Wins And Losses From The Social Teams Of The NFL
Columnist Chris Kerns takes a look at the social plays from the NFL to bring marketers some insights into how they can enhance their own social strategies.
Football has always sparked great conversations — whether it’s chatting with your family while flipping channels on a rainy Sunday afternoon, talking trash with friends cheering on division rivals or tailgating with like-minded fans before the big game. And now that social media has become a daily, sometimes hourly, habit for many Americans, the chatter on those social channels brings new opportunities for teams and marketers alike.
Social channels allow teams to connect with their audience, give media outlets a chance to spread the latest breaking sports news and give loyal fans an avenue to express their joy or frustration.
At Spredfast (my employer), we decided to dive into the data to understand how sports teams can balance their social strategies with the uncertainties that come with every season. How can social media teams get the most engagement from their fan base, even through poor on-the-field performance, player moves and the lull of the off-season?
And more importantly, what can all marketers learn from the teams that are leading the league in social?
Cue the national anthem. Let’s kick this thing off.
Our Research & Insights team at Spredfast built a database of tweets for the entire 2014 season and 2015 off-season, including all mentions of teams and all content posted by each of the 32 NFL teams. (Disclosure: Spredfast works with all 32 NFL teams.)
We ended up with a collection of more than 100 million tweets to analyze, and then added weekly win/loss data for each team to combine on-the-field data with the social world.
What’s Driving Weekly Team Social Mentions? It Depends
The top weekly social spikes for each team depended greatly on their win/loss record. For teams with a winning record, the biggest peaks in social mentions happened during a game with a big opponent, whether it was a division rival or another winning team.For teams with a losing record, social peaks depended on having a prime-time slot (either Monday Night Football or Sunday Night Football), even if the team on the other side of the field wasn’t doing well during the season. This was the case for five of the six teams with the worst records in 2014.
Which Teams Have The Most Fair-Weather Social Fans?
Exploring the data further, we analyzed the correlation between weekly team records and the amount of social media each team saw. We ended up with a list of teams with the highest correlation between winning and chatter — or, put more plainly and perhaps controversially: These are the teams with the most fair-weather fans.
Of the top 10 teams with the highest “Fair-Weather Social Fan” correlation, nine of them saw losing records during the 2014 season. The NY Giants saw the highest correlation between record and chatter, with a huge lead over the second place team (the Carolina Panthers.)
Keeping Conversation Going During The Off-Season
Seasonality is a factor in many businesses, but it’s a way of life for all sports leagues. During the season, NFL teams have a weekly event to leverage for content creation and news. But what about when teams aren’t on the field every week?
We dove into the content created by all 32 NFL teams during the 2015 off-season to analyze which buckets of content generated the most engagement across the league. The topic that drove the highest level of engagement was draft events and news, making up 30 percent of the top-performing content we saw.
Other high-engagement content types included talking about players’ off-season activities (like when the Green Bay Packers congratulated Aaron Rodgers on winning “Celebrity Jeopardy,” which saw a +512-percent bump in retweets versus normal team levels), and teams mentioning holidays (like this Vikings tweet about Earth Day, which saw a +403-percent bump in retweets for the team).
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) April 22, 2015
How Do Teams Having A Tough Year Keep The Social Chatter Going?
When we head into the playoffs, it becomes more and more evident that some of our teams didn’t have the season we had all hoped for. But just because a team is struggling on the field, it doesn’t mean their social teams should throw in the towel for the year.
Three teams saw losing records in 2014 but also managed to see increased social chatter at the tail end of the season (the Cleveland Browns, the Chicago Bears and the Oakland Raiders). What strategies did these teams use to make the most of a rebuilding year?
1. Focus On The Player, Not The Team.
The Browns saw a 15-percent bump in social activity for the last six games of the 2014 season versus the first six games, all despite their 7–9 record. How did they get people excited about a team that wasn’t going to make it to the postseason?
Two words: Johnny Football. Their decision to start Johnny Manziel as quarterback rocked the social world and drove conversation about the team at the tail end of the season. In fact, of the 250,000+ tweets about the Browns in December 2014, 21 percent of them were about Manziel.
2. Celebrate The Small Victories.
The Oakland Raiders, who saw a tough 2014 season with a 3–13 record, still managed to keep their passionate fan base participating on social channels by celebrating wins when they happened. The above tweet received a 1,353-percent bump in engagement over normal team levels and showed that their fans were still with them, cheering until the end of the season.
3. Take Your Fans Back To The Good Old Days
The Chicago Bears kept conversation going by reminding their audience of the team’s rich history and heritage. The tweet above, featuring an image of Coach Mike Ditka, saw a +648-percent bump over normal team levels. Turning back to better times is a frequent, and effective, tactic for many teams that aren’t looking forward to a post-season slot.
Taking Social Into Overtime: What Can All Marketers Learn From Top NFL Social Teams?
So now that we know some solid plays from the NFL, how can marketers take the ball and improve their own social strategies? Here are the three takeaways that we found:
- Don’t Go Wide: Know Your Audience: As we’ve seen, different teams require a mix of strategies to be successful in social media. Don’t look to your competition and assume your brand should adopt the same strategies; make sure you understand your voice, your history and your place in the market to build a strategy that works for you.
- Have Content Ready For The Offseason: There will be times where your content calendar is full of news, offers and campaigns — and other times when you can hear a pin drop. Have content ready for down times that can be published any time during the year to keep the conversation going while your brand is planning its next play.
- Control The Pace Of The Game: With this study, we saw some great examples of teams out of the running but still keeping their fans engaged on social channels. Don’t be afraid to change the narrative for your brand during times of bad PR, product mishaps or other slip-ups. Diving into topics that remind customers about the history of your brand, great charitable work you’re doing or the industry in general can help you work through until the start of the next season.