Social media is driving continuous fan engagement for the NBA. Social is how teams stay connected with fans all week — and all year — long. The social media pros strategizing and managing their club’s social media campaigns know their impact is critical for fan engagement. They keep connected with NBA fans of all stripes, no matter who their favorite team is.
Many sports teams are infusing their digital storytelling with bite-sized media to reach Gen Z fans across social platforms. Everything from fan-built user-generated content (UGC) to player-created cameos and selfie endorsements.
At the Hashtag Sports Conference 2022, we convened a panel with some of the leading voices in NBA social media to discuss how co-creating digital media with players and fans builds deeper connections and brings authenticity and value to sponsors.
Becca Genecov, Social Media Manager, Dallas Mavericks, joined Cedric Brown, Director of Digital Programs, Miami Heat, and Zachary Gayer, Manager, Social Media, Golden State Warriors, on the panel. Greenfly’s CEO, Daniel Kirschner, moderated the lively discussion.
“Use Greenfly, get your players on board…they will use it…Anything we shoot, they have in their hands. We’ve seen guys who have had completely dormant social media accounts and then all of a sudden all they want to do is post.”Cedric Brown, Director of Digital Programs, Miami Heat
Digital Storytelling Goes Beyond the Court
Coming off the heels of the NBA Finals, the trio of social media veterans in the league spoke about how storytelling on digital channels has been evolving to increase sports fan engagement outside of arenas.
Genecov noted that features like Instagram Reels and Twitter Spaces have put snackable, shareable content at everyone’s fingertips. Gayer and Brown discussed the importance of behind-the-scenes player content for international audiences who can’t attend games in person. And how it sets social apart from broadcast and other viewing channels.
The panelists cited examples of some of their recent storytelling efforts that have driven positive audience responses.
The Heat team has featured player questions of the day to bring out their off-the-court natures. Similarly, the Mavericks have been showcasing player personalities during the off-season when game content is on pause. Meanwhile, the Warriors social team has been leaning into the franchise’s history and the game of basketball during the NBA’s 75th Anniversary year. This milestone has allowed them to stretch beyond game stats and court highlights to tell stories.
UGC Is Now a Core Part of NBA Sports Fan Engagement
The group discussed their approaches to engaging directly with fans through UGC that brings them into the storytelling process.
Genecov gave an example of how the Mavericks asked fans for their imitations of Luka Doncic’s stepbacks and celebrations. He loved them and shared some on his social accounts. Gathering this UGC content through Greenfly meant the team could quickly collect and share that fan content. This capability was particularly important during the early pandemic when their jobs were still to post daily content even without basketball games. They were limited in the content they could produce.
Gayer and his team used Greenfly to gather UGC around the 2020 NBA Draft to bring in the content of people congratulating the new draftees. Their enthusiastic, personalized messages helped the Warriors team diversify the content on their feed.
And Brown shared how his team at the Heat has celebrated big game moments and captivated audiences simultaneously. They’ve done this by collating multiple fan tweets or comments into highlight graphics posted on the team’s social channels. This approach has built fan anticipation for seeing if they made the list and keeps them engaged for being selected the next time. They’ve used Greenfly for this campaign and to source fan videos during deep Finals runs.
Each Social Platform’s Personality Is Unique
The panelists also spoke about how they think about tailoring content to the different social platforms’ personalities. This activity is always top of mind as the platforms are in constant flux with new developments and features.
Brown discussed that this is the most challenging part of the Heat’s business. His team uses a different voice and content for each platform — from how they speak and caption posts to how they edit videos and share photos.
Gayer concurred that the Warriors package stories differently for each platform. They employ more long-form storytelling on YouTube than on Instagram Reels or even YouTube Shorts. Because audiences consume content differently on each platform, they need to put together the puzzle of how content should fit each one.
Genecov shared how the Mavericks look at platforms such as TikTok for more casual, educational and funny digestible content one would send to friends. They use Twitter for conversations, Facebook for informational content and Instagram for their “creme de la creme” content.
Athlete Perspectives Have Become More Social
Athletes’ views and objectives on social media have evolved recently, including how social native players perceive its effects versus industry veterans.
For Gayer, the landscape has changed dramatically. Getting players content quickly to share with their channels and build their brands while keeping Warriors fans engaged has been helpful. And sharing their personalities has enhanced the content his team creates.
Genecov has found that younger players know the importance of social media. It’s a focus for them; they want photos, and they share them immediately. And when players post on social media, the team’s executives and owners also see that content and its impact.
Brown mentioned the key is making it easy for the players. His staff has seen how their athletes use social media. They shoot everything from arrivals, community events, media days and more, so it’s available for the players immediately. For his team, that’s a lifesaver because it has eliminated getting constant player text messages asking for their media.
Kirschner agreed that with the changing features, interactions and cultures around the social platforms, player personalities are coming to the forefront more on social media. They’re getting more comfortable with social, and their compelling voices connect with audiences there.
Sponsorship Is a Big Piece of the Puzzle
For each of the panelists, sponsor campaigns figure prominently in what their teams are doing. They discussed how they strike a delicate balance between authenticity and fulfilling sponsor obligations.
Genecov said her team has a lot of big campaigns sponsored. She works with her sponsor team to find partners that make sense for particular content. Gayer posited that a campaign with a sponsor attached doesn’t necessarily impact the campaign goal. He thinks about how they can use sponsorships to do things they haven’t done before, such as build new series. His team fits their sponsors into the storytelling, so it’s an authentic experience for both parties. And Brown noted his team strives to make high-quality sponsor content, fitting it into various campaigns and event elements.
Final Thoughts: Inspiration, Success Measures and Looking Ahead
The panelists agreed they look to each other with admiration — for inspiration and to understand what is resonating and not with fans. And they apply those lessons to fit their own brand, strategies and voice. In terms of how they deem a social post successful, audience social comments and replies and content quality are among the filters they use to gauge performance.
Finally, the executives touched on their goals and focus areas ahead. These include elevating their content even further and breaking through media clutter with something new. And they’re preparing for future emerging platforms and what’s next in media and NBA fan engagement.