NFL Ups Its Game in Social Space

By ANA InSites Archives
Cover image for  article: NFL Ups Its Game in Social Space

To keep the most popular professional sports league in the U.S. at the forefront of the ever-changing social media landscape, the NFL last year elevated Tom Brady (no, not that Tom Brady) to the position of Vice President of Social Media and Emerging Programming. Among his myriad duties, Brady (pictured above) shapes the NFL's social strategy, content, voice and messaging across platforms; maximizes the use of social at a league, club and player level; and leverages social to drive awareness of programming and content on the NFL Network, NFL Mobile, and other NFL Media Group properties.

"Social media platforms are in many ways like new networks," Brady says. "Getting our fans to consume and engage with the new types of content on those platforms is paramount. More importantly, social allows us to have a two-way conversation with our fans and understand, in real time, their sentiments, preferences and rooting interests."

In this interview with Ken Beaulieu of the ANA, Brady, who will speak at the ANA Digital & Social Media Conference July 20-22 in Colorado Springs, CO, describes the structure of his team, how it adds value to social conversations and handles negative stories, his approach to content creation and measurement, and more.

Ken Beaulieu: How is your department structured, and what is the atmosphere like?

Tom Brady: My group is structured into five teams: 1. Social Content team, focused on pushing out all types of content (editorial, native video, imagery, infographics, etc.) on each social platform; 2. Emerging Programming team, responsible for publishing content with strong social currency across our digital owned and operated properties like and NFL Mobile; 3. Social Strategy and Operations team, focused on how we use each platform, work with vendors to optimize publishing, and collaborate across the league, our teams and players; 4. Social Media Integration team, focused on how we integrate and weave social activity and information into our broadcast and digital shows; and 5. Integrated Sales team, responsible for creating and packaging cross-platform content (social, digital, broadcast) across the media group and delivering that content to our sales and sponsorship teams.

As for the atmosphere, there is a strong sense of collaboration among the team and across departments, a level of seriousness and responsibility for what we publish every day, and a spirit of innovation in terms of taking calculated risks. Everyone in the organization wants to use social, so my team needs to be the conduit to help them get it done. We take our jobs very seriously and know that having a direct relationship with our fans is everything. Our game is fun, our fans are fun and our teams are fun. Our content should reflect that and serve to delight them and make them smarter.

Beaulieu: The NFL has little trouble generating commentary (positive or negative) in the social sphere. How does your team add value to the conversation without coming across as obtrusive? Please provide an example.

Brady:We have to use each social platform as it was intended, not shoehorn one piece of content into each platform. In other words, content we publish on Snapchat should be different than what we put on Facebook, and what we post on Twitter should be different than what we put on Instagram. When we publish content, we always think about how it can benefit the fan. Is it entertaining? Does it provide inside access to our players and our game? Does it give them a different way to look at stats, trends or breakdowns of our teams and our games? Will it spark conversation on social and drive people back to our properties to learn more? We often say that we don't have to own the splash, just the ripple. There should be a cyclical nature to the content we create. We develop shareable content that reacts to a relevant story -- for example, the "Have a Day" imagery we use on game days that very simply and elegantly celebrates a player's performance on the field -- and then we give fans a chance to share and comment on that piece of content, which in turn furthers the story. And with any breaking news, league postings stick to the facts and then let our talent and shows provide more detail and commentary via social.

Beaulieu: What are some of the challenges you face in generating positive word of mouth for the league when non-football-related issues arise?

Brady:When negative stories arise, we don't shy away from them. We give our fans the information they want to know. At the same time, there is plenty of conversation, speculation and opinion that we cannot control. We make sure our posts are accurate and timely, and then put the focus back on the game.

There are so many positive, interesting storylines and reasons to celebrate our game, our teams and our players. We have first-class teams with tremendous pride in their organizations. Every day, those teams are looking to find great football players and even better men -- people of high character like Anquan Boldin, Thomas Davis and Larry Fitzgerald. Our players also have great personalities. Our fans want to know as much about them off the field as they do about their performance on the field. That is a huge initiative for us, giving our players a bigger stage via our social reach.

Beaulieu: How do you approach content creation across platforms and audiences? In other words, what are the tried-and-true principles that guide your team?

Brady:We want a team that knows the social space, knows our game inside and out, thinks like our fans and is overflowing with creative ideas. We then make sure that we create the right content for the right platform. It seems simple, but consider the use of a great quote or memorable sound byte from a player. For immediacy, we may post the quote to Twitter. For Instagram, we may create a stylized image with the quote overlaying it. For Snapchat, we may show real-time fan reaction to the quote or sound byte. For YouTube or Facebook, we may post a video clip or stylize it around game action. We have to take the tremendous content we see each week and treat it for maximum consumption on each social channel.

Beaulieu: How do you measure social media success?

Brady:It's all about using data wisely. We have an outstanding business intelligence team that provides us with deep dives on content performance for each social platform. We are constantly benchmarking performance versus the average and looking at all the variables -- not just video views, but completion rates; not just impressions, but engagement. We also look at the conversation rates from our posts. The data guides us, but it's our responsibility to fuel the flames on a good post. Finally, there are the intangibles that we seek: Are we creating content that more fans are sharing and emulating?

Beaulieu: What have you learned from your social media successes that other marketers can apply to their businesses?

Brady:Very simple: stay true to who you are and what made you successful. Don't try to be something you are not or create a voice that does not fit. Listen to what your fans or consumers want. Create one-to-one conversations whenever possible. And because social moves so quickly, adapt and change as the platforms change.

Beaulieu: Lastly, what advice would you give to young marketers pursuing a career in social media?

Brady:Use the different platforms often, and think about how they work as both business and communication tools. Then apply that thinking to the subject matter you are pursuing. Also, take an immersive dive into the core tenets of the brand or organization. What will set you apart is your passion for the brand and your forward-thinking ideas for how to grow the business and engage consumers.

The opinions and points of view expressed in this commentary are exclusively the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, Inc. management or associated bloggers.



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