Measuring What Matters In Social

So often sports organizations don’t measure what matters in social media. And when you measure what doesn’t matter, your team will chase work that’s not very impactful to the overall business.  

But what metrics are sports teams looking at in social that don’t matter? Let me give a few examples.  

Example 1. Leagues often circulate official rankings comparing teams by total impressions, engagements and follower growth to executives — and then these reports are looked at as the gold standard. This results in teams trying to chase a higher ranking and constantly looking to one-up their peers across the league. Sports organizations attract naturally competitive people, so we should all chase that No. 1 spot, right?

Example 2. Internal marketing teams set up goals around year-over-year growth. If the social media team hit 300M impressions last season, they’ll need to grow that by 3% more in the coming season. This exercise is implemented across “key” metrics, including engagements and follower growth. 

Both of these scenarios sound reasonable. Why wouldn’t a team want to be No. 1 in the league or see a 3% YoY increase in all their metrics? These numbers and rankings are good to keep a “pulse” on, but living and breathing by these metrics and thinking they are a key indicator of good work is a miss.

Here’s why these metrics don’t matter as much as sports organizations often believe:

First, in sports, there are so many variables you cannot control, especially as the marketing team. From winning and losing to big player signings, many different things can impact the interest in your team and, therefore, the performance on social. If a team has a stellar year with many wins, they should be higher in rankings. If a team went from a winning to a losing season, can you really expect them to see an uptick YoY?

Second, team rankings and YoY numbers measured by totals are an incredibly slippery slope. Output doesn’t count the quality of work. A team can post hundreds of times to get to a total number, but it doesn’t mean it’s moving anything for your business. When you measure a number that can be influenced by volume, it holds very little value.

Output for the sake of output is one of the most detrimental things in the digital and sports space today. Marketing has never been measured by the volume of content or activations. It’s measured by the quality and effectiveness of the work. Impact > output. 

And finally, how does the team ranking or YoY increase really add impact to the business? If there’s an actual business case, then great, but too often, these metrics are tracked for ego and nothing else. 

So, if we aren’t measuring a team’s social media success by these metrics, what do we measure? There are two big keys to think about when setting goals for your social team:

First, any goal-setting initiative should start with the overall organizational goals. What is the business trying to achieve, and how can social and content support those? 

Second, how do we go beyond the standard superficial numbers to ensure our work is laddering up the overall organizational goals? Most of the time, we need to peel more layers back when setting social media goals instead of going for the low-hanging fruit of total impressions, engagement rate and follower growth.

Let’s consider what objective-setting could look like for a social and content — one that goes beyond the standard numbers and digs into the heart of what actually matters. 

If increasing revenue is a goal for the organization (which of course it is), how can the social and content team contribute? Objectives can look something like this:

– Create a digital playbook for the sponsorship team by Q1 that features sellable assets to assist sales efforts. 

– Set specific goals for partners with digital assets; the key here is if impressions are a goal for a partner, include a paid media plan in tactics to ensure the team can hit that goal. 

– Increase the overall performance of partner branded content YoY, excluding the content tied to on-field/court/ice/track performance (again, because you have zero control over that).

– Work with the performance marketing team to identify and create creative assets that drive up the ROI of individual ticket sales campaigns. One note: My assumption with this is there’s a separate team working on the individual ticket strategy but that the social & content team can and should be helping them with creative that works. 

How can the social and content team contribute if the goal is to champion the brand and increase fan affinity? Objectives can look something like this:

– Define and create [x number] of videos that help drive home the brand positioning, DNA, etc. The ideas behind the series should ladder back up to your content pillars. While you want to make these as engaging as possible, the key here is that it’s not about performance; it’s about setting an objective to develop meaningful content for the brand. 

– If your social team has content pillars that map back to the brand vision, then you can look at increasing the performance of those YoY. My assumption is that your content pillars are not tied to scores and wins, so your team has more control over making these more engaging — PLUS, you’ve identified these themes as important to the brand. The team will need a tool to tag content and get granular with content series, buckets, etc. 

