understand there was so much more opportunity beyond the platforms. And yes, that I had a keen interest in those things.

As mentioned earlier, when you work in social, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day work and not think about the long term. And, because of the certain adrenaline rush that comes with the tactical work, people aren’t always eager to get out of their roles.

People that work in social often stay in tactical roles too long. One, because organizations don’t understand what growth looks like in digital departments. And, two, because the work is fun and there isn’t an urgent need to take on another role. Suddenly people blink and they aren’t where they thought they would be with salary, position or a combination of both.

This is why it’s so important to spend time understanding what your long-term career goals are. If you want to lead a team, become a VP or a CMO, that’s going to require you move on from the day-to-day of social and on to a broader role.

Think about what you love in your current role. Take that and apply to the bigger picture years down the road. And, start slowly taking on new work that will get you there even if that means stepping away from some of the tactical things you love.

If you take the time to career map, you will make more sound career decisions.You’ll know when it’s time to move on and what your next step needs to be. You won’t be flying blindly, but instead, will be leaping strategically.

 

Expand and take leaps.

I’m a big believer that getting a variety of experience (this can be internal or with another company), especially early in your career, is a good thing. It broadens your skill set, exposes you to new thinking and helps make you much more adaptable.

If you aren’t getting what you need out of your current role and organization — and you’ve advocated for those things — then it might be time to take that leap. Again, don’t let the thrill of working in social hold you back from what you want to do long term. At times the best thing we can do is take on something new.

This list skims the surface of how to start setting yourself up for success long term. I’m curious, what have you learned? Share your thoughts below.

5 Strong NFL Preseason Social Plays

With the NFL preseason in full swing, we’re getting a look at what we will see from teams on social media this season. It looks like it’s going to be a strong year in NFL social. From slick visual identities to mesmerizing content, we’ve already seen some strong plays. Below are a few highlights from teams early on as the NFL season kicks off:

 

Beautiful photography.

There’s no such thing as a great social presence without great content. A huge key to good content is top-notch photography. The @MiamiDolphins social media presence is proof of this. Their content is eye catching, consistent and a great refection of their brand. All teams can learn from their cohesive look. Work hand in hand with your photography team to define a look and feel and let the photos drive your storytelling.

 

Mesmerizing content.

In the battle for attention, it’s important to diversity your content. Coverage should include everything from stills to videos to captivating GIFS. Many teams have leveraged interesting, dynamic content in the pre-season so far. Below are a few that caught my eye:

Full speed ahead. #VikingsCamp

A post shared by Minnesota Vikings (@vikings) on

Tip: The Vikings, Falcons and Saints used an app called Plotograph. It’s simple to use and definitely worth checking out.

 

Communicating in six seconds.

The latest craze in advertising is six second ads. It doesn’t mean that good long form is dead, but all teams should think about how to create video content for goldfish attention spans.

Telling a story in six seconds is a completely different creative challenge. You need a strong understanding of your point to be able to communicate it in six seconds. A strong storyboard and good execution are key.

Need some inspiration on what a strong six second video looks like? Here’s a great example from the @jaguars:

 

Crisp and clean branding.

It’s important for teams to establish visual identities. A good visual identify helps your content stand out from the crowd and ties everything back to the brand. When fans scroll through their feeds, they should be able to identify a team’s piece of content without even seeing the name. The @Vikings branding for their training camp is a great example of what crisp and clean branding looks like:

Run it right back, @dalvincook. #VikingsCamp

A post shared by Minnesota Vikings (@vikings) on

 

Good, clean fun.

There’s a tendency for teams and brands to resort to snark and sass on social. As marketers though, we shouldn’t resort to that tactic unless the organization/brand has aligned on that voice. It’s easy to grab attention and retweets this way, but the true test of any marketer is to grab attention in a way that’s right for the brand.

The good news is that a team’s voice can come to life in many different ways. Yes, social media is meant to be more human. Yes, teams should have fun on social. You can break through the clutter and have fun without jeopardizing the brand.

Establishing personality is not complicated either. Take a look around you and see how the players interact. There are moments all throughout sport where personality shines. Capture that content. Bring to life those team moments. Below are two examples of personality shining through with content and copy without resorting to snark:

 
What strong plays have you seen from NFL teams in the pre-season? Share your thoughts below!

Social Media, It Takes a Village

You can’t talk about marketing today without talking about digital and social. It’s no longer a nice to have for brands, teams and leagues… it should be one of the key pieces leading your marketing strategy. With this shift, every brand wants to be digital first. They talk the talk, but many don’t walk the walk.

It seems that far too many organizations still don’t invest in an infrastructure that allows their teams to actually thrive. Take a look at this Twitter poll asking on the size of digital/social teams in sports. So many people are doing so much with so little:

The results of this poll are disheartening and shows how far we still have to go in the industry. It doesn’t matter if it’s a team, league or brand, flying solo in social and digital is a fast track to burnout. In an industry that operates 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, it’s not humanly possible for one person to strategize and execute well…. much less innovate or take anything to the next level.

It’s time for organizations to take a serious look at how committed they actually are to this thing called digital. The truth is there’s no such thing as a good social strategy without a good content strategy & the team (key word here) to create it. A great digital and social media presence takes a village.

Alongside the need to invest, teams also need to give serious thought to structure. Too often entry level jobs looking for too senior of people and senior roles not asking for enough experience. The best way to set up the team for success is to step back, talk to current staff and identify the actual needs. At a high level though, digital/social teams need a strategist, community manager and creators (again, super high level).

 

Strategist / lead.

This is the person that helps bring together the full vision to drive business results. They take the brand strategy and goals to figure out how that translates into the online world. This person should have a strong vision, marketing background and the ability to define a POV. They must also be able to work with creative, mentor teammates and help drive the plan forward. This isn’t an entry level job, but they should be able to roll up their sleeves and get it done.

 

Community manager.

Every team needs a great community manager (or two). This role is the heartbeat of the social team. They bring to to life plans, they build your community, they know your consumer. Their time is often spend building out calendars, engaging with the community and staying on top of the latest trends. Hire someone in this role with 1 to 2 years of experience. And, make sure to foster, mentor and push your community manager so they can move up and on to another role.

 

The creators.

A great social media strategy requires a great content strategy and the right creative team to bring it to life. If you are investing in strategist and community managers without investing in creatives, your vision will fall flat. Every organization should have some type of creative pod dedicated to digital and social. This team should photo, video and a stellar graphic designer.
 
This might not seem like rocket science, but the truth is many organizations aren’t investing in full digital teams. In a Twitter poll on resources, 72% of people that answered feel understaffed. That’s no joke!

We all know by now that digital isn’t the future… it’s here. And, it’s one of the best opportunities we have to connect with consumers and fans. Investing in digital means investing in good people. It takes a village to be a truly digital minded company. So start hiring and hiring right.