What To Consider In #SMSports In 2024

After a long hiatus (yes, I’m talking years), I’m finally bringing back the annual list of things for sports social and content teams to consider in 2024.

This list is not a forecast of trends or a prediction of the future. Our industry is way too unpredictable to play that game. Instead, it’s a list of things to consider focusing on in the year ahead based on observations, lessons learned and insights from others. 

While there were some themes from previous years’ lists I wanted to bring back because they’re still as relevant as ever, I tried very hard to keep the things to consider new topics of conversation. I also understand everyone’s goals and objectives differ, but hopefully, something here will spark a new idea, approach, or thinking.

So, without further ado, here’s a list of what to consider in 2024 with some help from Twitter and friends in the industry in no order or importance.

Focusing On Getting Rid Martyr Syndrome.

Too often, I see people in our industry, especially young professionals, talking about missing big life moments to work in sports. We aren’t curing cancer, though, and to me, there is no reason to miss out on the milestone moments of those closest to you.

The reality is that too few organizations keep a perspective on what we do. We encourage people to make sacrifices, chalk it up to being part of the business, and then create a vicious cycle of martyr syndrome because people who grew up in sports have zero ideas of what some semblance of balance looks like. And in the end, we create burned-out, jaded people in what should be an incredibly fun industry to be part of.

Yes, I understand you can’t take 75% off game weekends. There are times when we in sports will have to RSVP “no,” but sports shouldn’t be at the cost of everything else. In 2024, we need leaders in sports orgs who champion a culture with a perspective on what we do. A culture that allows a give and take between employees and the org and encourages people to show up in the personal moments that really matter to them.

Sports will always require some long hours and sacrifices, but I don’t think we’ve worked hard enough to help people in the industry find some semblance of balance and ensure that they can RSVP “yes” (and not feel guilty) to the moments that really matter. Leaders need to step up and figure out how to eliminate martyr syndrome in their organizations — whether they need to structure their teams differently, show up differently, change their perspective, and champion balance.

Redundancy in Tactical Roles. 

As mentioned above, working in sports will always be a different beast from other industries, but every leader should think about how they can find solutions to create balance for employees. One of the key ways to ensure that employees have balance is to set up an organization with enough redundancy in tactical roles. 

I want to be clear that redundancy in tactical roles isn’t about employees not having individual ownership or creating a bloated organization. Instead, it’s about hiring and structuring teams to amplify collaboration and support within the team. Ideal team structures are set up to have employees still “own” specific responsibilities with the ability to step in, assist and collaborate seamlessly with their respective counterparts. 

Long gone “should” be the days of most sports organizations having one person dedicated to social, one person dedicated to brand strategy, one person dedicated to video, etc. And because we have multiple people contributing, we should be able to set up teams to allow them to flex different schedules. The idea that everyone must be at every game is an outdated idealogy — so take advantage of where and when it makes sense of the redundancy we have in tactical areas. 

Working in sports is fun. And it should be. But if we don’t find a way to let people RSVP “yes” to those important life moments and not feel guilty about it, our industry will not keep the best and the brightest. In 2024, let’s take advantage of our teams’ more robust digital & content structures to help everyone find some balance.

Teams Having Fun.

In 2024, sports teams need to loosen up a button (or two) on social media and not be afraid to have some fun. This is one where my perspective has evolved and lightened up quite a bit, and others in our space agree.

 Here’s what I’ve come to believe firmly: People like sports because they allow them to connect with others & disconnect from the rest. People need fierce competition and a FUN fan experience. Teams, like people, can and should flex. Yes, for most sports orgs, there’s a time and a place. You must know the nuances, but people connect with personality, emotion and humor.

There’s no better example of why fun matters in sports than the Savannah Bananas. I know for me, seeing their approach has been humbling because it’s the ultimate proof of thinking about the fan above all else. I mean, the numbers on these videos speak for themselves:

I know the Savannah Bananas are an extreme example, but they are a massive reminder that social is fun and sports are entertainment. As long as teams care about the foundation – partner, brand moments, etc. – there should be space for fun. 