– Players can play a significant role in fan affinity, so if an organization has identified a couple of franchise players who are critical to the team’s success, objectives can be around creating x number of videos that showcase who they are and increasing the engagement rate of off-the-field/court/ice/track content around them. 

If part of driving fan affinity is growing a younger fanbase, then an objective could be doubling down on platforms like YouTube (shorts) and TikTok. While I wouldn’t recommend volume to measure across the board, with these two new platforms, I would recommend increasing posting to “x times a week” to test and learn.

These examples scratch the surface of the various ways to measure social and content more effectively. But if we’re looking at success through this lens, does that mean we’re entirely abandoning tracking impressions, engagements, engagement rate, and rankings among teams? 

No, we don’t abandon those metrics completely. Those numbers are important for social teams to track to understand the landscape, the trends and how and where they can improve. They’re a guide, not the ultimate indicator of success. 

For example, at Stewart-Haas Racing, our team creates quarterly reports where we dig into our social numbers and rankings among teams. These reports are meant to help us unearth things that worked and didn’t and make recommendations on what we should keep doing and what we shouldn’t. These reports aren’t considered our barometer for success but a tool to ensure we keep pushing and are constantly analyzing. 

So, if you want to set up your social media team for success, focus on measuring what matters. Don’t get caught up in the rat race of trying to reach x number of total impressions in a season. Anyone can play that game, but the strongest social teams play the game of achieving goals and objectives that actually map back to the business. 

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No, You Can’t Just Stick Content Anywhere in the Org

The other day I stumbled upon a job description at an NBA team that intrigued me. It was for a “Director of Basketball Content,” which was intriguing because why would you need to label it “basketball content” when working for an NBA team? It led me to so many questions about what the role does and where it sits within the org. 

After digging into the job more, I came to the conclusion that the job sits within the basketball operations side versus the business operations side of the organization. At first glance, this could sound like the perfect setup for anyone who works in social media. Why? Because the assumption is if you sit within basketball operations, you’ll have more access because that’s part of the organization that controls that. 

This isn’t the first role that has ever put a social and content person under team operations vs. business operations. College athletics, particularly in football, have started hiring content personnel for individual teams and putting them under the head coach/operations vs. marketing. Recruiting has primarily been the driving force of this in college athletics. 

Forget the fact that you shouldn’t have to work under the competition side of the business to get access — there are a lot of issues siloing creatives from the rest of business operations. Let’s break them down:

It can lead to burnout. 

Having content or social people report into team operations can lead to a fast track to burnout. Why? Because their managers have no idea what it takes to get to point A to point B in their roles. And when you report to people who have zero idea what it takes to do the work, it’s hard to manage the expectations.

You mean, you can’t just make that video happen? 🙄

I cannot imagine putting a creative, especially a young creative, in a position where they have to respond to the head coach or someone high up in basketball/hockey/football operations. You are putting them in a situation where it feels nearly impossible to say no — creatives need a buffer who can protect them and advocate for them. 

Setups like this can lead to dysfunction.

Having one part of content under team operations and another part under business operations could lead to dysfunction and hostility within working groups. I’ve been at this for nearly 14 years, been a part of a lot of different team setups and led teams — the reality is that people are human and if you create literal divides within the content and marketing group, you will feel it.  

Additionally, the NBA job I came across read like there were two sets of social teams — one under basketball operations and one under business operations. You’re telling me you will have one group that gets all the access to players? That will not go well.

Leaders should strive to create an environment where collaboration is natural, roles are defined, and everyone is rowing in the same direction. Organizational structural plays a big role in this and matters a lot.

It puts people in a box. 

One of the perks of being part of a larger marketing organization is that you are exposed to projects beyond social and content. When you are part of a broader marketing org, you are going to be part of conversations and assignments that allow you to flex and stretch your muscles. You will have a boss and peers who have been in marketing in some capacity and can help guide, coach, and offer growth. 

If you put social and content people under team operations, they will not get the same exposure to the larger marketing function. And in the long run, that puts people in a box and could stunt their long-term growth. 

It doesn’t maximize resources.

