It’s that time! A new year is ahead which means the annual list of things to consider in the industry. This isn’t meant to be a forecast of what’s to come per say, but a list of things to consider pivoting and focusing on as we head into 2018. Everyone’s goals and objectives are different, but hopefully there is something in here that will spark a new idea, approach or thinking.
So, here’s a list of what to consider in 2018 with some help from Twitter and friends in the industry:
1- Give digital its due.
Digital has finally arrived to the big kid’s table. And, in 2018, it’s time that organizations give the space its due. Digital is no longer about retweets and likes –it’s a channel where brands and teams can drive revenue and true ROI.
The conversation of what “good” social is evolve from adolescent to adult- less emphasis on 🔥🔥 and 🙌🙌 and more on 💰💰.
— Adam Zimmerman (@zim_az) November 30, 2017
The real beauty of digital is that it does not have to be a “this or that” when it comes to driving awareness / engagement or revenue. In a sense, you can have it all. Digital allows teams to focus on the full marketing funnel. If teams invest in a sound strategy, community management, creative and paid then they can drive awareness, engage and ultimately convert. Who is going to argue with that?
The Miami Dolphins are a great case study of what digital looks like grown up. Today, 80 percent of the team’s marketing budget is now allocated to social media. And, they have seen success. Thirty percent of new season tickets last season were sold via Facebook’s lead gen ads. And, 11 branded content series generated $10 million for the organization. On top of that, the team does a great job of telling the brand’s story.
For us that work in the industry, it should be our mission to champion digital in our organizations. It’s our responsibility to show how it can drive organizational results. Whether your team needs to drive revenue, champion the brand or align stronger with partners — digital can do it all.
2- Shake up the org chart.
A common pain point in the industry is that digital is stuck in a silo. This was okay 10 years ago when we did not understand what poking and tweeting could do for an organization. But, in all seriousness, times have changed.
Digital is not a niche. As a role, as a strategy, as part of an organization. And, we need to stop thinking about it as such.
That the creative teams wouldn’t be seen as a separate entity, but integrated into marketing, sales, PR, etc. No more isolation.
— Kevin DeShazo (@KevinDeShazo) December 21, 2017
Yeah. "Tear down that wall" in 2018. Make teams that work together and build integrated messaging.
— Greg Esposito (@Espo) December 21, 2017
We don’t need separate digital teams. We need digital teams embedded within the larger marketing group. We need marketing leaders who obsess with consumer behavior online. And, are driving 360 marketing plans with digital top of mind.
In 2018, it’s time for organizations to give a hard look at how they’re structured. In order for digital to truly get its due, we need to breakdown silos and integrate teams. A marketing team should encompass everyone promoting the team and fan experience at every consumer touch point. This includes everything from digital to creative to the in-game experience.
Digital is marketing. Marketing is digital. Can we break down the walls and start treating it as such?
3- End the publisher mentality.
It wasn’t that long ago that teams and leagues adopted a publisher mentality. The more we push, the more we reach was often the train of thought. Now this publisher mentality has led to cluttered feeds.
This is the year teams must be deliberate about adding value and not noise. The pressure to interject brands into conversations all the time is a false sense of urgency from the industry (not consumers). Brands and teams don’t need to push out a new piece of content every hour. They don’t need to take part in every trending topic. And, they don’t need to be a part of every single holiday. It’s all unnecessary.
A strong content strategy and creative arm is even more important in this world of algorithms, clutter and consumers in control. Content for the sake of content isn’t a win for anyone: Not for you, not for your brand and not for the consumer.
In 2018, build your box and play in it. Focus on owning your brand in a way no one else can versus being everywhere, all the time. This industry needs more quality and less quantity.
Hmmm… My answer might be different in 24 hours but I'd like to see less parody. And maybe less content overall– I think we all box ourselves in a bit when we feel the need to post about things that aren't worth posting.
— Alexander Aguiar (@AlexEvanAguiar) November 30, 2017
Hmm I’d like to see fewer value-less posts. No more one word tweets clogging my in-game feed, halftime score graphics on the IG feed. Be thoughtful, add value, don’t add noise.
— Neil Horowitz (@njh287) December 1, 2017
More value-add content & less noise. No need for teams/leagues/schools to create content "just because." Have strategy/purpose.