I do want to emphasize that taking care of the brand foundation is key. The strongest social teams understand that social should be fun but not with disregard for the business. Why? Because fun without purpose is just aimless.

So, in 2024, encourage your social and content team to have fun and take risks. One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is to try to say yes more than you say no, even if some of the yeses make you uncomfortable. Of course, ideas must fit within the brand box, but let your team push even if it’s outside your comfort zone. 

Encourage ideas vs. deflate, and magic will help. And I’ll leave this thought with some of the “fun” I stumbled across this year in sports: 

No More “What’s Always Been Done”.

Because sports is a small community and we often constantly follow other teams and our peers in the industry, it is easy to get caught up in mirroring the approach of others. But in 2024, the teams that stand out and maximize resources will stop doing what’s always been done, focus less on mirroring other teams and being bullish on the bold things, maximize resources, and genuinely connect with fans.

Standard game coverage and play-by-play. Over-the-top all-star campaigns. A ton of creative resources on holiday graphics. Insane schedule release moments. I’m not saying these things are wrong for all teams, but do we do them because that’s always been done or because we have to keep up with everyone versus doing what’s best for our brand and business?

Want to win? Double down on an approach that’s right for your organization and your fans, regardless of the status quo in sports. There is no sports organization, no matter how big or premiere, that has unlimited resources, so every single team has to prioritize what’s important to them. We can either prioritize the “same old same old” or prioritize the big, bold, meaningful and sometimes scary work. 

In today’s age of endless options and competition, the cookie-cutter approach to content and social channels will no longer work. Sports teams must break away from the formulaic tendencies that often result in generic, easily forgettable content. You don’t have to play by old rules. You don’t have to play by the rules of other teams. You don’t have to play it safe. In 2024 the teams that will win will stop doing what’s always been done and write their own rules.

Flexing YouTube’s Full Ecosystem.

If you are investing in video content, you should invest in YouTube. While the platform is slower to build than other social platforms, I would argue that YouTube has one of the strongest and most stable audiences out of any social network.

The numbers speak for themselves. YouTube has 2.70 billion monthly active users based all around the world and approximately 122 million users per day. More than that, though, they reach every age demographic. Every marketer’s dream, right?

What I find most interesting about YouTube heading into this New Year is that they’re building a robust ecosystem. Thanks to YouTube Shorts, this platform is no longer just for long-form video; it’s a platform that will support an entire video ecosystem. 

The teams that invest in YouTube and follow best practices will find a video ecosystem that works hard and delivers for them. In 2024 if video is on your radar, YouTube should also be.

Building Out Internal Capabilities.

You can’t compete today online if you don’t have a strong creative team. And the teams that win in 2024 and beyond will be committed to building out their internal capabilities. Capabilities that don’t just include the execution part of creative, but also the strategy and concept part. 

What’s the benefit of this? A strong internal creative team will allow your org to work quickly and nimbly (as long as you don’t have a cumbersome process in place, which, trust me, you don’t want). But it’s more than just speed. Your internal team knows the brand best and has relationships with internal stakeholders and sports operations. You don’t have to be educated on how to get to x, y, and z; your team already knows this and has built trust.

This isn’t just about having more hands on deck and adding more people. It’s about having the right people with the right skillsets deeply embedded in your brand. In 2024, organizations that focus on building the right creative capabilities with enough breadth and depth to tackle any project will win.

Brand Intentionally Beyond Season Start.

We all know the blueprint for the start of the season. Countdown hype. Tagline push. Season hype video. Too often, teams kick off the season epically and intentionally, only for that to fizzle the minute we get into the gameday routine. The one-and-done approach to a team’s brand has to stop.

In 2024, it’s time to consider a more consistent drumbeat of intentionality around your team’s brand. It’s time for teams to resist the fade into a rhythm of score updates, player statistics, and game results that so often happen as we get into the swing of the season. The game action is undeniably essential, but so is building, protecting, and fostering your brand foundation (if you want to know why, I’ve written some about that here). Building an emotional connection with your fans helps through the highs and the lows, and it’s not just a nice to have today. It’s essential. 

