3 takeaways from the NBA’s and NHL’s social media efforts

When analyzing game results, statistics tell the tale. Likewise, hard data can be invaluable in gauging your organization’s online success and guiding future efforts.


What a glorious time to be a sports fan.

The best of the West and the beasts of the East lock horns in two must-see series. In one, we have the matchup between LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and a star-studded Golden State Warriors team.

In the other, we have the dominant offense of the Pittsburgh Penguins versus a dangerous Nashville Predators team riding the high of appearing in the organization’s first Stanley Cup Finals since its inception in 1998.

As one Finals (NHL) has swayed from early domination by the Penguins to a competitive and fun-to-watch 2-2 matchup, the NBA series has been a complete rout by the sharp-shooting Warriors. (I’m writing this as Game 3 tips off.)

Though both matchups offer plenty of intrigue and electricity, there has been a clear winner in terms of social media presence: The NBA is putting on a clinic.

As in the games themselves, statistics tell just how wide the disparity is in the conversations about the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals.

Talkwalker recently revealed that there have been more than a half-million social media posts about the NBA Finals and its two teams. By comparison, there have been only about 96,000 posts related to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Talkwalker also reported that the NBA has dominated the hashtag battle, owning the top three and 10 of the top 12 Finals-related hashtags.

Though it might not be a surprise to see the NBA leading the social conversation matchup—given that it draws a march larger chunk of the casual fan base than the NHL does—the sheer magnitude of its success is a bit of a shock.

Here are lessons and best practices to propel your social campaign to NBA-esque success:

1. Video prevails.

Video has dominated social media and digital content for the past few years, and its stranglehold is positioned to increase dramatically through 2017 and beyond.

The NBA is taking full advantage of this, frequently posting in-game video, highlights, player interviews, meme-worthy clips and much more. The NHL employs video on its channels as well, but not as frequently and in less engaging ways.

2. Use your stars.

The NBA does a great job of using the game’s brightest stars on a consistent basis. Curry, Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are present throughout the league’s recent posts. In comparison, the NHL only peppers in its Finals stars (Sidney Crosby, PK Subban and others) to its overall content.

Though the NBA produces more household names (at least in the United States) than the NHL, the NHL could take greater advantage of its best assets.

Identify your social- and news-media stars, train them, and unleash them to dominate the competition.

3. Drive engagement all year.

Both the NBA and NHL are active on social media January through December, but the NBA does a far better job of staying in the overall online conversation year-round. Conversation about the NHL trails off after the new champions hoist and kiss that vaunted silver trophy.

Player star power and mainstream appeal play a role in this drop-off, as do dips in quality content and engagement.

When developing your social media campaign, remember to cultivate compelling content (including video) on a regular, year-round basis, post frequently and engage with your target audience(s) as opportunities arise.

Beyond creating conversations, ask your spokespeople to join and sustain relevant discussions within their industries. Connect with customers/fans/the public, tell your story, and comment on the industry and on current and future trends. All these factors can help ensure your social strategy remains strong and engaging throughout the year.

Overtime lesson: Use data to your advantage.

One bonus tip, unrelated to the social stats from the finals, but relevant considering that social media strategy development is similar to game planning: Use data to derive insights and take accordant actions.

Celtics Coach Brad Stevens (as well as other NBA coaches) employs data to identify optimal matchups, to design plays and to craft offensive and defensive strategies for neutralizing opponents’ best players.

Similarly, in social media, it is essential to gather and use data to develop and drive your campaigns and overall strategy.

No matter which platform you are using, there is plenty of data readily available that can help you make informed decisions (from identifying the right audience and crafting a message that resonates to determining on which platform and at what time you should be posting content).

Data should drive every decision you make. Learn how to transform raw data into actionable insights, and watch your campaign success skyrocket.

Matt Falso is the manager of digital and influencer engagement at Soteryx. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or on Twitter: @mfalso02.

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