— Tariq Ahmad (@tariq_ahmad) December 1, 2017
4- Back to brand first.
“Digital first” is a dangerous phrase, if it means brand second. This from an adweek article was one of the most powerful lines I read this year.
Somewhere along the way digital became this separate thing. A separate thing that often feels disconnected from a brand’s DNA. We fostered an environment where digital was a free for all. Teams took risks, even when it wasn’t right for the brand.
Digital can no longer live in this silo. Tactics meant for gimmicks, retweets and vanity metrics do not move the needle for brands. These channels are too critical for them to not represent the voice and DNA through and through.
We need to get back to the basics. All great marketing strategies start with a brand strategy. And, your digital presence should be the best reflection of what your brand stands for. Period.
5- Make the investment.
For all the talk about digital first in organizations, very few are actually making the investment. Back in May I ran a poll on Twitter to find out how big some digital and social teams are in sports. And the verdict is they are way too tiny.
#smsports friends, how many people on your team are currently dedicated solely to social/digital (including content creators)?
— Jess Smith (@WarJessEagle) May 22, 2017
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.
The thing about digital, as with most other things, is you get out of it what you put in. To have a presence that moves the needle it requires an investment, both in a budget and a team.
Even more pressing though is the need to build out content teams. Too many teams have strategists with zero creative power to bring to life the vision. The brands and teams that stand out today and in the future are the ones who understand the investment it takes. Invest in talent or get left behind.
6- Ephemeral & live with purpose.
Disappearing content and live video are two of the trends that took off this year. But in the midst of the excitement for these trends, they fell victim to the “publish just to publish” mentality. Yes, it’s easy to hit publish. And, there’s a certain novelty that comes with live and disappearing content. Still, that doesn’t mean we should be inundating our audience with content.
Game days often mean tapping through the same Instagam Story and Snapchat over and over again. Live often means a Q&A or pregame ceremony. This year left a lot of room for more purpose and creativity.
In 2018, resist the urge to publish the same thing over and over again. Our audiences aren’t asking for 20 frames of an IG story. They’re asking for entertainment, value and unique access.
When thinking about live and disappearing content specifically, the key is to figure out how you can leverage the purpose of the tools creatively. Why would you go live versus publishing a video? How can you push the boundaries with IG Stories that you can’t in feed? Tap into what makes this tools different from everything else.
I’ll leave you with the best example of ephemeral content done right this year from the Chicago Bulls. This is what we call unique entertainment.
Beauty and the Bull, a Snapchat Musical should win an award
— Hector (@iamHectorDiaz) March 23, 2017
7- Pivot, don’t fight.
Having a sound strategy is important in social, but it’s also important to be flexible. In a lot of ways were at the mercy of platforms and algorithms. And, that’s not changing.
We talk a lot about the need to pivot in social, but talking is often easier than the doing. This could not have been more evident than with Instagram in 2017.
Thanks to another great algorithm, the chronological days of Instagram are over. The algorithm is so aggressive it has posts appearing at the top of feeds three days, even five days, after the fact.
The algorithm should have changed the way teams approached the platform. In-feed posts should now be more evergreen and stories more real time (here’s a post on how team’s can pivot
). But over and over again posts that a team lost appear in my feed days and days after the fact.
In 2018, make a conscious effort to pivot with the platforms. We can’t predict what new thing will emerge with platforms or consumer habits, but we can make a conscious effort to change with the trends. When brands and teams pivot they create a better experience. It’s a win.
8- Disruption through content.
Voice and tone is often the tool teams go 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.
In 2018, it is time to let creative do the disrupting. Teams should tap into creative executions, unique story lines & design to do unexpected and fresh things.
Bleacher Report disrupts with their intersection of sport, culture and amazing illustrations. South Carolina and Auburn disrupts with their stylized and unique approach to video. NASCAR disrupts with their amazing Snapchat game and doodles. Tom Brady disrupts with his wacky approach. Nike disrupted with their Breaking 2 project.
The point is, there are a lot of ways to disrupt. And when we focus on it, everything is elevated. It tells a better brand story, engages your fans and helps your social feeds stand out.
— Auburn Football (@AuburnFootball) September 2, 2017
Battle armor 🔥 pic.twitter.com/orR0N9Jbpv
— Gamecock Football (@GamecockFB) November 23, 2017
— Jess Smith (@WarJessEagle) October 15, 2017
— Jess Smith (@WarJessEagle) August 20, 2017
9- Unexpected brand partnerships.
