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A secret to success on Instagram and other social media takeaways from the Insider Series

Winning on social media has become almost as valuable to commercial departments as victories on the field. With SportsPro's latest Insider Series focusing on what brings likes, engagements and follows, our writers present five takeaways from the virtual event.

by SportsPro
A secret to success on Instagram and other social media takeaways from the Insider Series

Drawing on the expertise of rights holders, broadcasters and other creators from across the sports social media ecosystem, SportsPro's latest Insider Series event looked to provide insight into what works in that medium. 

With much to unpack, SportsPro writers select five key takeaways from across the two days of content.  

Success on Instagram is all about personality

With 400 million sports fans on Instagram and average fans following ten different sports accounts split between three separate countries, it is clear that sports properties not tapping into the platform are missing out.

However, if channels want to achieve meaningful engagement on Instagram they must offer users good reason to do so.

Dev Sethi, Instagram's head of sports, revealed some of the secrets to success.

“It’s really up to our partners to decide what do our audiences want to see and one of the main areas we have seen is that Instagram does definitely lean into personality-driven content," he said.

“[Fans] are not coming to Instagram to get the 30-second soundbite they could have got on linear from a post-game interview. They are coming to feel connected to their favourite athletes and favourite brands.” SI

Experts and analytics must work in harmony

Bleacher Report's approach to social media is one of the most innovative and professional in sports media. Servicing a portfolio of brands, including its parent company Turner and including Instagram favourite House of Highlights, it works out of a social media hub with creators dedicated to every channel.

Whilst Julian Patterson, Bleacher Report's senior director of social strategy, operates in a world of engagement metrics, he says that the numbers alone should not inform strategy.

"It's a lot of gut and then analytics," he said. "Analytics will reveal a lot - your blind spots or [it] confirms your suspicions. For our social team, we are the content scientists. We're spending thousands of hours just combing through the timeline, curating and figuring out what really works.

"It's a little bit of art and a little bit of science. For us the balance is a little bit more art, but we never make decisions without our analytics confirming our suspicions or hypotheses." TB

It pays to be flexible

Stuart Cope, head of digital at the Rajasthan Royals, admitted that the Indian Premier League (IPL) T20 cricket franchise’s initial attempts to use archive content to keep their social media following engaged during lockdown “failed miserably”.

Rather than persevere with throwback footage, the Royals quickly pivoted away from that to “create long-form IP”, Cope said, including a new weekly podcast series hosted by their spin coach Ish Sodhi and featuring some of the team’s biggest names.

The success of the show soon saw other IPL franchises follow suit with podcast series of their own, underlining the importance of being flexible when it comes to social media strategy. 

“It’s been a real learning curve to be honest,” Cope said of the lockdown period. “We’ve got a few things wrong, quite a few things right, but the refreshing thing about the Royals, the team that we work for are very much about testing new things and seeing what sticks and what doesn’t stick, and that gives us real flexibility on our channels.

“It’s quite a progressive environment to work in. You can’t always say that in sport. Sometimes you’re quite hamstrung to what content you can create, but we were able to test there.” SC

Align your cause with the appropriate voice

Sponsors are also beginning to evaluate what makes an athlete tick before deciding which personalities to partner with. As a result, Scott Tilton, chief executive of the sponsorship analytics company Hookit, believes an athlete’s sentiment on social media is becoming just as important as their overall following.

“One of the big things we’re beginning to see on the brand front is that they are trying to find partners that are passionate about certain topics and understanding the sentiment of the actual athlete,” Tilton said. “They might be a professional tennis player, for example, but what else do they care about?

“They find likeminded partners where there is a crossover between the brand’s core value and what the athletes are passionate about. You can get very scientific now around how you align and approach your partnerships.” SI

Know who you’re talking to

It might seem obvious but Jim Lucas, the Football Association’s (FA) managing editor, said that the most crucial element of the national soccer body’s social media channels is playing to the right crowd.

Given the reliance on social media content during sport’s hiatus, Lucas also warned of falling into the trap of trying to make everyone happy, potentially stifling creativity or scuppering the formulation of a clearly defined strategy. He pointed to harnessing different brands or subsidiaries within an organisation as a remedy for such an issue.

“The biggest thing that we always try and achieve across our various different channels and brands is having a clear audience focus,” he said. “Who are we talking to, what is our voice, and what do we stand for?”

Adding: “The great thing about working with several different sub brands in the FA, but also several different channels within each of those, means you can talk to different people in different ways.

“That, for me, has always been the starting point for any good brand on social media.” ED


SportsPro's next Insider Series event covers all things sustainability on 5th August, featuring speakers from Arsenal, Adidas and the Ocean Race. To find out more or to register, click here.