By Jon Greenberg
The great thing about social media in sport is that you can keep score. Statistics are at the heart of almost every sports debate, and every year, it seems like, there are new numerical benchmarks to help categorize achievement.
A team, or athlete, can partially determine their popularity by a variety of factors, Facebook "likes," friends, Twitter followers, retweets, YouTube plays, you name it.
The advent of social media has brought about a number of businesses aimed at monetizing conversation and interaction. We typically don't respond to the flood of PR emails about such experts, but I found an email about a company called Unmetric too interesting to pass up.
Unmetric just released a research project ranking National Basketball Association teams by their social media presence, whether it's the speed in which they interact with fans on Twitter, how much conversation they propagate on Facebook or how many clicks their videos get on YouTube.
This was a spec study, meant to ingratiate the two-year-old company into professional sports. It has worked. There are a lot of phony social media experts out there, it's a real cottage pseudo-industry, but after a long conversation with Unmetric's Vice President of Sales/Business Development Jay Rampuria, I think his company's research might have some significant information. I've attached the survey in its entirety at the bottom of my analysis.
But the question is: What does it mean?
For instance, the study shows the five teams that respond the fastest and slowest to Twitter questions. The average number of followers for the quickest responders is 220,674, while the average number of followers for the slowest is 422,320.
Of course, you have to look a bit closer to make sense of these numbers.
- Fastest Average Reply Time on Twitter
1. Denver Nuggets - :05
2. Chicago Bulls - :06
3. LA Clippers - :07
4. Dallas Mavericks - :08
5. San Antonio Spurs - :10
- Slowest Average Reply Time on Twitter
1. Boston Celtics - :00 (no replies)
2. Indiana Pacers - 3:18
3. Orlando Magic - 2:52
4. Oklahoma City Thunder - 2:39
5. Atlanta Hawks - 2:02
I checked out these feeds on June 21, and surprisingly, the Magic had the highest number of followers of these 10 at 1,077,315. The Celtics, who never respond, are second at 609,224.
The Bulls, who have a savvy social media manager in Jeremy Thum, respond the second-fastest and are third at 480,553 followers. The top-responding Nuggets only have 100,514 followers.
Obviously response time doesn't equal a following. The Magic have a big following because of Dwight Howard. The Celtics don't need to respond to fans. The Bulls don't either, but they have an energetic social media staff.
Unmetric created an eponymous social media "score," which "is a scientific blend of 24 qualitative and quantitative social media metrics, weighted and balanced to produce a single benchmarkable number."
The top five:
1. LA Lakers - 140
2. Miami Heat - 130
3. Boston Celtics - 119
4. LA Clippers - 114
5. Chicago Bulls - 108
How is this number calculated? Well, that's proprietary information, but Rampuria explained a little. For one, it factors in a team's Facebook page, its official Twitter account and its YouTube page.
"The metrics vary from quantitative, like number of followers, fans and growth rate, to an engagement score number of 'likes' posts and shares. Our formula aggregates and weights these numbers and creates a singular score. We weight factors differently, and so a share has the highest weighting, then comments. It's customizable for each client. Sentiment is taken into account, negative or positive, and it does affect the score."
Yes, there's an algorithm for positive and negative comments, but Unmetric employs humans to categorize thousands of posts for the engagement score portion of the formula. They break down administrator posts and fan posts and weight those too.
One thing Unmetric has discovered, and it's not rocket science, is that teams that engage fans on a Facebook page get more activity on the page. That's key because fan engagement is how marketers can measure how much an ad is worth.
"Some administrators are spending time talking about player news, etc., but we found the topics driving more engagement are game results and posing questions to fans," Rampuria said. "The franchises that are killing it are having conversations."
A Facebook "like," something that seems so trivial, has become a strong, measurable marketing tool. While Facebook pages give a team or company more access to personal information, Twitter is becoming the main conversation home during live events, especially with sports.
Unmetric's top five list is pretty much what you'd expect, with maybe the Clippers replacing the New York Knicks. The Clippers, with the Lob City connotation stirring interest, and the newly-crowned champion Heat have the most active fans participating in social media at 7.7 percent. The Clippers have grown at the highest pace on both Facebook and Twitter at 121 and 104 percent, respectively.
But is that attributable to Blake Griffin and Chris Paul and an active social media staff, or just the former?
It's tough to say, but it's obvious that every team has to engage fans in some way. Denver is certainly ahead of the pack.
The Nuggets' first-place quick response time was news to Jared Harding, the manager of interactive media and digital strategy at Kroenke Sports Enterprises.
"I was curious how they got that part," he said. "It's baffling to me."
But times aside, Harding isn't surprised. He knows that the franchise's focus on social media as an engagement tool, rather than a nuts-and-bolts sales machine, has helped him do his job. And responding in a timely manner is part of it.
"Our main focus is engagement and interaction with fans," he said. "Our CMO is really wise and he leads us in the right direction and gives us support for our philosophy, rather than using social media as a platform to sell ticket or involve sponsors in an overt way, which is a mistake some brands make."
While one of Harding's many jobs is running the social media accounts, the Nuggets, like most teams, have hired a real writer, Aaron J. Lopez, to post stories for the site. But what Lopez also does is tweet tidbits from the Nuggets huddle. He sits behind the bench and serves as a team snoop. This is something other teams should steal.
"Tweeting is definitely a priority for us in-game," Harding said. "We have our Nuggets writer sit by the bench during home games and tweets quotes from Coach Karl, along with game notes type stats and more interesting ones, like Ty Lawson scored 10 points in the fourth quarter for the seventh time."
Harding likes to use Instagram to tweet pictures of the game hours before the tip-off as a way to engage with fans and help spread the message that going to the Pepsi Center is more fun than watching at home.
Harding said one metric that shows him how important social media has become to NBA teams is the Nuggets' fall in Facebook followers.
"In the first year or two we had our page, the Nuggets were in the top five in the NBA in terms of followers, which was remarkable because we're in the 16th or 17th biggest market," he said. "So many teams weren't paying attention at the time. Now we're more where we should be."
Harding's position was created internally two years ago and he proposed it.
"The fact that they agreed shows me that social media is here to stay," he said.
Harding leads the social media attack for the Nuggets, NHL Colorado Avalanche, the National Lacrosse League Colorado Mammoth and the Pepsi Center.
"I sort of serve as an in-house digital agency, giving recommendations to the marketing teams about online advertising, mobile advertising, facilitate pitches from app vendors, work with sponsorships, SMS providers and anything digital or interactive related," he said.
Harding is housed in the interactive media department, which consists of two designers and his boss, also a developer. He hopes to have more teammates soon.