Over the holiday season, the Seahawks partnered with Uber Eats to simplify and speed up their fans’ last-minute shopping needs. The app allowed fans to get official Seahawks gear delivered straight to their door.
When done right, brand partnerships like this can offer a lot of value. They push innovation, create experiences and open doors to new consumers. In 2018, it would be great to see more teams look to partner with start ups, technology partners and unexpected brands to make unique activations and experiences happen.
I think the stories are strong enough there to support thoughtful collabs. It would be powerful to see teams work together, unified by conflict. Right now, it seems to be mostly shouting across a fence. More authentic dialogue blended with immersive storytelling would level us up
— J. Haynes (@haynes) December 28, 2017
10- Tap into story lines.
In a crowded sports space, it’s imperative to move beyond the scores to mix up content and stand out. And, a great way to do this and scale is to take a news room approach when ideating around content.
When you hear news room, don’t think volume. Think about finding the weekly and daily headlines and facts relevant to your team or brand.
Finding the story lines means you tap into the current pulse. The pulse of your team, fans and culture to uncover headlines. From there, you expand the headlines to create short & sweet content that is relevant and made for social. Below are a few examples of this:
The past is the past. It's a new day and we're ready to write our own story. 💪 pic.twitter.com/OX459k63Yl
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) October 5, 2017
Tapping into story lines allows your content to stay relevant and fresh, while moving beyond the highlights. It doesn’t have to be daunting either. As the examples above show, the content can be short, sweet and straight to the point.
11- Craft for the platforms.
It’s easy to get in a routine of creating platform agnostic content and and distributing everywhere. Ats platforms continue to evolve and change, and small nuances added, it’s important to think about how you can craft for the platforms.
More creative programming from teams, leagues and media outlets on Instagram Stories and Instagram. It's time to evolve past simple graphics and push the platform further and to be more.
— Greg Esposito (@Espo) December 21, 2017
Story lines, as talked about earlier, can come to life in so many ways. To keep things unique across all channels, think about what subtle differences of each platform and design based on that.
When you design based on platform features, great creative comes to life. Here is a great example of this from the Chicago Bears:
Sharing the except same content across all platforms can get stale quickly. As Stefanie points out below, give fans a reason to follow across all.
Dear teams/leagues: Give me a reason to follow you on multiple platforms. Using the same content on different platforms is stale. #smsports
— #HireStef (@Stefmara) October 5, 2017
12- Focused campaigns.
If you asked your fans what your organization stands for, would they know? Too often it feels like teams operate in the wild, wild west. There is inconsistent messaging, no look and feel and a sole focus on the scores.
But sports teams and leagues are about much more than the scores. And in 2018, it would be great to see teams to tap into what makes their product unique. Teams have rich histories and identities well beyond the scores. Sports are emotional. Fans’ identities are tied to their teams. There’s power in that.
Teams as brands. Focused campaigns. Too many teams shooting off random thirsty attempts at virality.
— Jack Appleby (@JuiceboxCA) November 30, 2017
In 2018, I would love to see teams taking their brand strategy seriously. It’s time to take a page out from how consumer goods (especially sporting) approach their marketing. They’re rooted in a mission, values, identity and priorities. And, all messaging cascades from that.
When teams focus on a strong brand strategy it builds the foundation for the purpose. It helps to build a legacy, well beyond the scores. It builds an emotional connection for fans and gives them a reason to rally and believe. Be focused and tap into emotion and what makes your team / league unique.
— Jess Smith (@WarJessEagle) October 26, 2016
— Jess Smith (@WarJessEagle) August 26, 2017
— Wisconsin Badgers (@UWBadgers) May 18, 2017
— TCU Baseball (@TCU_Baseball) February 17, 2017
— NBA (@NBA) February 4, 2017
13- Experience > innovation.
It’s easy to get caught up in the bright and shiny new tools when you work in digital, but sometimes they simply are not practical. Innovation is important and it will always be in important in our field. But, even more important, is the ability to create experiences.
More storytelling and more immersive social experiences.
— Ryan Schuster (@RyanSchuster) December 22, 2017
Instead of focusing on innovation to make a headline, it’s time to focus on innovation that improves or elevates the fan experience. Experiences should not feel complicated; they should feel seamless to the consumer experience.