If you have your social and content team spread out within the organization and reporting to different people, there’s no way you will have a process in place to maximize resources. It could lead to redundancy, confusion and inefficiencies. You also won’t be able to let people flex on different projects either. Organizations that want to maximize their content resources will take a holistic view of input and output and have a fluid team, flexing into team operation content one day and brand the next. 

If I’m being honest, I think content becomes a power play within a lot of organizations, but it’s not productive. It should not require content to sit under team operations to get access — or team operations to get serviced what they need. The leaders in team and business operations need to come together and create a process that works for all — as adults should do — but don’t create dysfunction within your organization and for your people because you are grasping at control.

But for all these reasons and more, there’s no excuse to keep separating brand, digital, social, and creative and content teams into siloed and completely different functions that don’t ladder up to a cohesive marketing org — in any situation. Organizations need to hire a CMO with brand, marketing, digital, content, creative and comms all under one umbrella because everyone should have the same goals.

Let’s stop the experiment of shuffling social and content teams from one department to another once and for all.

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Why All Teams Should Strive for Inspired Design

Social media is often the place where your brand shows up most consistently and frequently to consumers. Take that and the fact that the channels have become increasingly visual, and there’s never been a more critical time to obsess over your brand or team’s graphics package. 

Let’s face it. Visual identity in sports is a crowded space with lots of tired trends. If teams aren’t careful, they can easily blend into the sea of sameness. A team’s graphics package should reflect the brand through and through because of that. The goal should not simply be to create a graphics package that looks cool; the goal should be to create something unique and ownable for the brand. 

But how can a team create a graphics package that feels like something they can own? Logo aside, the key is to find graphic details you can pull in that feel brand-inspired. Elements that give subtle nods to the team, city, DNA, etc. in a way they can only own. 

Okay, but what the heck does brand-inspired design mean? I know it sounds like some marketing gibberish, so let’s start with a few real-life examples and explanations to help bring it to life. 

Yankees (Circa 2018)

When you think of the Yankees, what comes to mind? Iconic, timeless, and prestigious might be just a few. The Yankees are one of those brands that need no introduction and don’t have to chase the tired trends.

In 2018 at the Yankees (I was working there at the time), I felt like we nailed the perfect brand-inspired design for NYY. We owned the pinstripes, iconic for the team, and we brought in nods of gold to play into the premium and championship nature. The visual identity relied on strong compositions to be bold, intriguing, and not overdone. There was a stated yet strong elegance to the simplicity — and it was unlike anything else in the space.

Even with the minimal nature, you could remove all logos and identify NYY, and it felt like the Yankees, and that’s why it worked. 


The Chargers have built a fun, irreverent, edgy and showy brand and have done an excellent job creating a visual identity that helps them own that. First, they use large, bold text that’s a bit in your face (in a good way); the boldness matches their voice and tone perfectly. Secondly, they lean heavily into a lightning bolt pattern which is an inspired detail that’s ownable for them as a team. 

Again, like the Yankees, if you remove the logo and the players, you could still identify the Chargers through the lightning bolt details and big, bold text. 

The Suns

Over the last few years, the Suns have focused on owning the Valley with a laser-sharp focus. And when you think of the Valley, what do you think about? The heat, desert hues, etc. The Suns have created a visual identity that definitely has Valley vibes playing with sun shapes, lightning flares, desert textures & heat mirage-inspired details. 

The Yankees (2019), Chargers, and Suns are just a few examples of teams with a visual identity that lean into brand-inspired elements and details — but every team should focus on this. With sports teams publishing so many creative assets through social media, nailing a look that is ownable for the brand is critical to marketing. But how do you get there?

First, brainstorm your visual cues. 

The biggest key is to brainstorm all the visual cues that your team can own. These visual cues can be pulled from a lot of different places. A few examples include:

Team Name – For example, Jaguars playing into the Jungle or large cat scratch patterns. The Calgary Flames playing into (yes, you guessed it) flame shapes and textures. Or the Houston Rockets using the rocket and flame shapes from their logo as textures and cues.

