Five Ways to Stand Out in Sports Social

As a former social media manager for the Portland Trail Blazers, I can appreciate the time, effort, and thought that goes into each piece of content that gets sent out over the course of the season. Whether you’re involved in baseball (162 games) or football (16 games), creating content that is not repetitive and stands out above the rest can be quite a challenge.

Here are five ways to make your content shine bright for seasons to come:

Animated GIFs

We’ve all scrolled through our Twitter feeds, looked at a funny GIF from an iconic movie, laughed, and then moved on.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good Home Alone GIF more than anyone, but there’s got to be more to your animated GIF strategy than publishing pop-culture references everywhere you turn, right?

GIFs have been shared and viewed on Twitter directly for over 18 months and recently teams have started to up the ante. Final scores and big plays used to be solely represented through traditional imagery. But now, community managers have become much more creative in finding new ways to bring their content to life.

No one did it better than the National Football League during the Divisional Playoff Round. After Cam Newton found Greg Olsen in the back of the end zone to make it 31-0 in favor of the Panthers over the Seahawks, the NFL tweeted out an illustrated version of Newton “dabbing,” which he often does after scoring a touchdown, with laser beams shooting from the eyes of the Panthers mascot. If that doesn’t sound amazing (well, maybe not to the Seahawk fans, let’s omit them for obvious reasons), then I’m not sure what would. Of the thousands of tweets sent out over the course of the weekend, the custom (and personalized) animated GIF was most memorable. 

Originality is Key

Each and every winter the NBA launches their All-Star voting campaign, which allows fans to vote in their favorite players as starters in February’s annual All-Star Game. With over 400 players in the league and just ten spots up for grabs, the competition is fierce.

While votes accrue throughout multiple social platforms, I’ve noticed the majority of the heavy hitting coming via Twitter, as users only have to take one action for their vote to count: retweet any tweet that includes both the player’s name and #NBAVote hashtag.

There are players like Kobe Bryant, Steph Curry, and LeBron James who are household names and hardly need any promotion. On the other hand, there are plenty of players who have All-Star talent but are stuck either in small markets or on teams who traditionally haven’t been very good over the past five seasons – that’s where the power of social kicks in.

The Detroit Pistons, who haven’t had an All-Star voted in by the fans since 2009 & Allen Iverson, set out to right the ship this year with their rising superstar center, Andre Drummond, leading the way.

Despite having fewer than 500,000 followers on Twitter and having been absent from the postseason for the last six years, the Pistons created quite the buzz throughout January after the team released not one, but two mashup videos that immediately went viral. Each video incorporated President Obama’s past speeches to the lyrics of Drake’s “Jumpman” and Dr. Dre’s “Forgot About Dre” which played in unison with highlights from the first-half of Drummond’s 2016 season. Even as a die-hard Trail Blazer fan, the content was too good not to RT.

Aided by the popularity of those videos, Andre Drummond accumulated over 515,000 fan votes for the All-Star game!

Step Up Your Game

It doesn’t matter if it’s a regular season game in the middle of January or Game 7 of the Finals, spectacular plays are bound to happen; that’s the beauty of sports. When the Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks went toe-to-toe in Madison Square Garden back on January 18th, not many expected an overtime thriller that included a plethora of highlight-reel plays, but that’s why they play the game.

No play drew more ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ than the alley-oop between Sixers teammates Ish Smith and Nerlens Noel. Although the game was not broadcasted nationally, my feed was littered with GIFs and Vines of the highlight within minutes.  The Sixers could have just posted the video across their social platforms and called it a night. Who would blame them? Video views and Vine loops would soar through the roof and it would have been a resounding success.

However, the 76ers social squad did not rest of their laurels and took to Snapchat for a little “day-after” content. Over a series of four snaps, the Sixers doodled the highlight frame by frame for their fans. By utilizing Snapchat, the 76ers were able to produce original content, tailored perfectly to the platform, while also providing value. Some may view the drawings as silly and unnecessary, but it’s content that can only be found on Snapchat, giving their fans reasons to not only follow but to open their Snap story.

Play To The Platform's Capabilities 

Over 58 million photos are uploaded to Instagram on a daily basis. Let that sink in for a minute. With new photos taking over users’ feeds by the second, how is it possible to stand out amongst all of the noise?

The Seattle Seahawks provided the template during their 2016 playoff push. As soon as it was announced they would be battling the Minnesota Vikings during the Wild Card Round, their digital team flocked to Instagram, posting images in multiples of three. Why three you ask? You see, the Hawks were in the process of creating the most intricate and beautiful profile grid I’ve ever seen, regardless of industry. What was most impressive about their grid strategy was how each individual photo could not only stand-alone and impress, but also told an important piece of the overall story.

On August 27th, 2016, Vine announced users could officially upload music to their six-second clips. For the University of Clemson Tigers football team, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  While other teams were using the platform to directly upload game highlights and re-purpose them across other platforms, most notably Twitter, the Tigers had another thing in mind as they embarked on the 2015 season.

Taking advantage of a charismatic Head Coach in Dabo Swinney as well as exclusive access to the team itself, Clemson’s digital staff utilized Vine to highlight all the memorable moments that occurred through an undefeated regular season. Whether it was players getting ready pre-game, or Coach Swinney “dabbing” in the locker room after a victory over Notre Dame, Clemson perfectly picked the proper music to add to their mini-movies, enhancing the user experience and setting the standard on Vine in one fell swoop.

Have A Personality

If you’re not having fun talking to your community, you’re doing it wrong.

On the field, Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers have more fun than any team in recent memory. You can routinely find the Panthers posing for photo ops on the sideline or making a young fan’s dream come true by handing out footballs after touchdowns.

Off the field, their social media team has followed suit. No tweet embodied this mantra, or made me LOL (legitimately), more than their interaction with die-hard Seahawks fan Rainn Wilson, better known as Dwight K. Schrute from The Office.

Before Seattle’s playoff matchup with Carolina, Wilson tweeted the NFL should just fast-forward to the Super Bowl, featuring his Hawks and the New England Patriots. After the Panthers knocked off the Seahawks, 31-24, Carolina retweeted Wilson’s original message stating, “This is why Dwight was Assistant TO the Regional Manager.” This subtle reference by Carolina’s team not only struck a chord with their fan base but with those who loved watching The Office. The result? Over 24,000 retweets.

While it’s easy to laugh and joke when your team is piling up the victories, it’s equally important to laugh at yourself when the opportunity presents itself… like losing a conference championship.

No team achieved this better than the Arizona Cardinals, who beat the Internet to the punch during their NFC Championship game against the Carolina Panthers.  Trailing by more than four touchdowns, the Cardinals team tweeted a picture of the ever popular “Crying Jordan” asking, “Is this what you want, Internet?!”

Needless to say, that took guts. Sports are driven on emotions and every Cards fan was undoubtedly upset while watching that performance. However, Arizona’s digital team took a chance to lighten the mood, because, after all, it is just a game. And it paid off, big time, as their tweet racked up over 51,000 retweets that night.

When searching for the best brands on social, those five techniques are what I’m looking for, but I’m certain there’s more out there. What do you look for? What other teams are killing it on social? Let me know in the comments.