Things To Consider & Remember In Social + Sport In 2020

It’s a new year, which means the annual list of things to consider in the industry.

As always, this isn’t meant to be a forecast of what’s to come, but a list of things to consider focusing on for the year ahead. 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 2020 with some help from Twitter and friends in the industry (note – these are not ranked by importance):

Focus outside the “big three”.

It’s easy in social media to put an emphasis on the “big three”. Twitter, Facebook & Instagram have stood the test of time (by social standards at least), and we know those platforms intimately. In an industry where teams are largely understaffed, it seems less risky to put all our energy there.

Take a look at the growth of teams’ Facebook accounts across leagues though and you might start thinking about things differently. The majority of teams are losing vs gaining an audience there:

The reality is social media teams spend their days investing in channels where their audience is not “owned”. That fact, along with all the noise on TW, FB & IG, and teams would benefit from a more diverse and balanced platform approach.

In 2020 the brands that think about distribution, community and reach differently will reap rewards. There’s a huge opportunity to connect with fans outside of Twitter, Facebook & Instagram. GIPHY, YouTube, Reddit or TikTok are all viable options to start.


Impact over output.

The volume of content teams are turning out across channels is extremely high these days. Everywhere you turn teams are cranking out piece after piece.

The focus on output has created a serious problem. It’s created a mentality that more is better and leaves social and creative teams barely treading above water day after day. Not only does it create an endless cycle of work, but the constant pressure to create leaves the internet a crowded place. Eventually, fans start tuning things out.

If teams are cranking on total output, but engagement rate keeps tanking, is that the end result we want? What’s an audience of 3M actually worth if you’re engagement rate isn’t even about 1%? That’s a serious question we all need to ask ourselves.

Here’s the reality: Total output is not an indication of the quality of work. Too often I see teams caught in the rat race of “totals”, but totals don’t point to the quality of work.

In 2020, it times to put less pressure on teams when it comes to output. Even though it’s “easy” to hit send, doesn’t mean there aren’t ramifications. The more we bombard our audience with “stuff” the more they tune us out.

Just because publishing is at our fingertips today, doesn’t mean we should abuse it. The quality, the output, the totality of everything … it matters.

Focus on impact over output in 2020.


Empower fans.

There’s too much focus today on what brands/teams push out themselves and not enough focus on empowering fans. The real magic in social is not broadcasting to people. The real magic lies in building a community of advocates who share on behalf of the brand.

From channels like GIPHY to amazing amazing platform innovations like AR lenses, there are so many ways to build tools for fans to share their love of the team and brand. More teams need to take advantage of it.

In 2020, it’s time to remember that word of mouth is still one of the most powerful tools if you’re looking to engage and build a new audience. Don’t take for granted the magic of building an online community of advocates.


Be the eyes & ears for fans.

In the early days of social, people relied heavily on their team’s own Twitter account to provide the play-by-play. Team accounts were used as as source of information before anything else.

Today though, access to game information & broadcast footage is much more readily available. From media to publishers to fans themselves, there is no shortage of information around the game. This presents both a challenge and opportunity for teams’ social media.

The access to information means that a team’s approach to coverage around games and practices must change. It’s less about informing and more focused on entertaining, engaging and providing access fans can’t get anywhere else.

The strongest social teams today make fans feel more intimately part of the journey. They give a peek behind the curtain. They capture candid, simple moments. They capture video that brings to life the team’s personality. They provide an angle to a play no one else has. They’re constantly in search of that unique clip that no one else has.

In 2020, it’s time to commit to being the eyes and ears of your fans. Access doesn’t have to be intrusive. It doesn’t mean that you have to be with the team 24 – 7. It means that you look for those subtle, candid and unique moments that no one else can provide.


Invest in creative talent.

In the early days of social, you couldn’t even share a photo on Twitter. This meant the focus was more about being present — engaging with your audience and creating a 1:1 connection — versus anything else.

The times have changed. Today, there’s no such thing as a good social presence without strong creative. The best strategy in the world is nearly impossible to execute without the creative arm power to support it.

Standing out on the crowded internet requires creative thinking and the ability to capture attention (& that’s a hot commodity today). Teams that are serious about building a “best-in-class” digital presence must focus on hiring talent and building a culture that allows them to work their magic.
Looking at some of the strongest teams on social today – the Lakers, the Carolina Panthers, the LA Clippers, the Kansas City Royals, Ohio State Football – and I would bet they’ve invested in creative talent.

In 2020, it’s time to invest and understand that the investment does pay off. An investment in creative talent, paired with a strong strategy, will equate to success across the board. You’ll build a stronger community, bring in a new audience, drive value for sponsors and in bring in revenue. Win, win, win.


Disrupt through creative.

In the early days of social, people were obsessed with platform updates. How can we be the first to do x? How can we know the latest updates right away? How can we experiment with the latest and greatest?

It’s time to take that same mentality and apply it to content. If you aren’t obsessed with how you can bring your brand to life in innovative ways then you’ll get lost in the noise. Innovation through strong creative and content is key.

The teams, leagues and brands that stand out on social are the ones that obsess over how they can tell their story in unique and different ways. So much of what we do today is driven by creative. How can your brand offer something different than everybody else?

In 2020 it’s time to focus on disruption through content. Test, try, learn, evolve.

A few examples of content that stood out in 2019:


Realize not every piece is precious.

It’s time some realism is applied to the social space. When it comes to content production and revisions, we need to ask the hard questions that help keep our teams grounded and sane.