Looking for an example of this? While it’s only one tactical example, the Ravens do an excellent job of reinforcing their brand DNA in their weekly trailers. They aren’t just hype videos. They reinforce their identity and scream Baltimore in their look, vibe, and tone.

Not Being Too Precious With Production.

I believe one of the biggest challenges for digital and content teams moving forward is figuring out the balance between quality versus quality, imperfect versus perfect, and nimble versus work that requires editors to dive deep. We live in a space where creative capabilities have become next-level, the world moves fast, and sports, more than most industries, require more volume.

But I think we have gotten caught up in the wrong things in the creative arms race in many ways. Teams don’t need SportsCenter-level studio sets or 20-person production shoots to do great work. We don’t have to sweat the tiny details, fuss over edits that don’t matter, and try to perfect everything about a video. The reality is that to get our audience’s attention truly, we have to evoke something in them — and that doesn’t come from an elaborate production. It comes from a strong idea, narrative, and solid execution. It’s a realization that the most compelling content—the ideas that stir emotions and forge connections—transcends the obsession with perfection and broadcast-level production. 

So, in 2024, let’s realize production doesn’t have to be so precious. I genuinely believe the teams that understand they can be more agile and resourceful with production and laser-focus on strong concepts will be able to produce great work and do it in scale.  

Understanding The Power of Access. 

The best social and creative team’s job in sports is to tell the story/narrative of the team, bring fans inside, and build an emotional connection (through the highs and lows). All of this is done through access and buy-in from the competition side. 

The other day I watched this long-form piece from the Detriot Lions, though, and it made me think about how the power of access goes far beyond the week-to-week content churn of a team’s channels. 

Yes, access helps bring fans closer to the team during the highs and lows. I’ll argue that value all day, but the impact runs deeper than fostering a closer fan-team relationship. Access holds historical significance. It can provide a window into the past, offering valuable historical footage that encapsulates the journey and legacy of an organization. We’re fortunate to live in an era where we can preserve the moments that define the team’s history forever in an intimate and personal way. And here’s the kicker: access becomes an invaluable asset when a team embarks on a magical run (hence how the Lions inspired this thought). Those behind-the-scenes glimpses, the candid shots, and exclusive footage? They transform into cherished keepsakes, documenting the magical journey for fans and becoming a part of the team’s storied legacy. 

So, while access humanizes and brings fans closer, in 2024, I think teams must understand and pitch its broader significance. Access is not just about the now. It’s about preserving the past and potentially capturing the extraordinary moments that become the stuff of our team’s histories. 

Drive Awe Through Creative.

This one is purely driven by my love and admiration for the Aston Martin F1 Team’s creative flair and captivating creativity. As someone who works in the industry, I typically do not become a fan of social accounts, but their work has pulled me in. They have a style; they push the boundaries and truly awe people through creativity. I will not harp much on this one, but I believe the teams that will win in 2024 will continue pushing the envelope in the creative space and surprise and delight fans with exciting concepts and fun, creative flair. 

Here are a few of their recent examples:

That ends my list of things to consider in #smsports in 2024. As always, there are no hard, fast rules here, and every team has to do what’s right for them, but hopefully, something inspired you here. And before we wrap, I’ll leave you with a few other great points from others in the #smsports community.

Now it’s your turn to sound off. What do you think teams should be considering in 2024?

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. 

Why A Social Media Strategy Matters More Than Ever

Working in social media means working in an environment that is fast-paced, always-on and continually evolving. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily churn of the day-to-day without breathing and stepping away to look at the bigger picture. We “go, go, go” and “do, do, do” without even blinking.

We often use the fast-paced nature of social media as a reason not to have a firm strategy in place. If part of our job requires flexibility, why would we put a strategic plan together?

The madness without method in social media has to stop. Just because our world is continually evolving does not mean there’s no strategy involved in our work. A plan gives a POV on “the why” and “the how” of how you’ll support the business. It does not mean you can’t be agile and fluid — nor does it require you to stick to a content calendar. We shouldn’t confuse being nimble with not having a strategy, and I believe approaching it that way discredits the role social can play.