Locality – This is about taking cues from the city, state or region your team calls home. There are a lot of different elements teams can think of pulling in from their city or region — skyline textures, maps, famous signs (like the NYC Subway numbers), landscape textures, etc. 

Brand History + Elements – This is about digging into your brand and history to pull out visual cues beyond the logo. What are other elements fans might somehow relate to your brand, whether obvious or more aspirational to where you want to take your brand? The Yankees using pinstripes is a good example of this. The pinstripes aren’t tied to their logo, but they are certainly an iconic component of their visual DNA. The Dallas Cowboys At Stewart-Haas Racing, smoke textures and details is a brand element for us as a nod to our owner Tony Stewart’s nickname. 

Second, build out and test. 

Once you have a list of visual cues to play into, it’s important to let the creative and design team do their thing. Briefs are essential to create a season look (even if it’s just an evolution); make a brief that guides on the brand elements you want to explore so those essential ownable elements show up. I think the best briefs give enough guardrails to guide, but don’t put designers in a box they can’t push. 

I also believe in this exercise, it’s important to have a few options to react to, so have as many creative helping to solve this challenge as possible. Push the team to bring forth various looks & feels and elements — some literal, some over-the-top and some abstract — then select and scale down to create your final look.

Pressure test the look.

Once you believe your visual identity is in a good spot, ask critical and hard questions to ensure the look is ownable for your team. A few of the questions I like to ask:

When people see our collective assets, will they immediately think [insert team/brand]?

  • If we removed our logo and our players, would people be able to identify our brand?
  • Are there other teams in the space who have a similar look?
  • Does the look feel modern and fresh without being tired?

A visual identity is integral in bringing your brand to life, and it goes well beyond a logo. As our worlds become increasingly more visual, it’s becoming more and more important for brands and teams to get their look right. Every brand has something unique it can own, whether it’s locality cues or something inspired from its history, so take that inspiration to create a brand-inspired design that stands out from the rest of the crowd. 

Here’s to more ownable visual identies across the sports space. 

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It’s Time To Redefine What Quality Content Means

In this era of TikTok, memes and lofi content, we face a unique challenge for creatives and digital teams. The challenge? To redefine what we view as quality content.

For so long, “quality” content has referred to the level of production value – how polished, how pretty and how much work was put into it. Creators and marketers have historically defined the standard for quality content and advertising by what they deem aesthetically and creatively appealing. And, we have been looking at it all wrong.

Digital, with instant feedback from consumers and a generation that’s creating straight from their phones, is forcing us to rethink how we approach and think about all aspects of marketing — and the definition of quality content should be one of them. For so long quality content has been based on a marketer’s definition and has completely ignored the audience.

Are you ready for the truth about content?

Our audiences don’t care how much time was spent creating something. They don’t care if a piece is polished or it isn’t. They don’t debate 4K video vs. iPhone video or care if Photoshop or Canva were used to make a graphic. And, they especially don’t care if something went through a 100-person approval process.

Our audiences care if the content is interesting to them, period.

Because of this, it’s time to flip the definition of “quality” content on its head. Quality content should not only be defined by production value. Quality content should be determined by how much it resonates with the audience.

This is not to downplay high-production value. I believe production value and creative integrity matter, but there’s a time and a place. For far too long creative has been upheld as a very precious thing that has to be perfect. And in our audience’s eyes, that’s not the case.

It’s actually empowering and freeing for all creatives out there when you realize the standard of creative you’ve set for yourself is higher than the audience you’re catering to. All the rules we’ve been taught or enforced on ourselves are out the window. We have permission to experiment; not everything has to be perfect.

If quality content can take many shapes and forms, then we don’t need to get bogged down in the details that simply don’t matter. We can test and try and let some less-so-polished things fly.

If we can remember that consumers scroll, tap and move on quickly and that the shelf life of content is short and fleeting, then we can permit ourselves not to have to make everything perfect.

If we can understand that quality content is less about the time spent on something and more about how much it resonates with people, we’ll spend more time on how to evoke emotion in people and less time worrying about how to simply make it pretty.

Quality content is about making people feel, not making something pretty. It’s always a win when you can make people feel something with pretty content, but it doesn’t always have to be high production and artistically perfect to resonate.

