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Content is still king in social media strategy

For companies like ESPN and Turner Sports, social media strategy is all about placing content front and center.

ATLANTA -- There's a mountain of content that Turner Sports can share with fans. Part of Turner Broadcasting System Inc. in Atlanta, Turner Sports is the engine behind popular shows such as Inside the NBA as well as broadcasts of the PGA Championship and the NBA All-Star Game.

As a result, the social media team has an embarrassment of riches in the volume of content that's available to promote on social channels to fuel its rabid fans' desire for engagement and interaction.

"I have a sign for all the production people that says, 'Your trash is social media gold,'" said Morgan Dewan, senior director of social media at Turner Sports. "'If you're sketching out a set or you're thinking about storylines for tonight, we'll show the lineup.' Sports fans will take any content you want to give them -- and they'll like it," she said. Dewan spoke at the panel "Entertainment and Sports: How to Listen and Engage with Fans" at the Social Shakeup conference, Sept. 16-17 in Atlanta.

I don't want to do social just for social's sake.
Morgan DewanSenior director of social media, Turner Sports

But Dewan emphasized that the whole idea of using content to promote Turner Sports on social channels and to stir fan conversation isn't just to take out the trash on Twitter. The idea is to promote solid content and use methods that reflect the company's metrics for success.

"I don't want to do social just for social's sake," she said. "Make sure that what you're doing from a content perspective really ladders up to your overall business objectives."

Dewan said that social media efforts at Turner Sports have to align with one of three business goals: to drive ratings, to drive digital consumption, or to create monetary value for sponsorship and sales.

"If it doesn't help in one of those three areas, we have to evaluate whether it's a good use of our time."

Content is still king

Katie Richman, the director of social media strategy for X Games and espnW at Bristol, Conn.-based ESPN Inc., realized in 2012 that social content was haphazard. What was missing was clear coordination between social teams and content producers.

"Social was getting an eye roll," Richman said. "It was just another thing coordinating producers had to do."

But then she and her team had an aha moment: Why not coordinate so that social messages place the editorial storylines at the forefront of social media strategy?

"We went to the coordinating producers and said, 'What are your storylines? Who are the main characters in the show?' Maybe the story is, 'Sean White wasn't going to compete in the Winter Olympics, then he is -- will he really be back?'"

By coordinating her storylines with those of the editorial teams, Richman  saved social from afterthought status.

"The producers saw this as an element to work into their broadcast that had to do with the story they had created -- they were in charge again. That was our sweet spot: Using social to serve the storyline that producers already wanted to tell. So social became another tool, like a zoom lens."

When social can take the lead

Once social teams earn the trust of editorial teams, they often step into a new dynamic where they can suggest and create content of their own.

For Turner Sports' Dewan, the tables turned during an episode of Inside the NBA. Former NBA players Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley were locked in debate, as they often are on the program. Dewan and her team suggested that the network throw a poll onscreen to ask viewers who they believed was right.

"We asked, 'Who is right: Shaq or Charles? Tweet in using this hashtag,'" Dewan said. "Within 3.5 minutes, we had 600,000 votes. So we went into the break talking about it, out of the break with the results showing on-air. And this social media integration became a piece of content on its own."

Dewan was quick to note that some of these new formats don't yet have monetary value. The goal is to value that content and charge for it, just as the network would traditional ad spots on TV. Dewan said that "it's a work in progress" to denote the value of that content in a way that works for "the brand, the fans and the sponsors."

But, she added that keeping the value of the content itself at the center will make that possible down the road.

"If we keep as true north, [ideas that] incorporate the brand in an authentic way," Dewan said, "then we can have some conversations about how to monetize better in the future."

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