If you want a good example of a brand that took innovation to create seamless experiences, look outside of sports to Netflix’s campaign for Stranger Things. From a Snapchat AR experience to character playlist on Spotify, they transported fans but in a way that was a natural to how consumers already consume. They leveraged innovation, but in consumer-first fashion.
— Jess Smith (@WarJessEagle) November 1, 2017
It’s easy to get caught up in all the newness of this industry, but we have to remember that any newness leveraged should always be about the fan and consumer experience. Period.
14- Social as prime real estate.
The days of sponsored social content have arrived at full force. And with it comes a lot of content that feels like a billboard. It’s good to see teams realize there’s revenue to be made through the channels, but too much of it feels like a plastered ad.
In 2018, let’s treat social as prime real estate. Yes, it’s easy to publish on the channels, but that does not mean that any brand that has dollars to throw a team’s way should be able to activate on digital channels. Teams should flip the switch from sponsored content to branded content. Take the time to find the right partners that actually want to produce content that matters and will treat it as an investment.
When you find the right partners should whose message aligns with your brand in a natural way it’s a win – win. Below are a few examples below:
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) May 15, 2017
Sponsored content isn’t an ad. It should be a value add. It’s time to treat it as prime real estate and ensure that teams are getting the right value out of it and aligning with the right partners. If you want tips on sponsored content, read this post here.
15- Additional thoughts.
-Agile marketing is the name of the game. Whoever is able to adjust + plan in the moment, tie in brand voice and community together in real-time for the long term wins.
-Shift from Influencer focus to microinfluencers and advocates.
– Human interactions = currency. #SMsports
— Karen Freberg, Ph.D., Social Media Professor (@kfreberg) November 30, 2017
Consumer engagement strategy.
Tapping into mass individual emotions to have your story hit close to home. Not necessarily identifying the solve, but trying anything and everything imaginable.
Also, less fear and more risk taking by brands.
— Andrew Stallings (@AStallings88) November 30, 2017
I have a different thought on every day that ends in Y. 🙃
1. No more parody accounts 😴
2. Stop copycatting so many others. Be authentic
3. FOMO. If it doesn’t effect your brand directly don’t do it
— Chris Yandle (@ChrisYandle) November 30, 2017
Spotlight the customer’s voice. Not just cheap & easy UGC, contests, etc. Integrate them into your brand digitally.
-LISTEN to the fan
-AMPLIFY their voice
-FEED off their passion
— Jon Rowland (@J0nnyBananaz) November 30, 2017
✔️Twitter edit button
✔️VR incorporated into IG Story
— Seth Bloom (@Sconnieseth) December 1, 2017
Teams doing more w/ FB Watch. Saw the Ball family, Real Madrid, & Bleacher Report open the door for original content there. Wouldn't be shocked if teams get on board.
— Geoffrey Blosat (@GeoffTBlosat) December 1, 2017
This will never happen bc the 💩 is out of the 🐎 on 💰, but I’d like to see some platforms alter algorithms to allow for more organic content to get through the filter. Organic social has become a lost art. It’s not dead (as some claim), but social is largely a paid game now.
— J.W. Cannon (@cannonjw) November 30, 2017
Open up video content rights for more social distribution. NBA-like social experience for all leagues and teams. #smsports
— Blake Lawrence (@Blake_Lawrence) December 1, 2017
Augmented Reality improving social content – I see a huge #smsports application, from team content to fan engagement
— Chris Knoblock (@cknoblock17) November 30, 2017
More sincere posts from athletes. Less PR speak.
— Ryan Vooris (@ryanvooris) December 21, 2017
I’d really like to see more fan content curated around big plays & moments that captures emotion & fan experience. It also makes the thousands of fans in attendance a part of the story, instead of detached spectators. #smsports Ex: https://t.co/H4LSGe4thB
— Adam Navarrete (@AdamNavarrete) December 21, 2017
More athletes taking the time to reply to their fans. It means everything.
For example… When Chuck Knoblauch replied to me on Twitter many years ago, it was extremely meaningful, and helped me understand how a reply from a celebrity is the modern-day autograph. #smsports
— Gregg Weiss (@greggweiss) December 1, 2017
Now it’s your turn to sound off! What would you like to see in social media + sports in 2018?