Does the creative effort match the distibrution, the reach earned, the engagement rate? The shelf life on social is way too short to spend hours of back and forth on non-hero pieces.

We should of course tweak pieces as necessary, but also need to remember not every piece is precious. Create, distribute, learn, refine.

So much of what we create is fleeting. The shelf life of content dies quickly. In 2020 perspective, and some realism, matters.


But for the precious pieces, invest in paid.

Not every social media piece is precious, but for the ones that are, the content needs to get its due. Any piece of hero creative that is important to the brand should have paid dollars to support it.

Thanks to algorithms, it’s much harder to reach consumers organically these days. Yes, in a lot of cases organic reach is a dismal 1 to 2% on brand accounts these days (yikes). To ensure the distribution matches the production effort, content needs a boost.

This quote from this GREAT article in Adage says it best:

In 2020, it’s time for teams to be realistic about the state of organic reach and invest in boosting content where and when it makes sense. The days of free exposure are long gone. Invest in pay-to-play.


Understand social is not the savior.

Sometimes it feels like all other marketing channels don’t exist. There’s an immense amount of pressure on social teams to be everything to everyone. They have to inform, entertain, engage, sell tickets, support sponsorships, drive community, etc, etc, etc.

As someone who has built a career in social it pains me to say this, but social is not the savior. These channels alone can not carry the weight of an organization’s marketing priorities — not even close.

In 2020 it’s time to remember that social media is a tool in the toolbox. And while powerful they may be, these expectations the they can be “everything” are diluting the real power of the platforms.

Social media is a piece of the puzzle, but it’s not the answer to everything. Just because you can put anything up online & “easily”, doesn’t mean it moves the needle.

Know the purpose of the puzzle piece.


Apply the filter of emotion.

This makes the list every year in every year in some form or fashion, but content needs to elicit some kind of feeling.

Emotion is one of the most powerful tools we have as marketers. Whether it is thrill, awe, empathy or humor, content that evokes emotions connects with the fan in a way that compels them to pay attention. It’s the most important component in creating valuable content.

In 2020, it’s time to apply the filter of “emotion” to content online. I’ve never seen a video take off that didn’t evoke something in people. When looking to create, understand the feeling you want people to walk away with.

Jonah Berger said it best in his book Contagious: When we care, we share. Emotion is the most powerful tool in getting people to share. Tap into it.
If you want some inspiration on content that evokes emotion, below are a few standout pieces:


Find partners that elevate.

For the most part, it seems like the industry understands the fundamental need to not just slap a logo on things. We know that the best digital partnerships are the ones that make sense for our brand and the partner. Synergy in the content wins. 

In 2020, it’s time to take digital sponsorships to the next level and invest in partners that invest in your big ideas and objectives. How can we partner with brands that will help us reach a new audience? Drive home our core brand messaging? Support an initiative we couldn’t get off the ground without their support? 

Digital partnerships shouldn’t just be about a partner’s goals; they should also be about an organization’s goals. It’s time to find partnerships that go beyond a simple content series.  

In 2020, invest in partners and digital partnership ideas that elevate your presence … we can call digital partnerships 2.0.


Take creative cues from TikTok.

TikTok is the new kid on the block that has taken the social world by storm. According to App Annie’s annual report, time spent in the short-form video app grew 210% year-over-year in 2019 globally.

The wildly popular allows people to create 15-second videos using a strong library of songs, Snapchat-style filters and other interesting visual effects.

Memes. Challenges. Humor. Rawness. All of that lives on this platform. And, we should be paying attention to the trends.

In 2020, teams should take creative cues from TikTok on what makes video content so successful. Short, raw, funny, relatable. While these trends might not work across all platforms (and TikTok might not be right for your brand), it certainly give us cues for where content consumption is going. Keep a pulse on it.

For all the fuss about long form, TikTok proves the appetite for short-form is alive and well. Don’t ignore the trends surfacing here.

@philadelphiaeagles

Not much has changed😁 #baby #fyp #foryou #eagles #flyeaglesfly

♬ bAbY – smoltammy


Build a culture that doesn’t burnout.

Too often social media is a thankless job. Teams work around the clock, nonstop. It’s a true grind that very little people understand. Sadly, the environment often leads to burnout.

In 2020, it’s time for organizations to truly invest in building a culture that helps prevent burnout. Structure teams the right way. Invest in growth for employees. Make sure salaries reflect the work put in. Offer autonomy. Celebrate balance.

If the sports industry doesn’t take balance and compensation seriously it will continue to lose really good and talented people. Focus on your people and their well-being.


Owned & operated matters.

It’s a little ironic that we put so much emphasis on platforms we have zero control over. Algorithms change. Consumers leave. Reach diminishes. There’s little we can do about it.


We’ve shifted so much focus to social platforms that we’ve lost sight of a really important key: owned channels and first-party data. Social media is a shiny, public-facing and fun tool that’s a huge and important part of your digital strategy. But, social is a piece of a larger digital ecosystem. In 2020, it’s time to stop putting your eggs in one basket.

First-party data allows us to build smarter and more personalized marketing campaigns. And, more importantly, it allows us to drive long-term loyalty with our fans. It’s time to take back our relationship with our fans and focus on our owned channels and lead gen strategies as much as social. Your relationship with your fans is the most important thing you have. Own it.


More inspiration from #smsports friends:


Now it’s your turn to sound off! What would you like to see in social media + sports in 2020?

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