Creatives and marketers have to get comfortable with what makes us uncomfortable. We should always want to put our best foot forward, but that doesn’t mean we have to be so precious that we don’t recognize that lofi and less polished content has its place — and that it actually reosnates.

So here’s to lots of quality content ahead, whether it’s a lofi Tiktok created straight from your phone or a long-form video that tells an emotional human interest story. As a consumer, I hope my feeds are filled with both.

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Why Over-Communicating Matters For Social Teams

As a social media manager, it can be nerve-wracking to let people in too much. If we share our calendar, copy, process, etc., will everyone and their mom give their thoughts? In an industry where people personally have access to the tools and feel entitled to provide input, sharing can feel like an invitation to give unwarranted feedback on things. 

I get it. 

There was a time in my career when I probably held things too close to my chest. I had experienced the micromanaging of social media just for the sake of micromanaging (i.e., little trust in those who lived and breathed it), and when people micromanage for the sake of it, it can build distrust within social media teams. You start to think that anytime you share something, it will spark a wave of changes and possible fire drills. 

Here’s the thing, though. Not sharing and not communicating your plans will only cause broader issues internally. You might be able to dodge it for a while, but eventually, it will hurt you and the team.

Social media managers, here’s why you need to over-communicate.

1 – Social media isn’t about you.
Social media represents the entire organization and brand, so while people need to trust that social media managers are executing to maximize the platforms, it doesn’t mean that others inside the organization don’t need visibility. Social media managers need to be open to feedback when something isn’t right for the brand, and people outside the social team need to learn the art of giving feedback that it’s critical vs. subjective.

2 – Decision-makers need visibility.
Social media has become one of the hot items for many organizations internally, which often creates a sense of urgency and laser focus. There are most likely meetings where social media is brought up, and there isn’t someone in the meeting who lives the day-to-day to speak to the work. Because of that, leaders within the org need to be armed with the right information to answer questions, evangelize, celebrate the work and advocate for resources. If key decision makers don’t have the visibility on what’s going on, it will cause fire drills and frustration when they cannot appropriately speak to or advocate on behalf of the team.

I do understand that in an ideal world, someone on the social team is the one speaking for the social team, but the reality is that’s not always going to be the case. Arm the people within the org who can be advocates with the information they need. 

3 – It builds credibility.
Everyone who works in social media understands that social media does not “just happen.” If you have not been in a role where you are executing, it’s hard to understand what it takes to get from point A to point B. Over-communicating and oversharing is an excellent opportunity to educate on what it takes to make the magic happen and flex your knowledge. 

Instead of thinking about oversharing and over-communicating plans as a chore or something that could open up problems, reframe it as an opportunity to position yourself as a thought leader within the organization. When done the right way, evangelizing the work should build credibility with you and the team throughout the org. 

4- It allows you to shape the why. 
Social media work is public, which means everyone will see it at some point. Suppose you share the work upfront before anything comes to fruition. This allows you to give people the “why” behind the work — why the focus on this platform and not that one, why this creative direction, why this distribution strategy, why this initiative. 

When you can shape the “why” behind the work, it allows you to drive the insight and narrative around the work vs. someone seeing it in the wild for the first time and coming to their own conclusions. And when people have to make their conclusions on their own, it often causes more questions, more fire drills, and more work. Save yourself the headache. Shape the why upfront. 

On the flip side, decision-makers within organizations need to protect social teams that over-communicate. 

If your social team does a good job sharing plans and communicating, do not beat them down with arbitrary feedback, a million decision makers for “approval,” and process for the sake of process. You hire good people for a reason, so let them do their job. Protect your social team and their energy and ensure that you build an environment where feedback is given constructively and when necessary, not just because it’s someone’s subjective, objective opinion. 

At the end of the day, when social teams don’t share plans and strategies, it can distract from good work. Sharing is an opportunity to drive the narrative around the work, so evangelize and champion it and find those people in the organization who will help advocate for the vision. Sharing is caring and will help you and the team in the long run, even if there are some growing pains in the process. 

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