Putting a strategy to paper is not easy work. It takes time and is something that will continue to evolve. It’s important work, though, and one that all social teams should take the time to pen. Here’s why:

We’re no longer just “figuring it out”.

I started working in social media before this industry was even a thing. Early on, no one understood what social meant for the business. The channels were a real experiment. And while there will always be some level of “figuring it out” in our work, we’re a point where we understand the role social can play in business.

If you work in social media, it’s your job to map social media back to the organizational goals. And doing so requires some sort of strategy and plan in place.

If we want organizations to take social media seriously and have a seat at the table, we can’t always resort to the “this is an experiment” excuse. Yes, there are a lot of things that are an experiment in social. Yes, there will be many times when we have to pivot. But no, that does not mean we can’t have a plan for how and why we work.

We’re no longer just figuring social media out, and it’s time we own the fact that yes, we’ve learned a lot about this channel and what it can mean for business.

Social media is not just tactical.

One of the arguments against having a strategy in place is how quickly our world evolves. And as stated before, there’s always going to be some level of nimbleness required in our industry.

The need to be flexible in social media is less about strategy and more about tactics, though. There are foundational aspects of our work that does not change day-to-day — and it’s those things like goals, audience, channel purpose, etc. — that a plan should embrace.

A great social media strategy helps articulate the why and reason for being without restricting a team. It should actually empower a team to pivot, build and act quickly on the things that matter versus restricting.

Don’t use tactics as a crutch to not put in the time to do the foundational work.

A strategy gives teams focus.

Years of working in social media have taught me the power of real focus for teams. Just because social can technically “service” many areas of the business, doesn’t mean it’s moving the needle across every touchpoint.

Social isn’t everything to everyone, and that rhetoric has to stop. But changing that mentality within organizations requires education and buy-in. And those two things cannot happen without a plan.

When a social media team has a strategy in place, it articulates “the why” behind what they do. It gives clear and distinct vision on the most important work that matters, and that helps teams focus on where social and content can have an impact on business goals.

When you fly by the seats of your pants, it’s much harder to pushback on why it doesn’t make sense to just “put it up on social.” And when social because the default for everything, it takes away meaningful work from the team.

A strategy empowers teams. It enables them to do the work that matters and focus on quality over quantity. And in an industry where it’s easy to overwhelm and overburden teams, we need to make sure the work we’re doing matters.

It helps advocate for resourcing needs.

Social media used to be the job of one person. In the early days, you couldn’t share photos on Twitter, Facebook’s innovation was king and Instagram didn’t exist. The work was much less sophisticated and required a lot less resourcing.

Today, if you want to stand out in this space and drive business goals, social media requires a lot more than a one-person team. It requires strategists, community managers, creators, etc. As expectations on social increase, so do the resourcing needs.

It’s nearly impossible to advocate for more resources if people don’t understand the why, though. How can you expect an organization to invest in more talent if they don’t know how it’s going to drive back to the business?

Putting a strategy to paper helps create a vision for not just what you do and why — but what you’ll need to get it done. You can’t show “the how” if you don’t know “the why,” and you can’t ask for more resources without either of those.

It champions the team.

There are a million things you can measure in social media, and it’s easy to get caught up in a data dump. Total engagements to team rankings, what are we measuring and why?

Too often, we measure things in social media without understanding their purpose. And metrics without reason are meaningless.

A strategy helps map back the work to the business and gives a clear distinction on the metrics that matter most. When you have a clear understanding of how social impacts the organization, it’s much easier to champion the work of the team.

If we want our work in social media to be respected, we have to map it back to the business. We cannot fear having a strategy in place because we think it will prevent us from pivoting. When a social media strategy is approached the right way, it actually empowers a team to do the work that matters and allows you to be nimble.

It’s time to do the work that matters and embrace the idea of a mapped out social media strategy.

If you’ve championed a social media strategy within your organization, I would love to hear how it’s benefited your work and team. Share below!

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.


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?

Social Requires Building Blocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

The brand.

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

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

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

The audience.

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

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

The content.

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

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

The distribution & tactics.

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

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

A (very) rough example.

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

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

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

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

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

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