I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting it up with Jaryd Wilson, the man behind one of the best Twitter accounts (@ATLHawks) in sports. Tonight is opening night for the Atlanta Hawks, so that means it’s game on for Wilson and his team. 82 game days filled with exciting, engaging entertainment that will no doubt push the envelope. What does a typical day look like for him? Does he think the NFL is missing out on a huge opportunity to market to their fans? Has Atlanta finally rubbed off on this Chicagoan?
How did you get your start in social media marketing? In high school I was involved in journalism, and writing was passion. It was something I enjoyed and was really good at. I went to the University of Missouri to hone those skills, and while there I worked for the NBC affiliate in Columbia. After graduating, I received an offer to be a web Interactive Managing Editor at the Fox news station in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I wanted to make the switch in sports and applied for other sports jobs, including the social media manager position with the Hawks. I joined the organization in December of 2012 as the Social Media Coordinator which has since morphed into digital content management for all of our digital channels, social media, web and content for the mobile app.
How many people on the team? We have a digital team of three, which includes the Director of Digital and New Media, myself and a coordinator. We know our limitations based on head count, but we try to maximize efficiency and do a good job of focusing on what’s important.
What’s your typical non-game day? There’s no typical day in this position. Some days it may be going down to practice to gather content, other days laying out content plans for things we are doing over the next few weeks. I’m charge of managing all of the websites; Hawks.com, PhilipsArena.com, also our cheerleader and membership sites. Managing those four websites as projects come in, we get a lot of requests from departments all over the company, part of it is reactive, taking in whatever request comes in, and the other part is doing some planning based what time of year it is and what projects we have going on.
How do you prepare for game day? Game days are the same as non-game days until about four or five o’clock. Game days are more routine. Get to the arena and gather pregame content as players are arriving, warming up. Most of that is captured on mobile, so that’s mostly for social media. As the game starts, we want to cover the game live on all of our channels. We focus mainly on Twitter and Facebook for live coverage, and we do have Hawks.com for representation, we gather the content and post in real time. For highlights, after the game is over we’re putting all of the content from the game…galleries for the game, highlight packages, fan reactions and updating the website for recap. For our fans that can’t watch in real time, we want to be able to provide that alternative option, and for those that are watching we want to be able to provide that second screen experience for them.
How has social media, mainly Twitter, enhanced and or changed the fan experience? It gives you a chance to see what else everyone is talking about as it relates to a live event, not just a sports live event. We saw it with the debates, and we see it with award shows. I think people want to know what their friends, influencers and the people they follow, what they think in real time as they’re watching the same live event. It allows you to connect with the emotions of all of the people around you. Twitter has done a really good job at capturing that live conversation.
How have you utilized Facebook live more? Facebook (FB) Live allows us to reach so many people. FB is by far our biggest audience for any platform company-wide, not just social, the entire company. We won’t reach more people through any medium than we will with FB. FB Live in particular because of the notification that it sends to people to let them know when you’re live. It’s a huge opportunity for us to connect with fans where they are, and we want to bring what is happening in our organization, particularly around our team, we want to bring that experience to the fans. Being able to show them what’s happening in a live format where they feel like they’re part of it is hugely important for us.
Viral tweets – Emoji schedule, Jordan meme used for the score – How did you deal with the criticism? Reaction to the Jordan meme was overwhelmingly positive as opposed to negative, but I think there will always be people who are upset. Just in general, if you’re not trying to push the boundaries, I don’t think you’re not using this space effectively. That’s one of the things that kinda comes all the way from the top of our organization. Our CEO Steve Koonin is always encouraging us to push the boundaries of what’s possible, be innovative, be reverent with the audience and connect to the audience in ways that they are already using this platform. We want to be that brand that pushes the envelope. We know it’s not for everybody. Much like our uniforms, our colors, the way we talk to our fans is not for everybody, and that’s okay. We’re not trying to be for everybody, we’re focused on that millennial audience in particular, and we understand that our strategy is going to come with criticism, but it’s not going to stop us from doing what we’re doing. We really think this a great way to connect with our target.
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) May 5, 2016
Emoji schedule: That was a collaborative effort within our marketing department. We had the idea of trying to release our schedule in a different way. Going back to being bold, we thought ‘how can we release our schedule in a different way than what’s ever been done before.’ Once we had the idea we had to figure out what the emojis were. I put together a first draft list, shot it around to a few people, got some feedback, changed a few things and went with it. You can’t predict what tweets and what posts are going to blow up, and that one was not one that I expected to get the attention that it did, but you have to be able to react to that. What I’m most proud of with our team is not coming up with an idea, but how we reacted to the idea once we saw that it was blowing up. So we did a few follow ups, we did a story explaining what each emoji was and why we chose it that we posted on Facebook, and we did a quiz that asked ‘can you match the emoji to each team’ that we posted on our website. Things like that and the way we’re following up with some of those things and kind of extending the shelf life of those stories is really cool.
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) August 11, 2016
The NFL started their new social policy last week, what’s your take on it. Does it hinder the fan experience? The policy itself is not a new policy. It’s a policy that’s just being reinforced because it was being broken in some places. The NFL has had that policy for a while, and honestly I don’t agree with it. They’re missing out on an opportunity to market to fans, and they’re missing an opportunity to deliver content to fans. However, I understand where they’re coming from, and I understand why they want to have everything in one place, drive traffic to team websites and monetize in that way. I really like the way the NBA has gone. The league has allowed us to share those real-time moments with our fans. We know that highlights in real-time or close to real-time are what the fans engage with most, so the NBA has done a good job of recognizing these are opportunities for our teams to connect with their fans in a real-time, live game environment and they’re doing a great job with that. That in general helps market the overall league, and the NBA really understands that and it’s cool to see them give us the opportunity to do that.
How did you make the Hawks one of the top and best sports accounts to follow? It goes back to our voice. One of the things that I was tasked with doing when I first got here was defining and creating our voice on social, we didn’t really have a voice prior to me getting here. Being able to develop a voice that connects with our fans and resonates with our fans, and being plugged into the Internet in a way to where we can talk to our fans was probably the overarching theme of how we were able to get the attention we get on social and being able to develop those accounts in a way where we know people look to us as a model for how to do it. Your brand voice is so important. There’s such a balance and every brand, sports and non-sports, has a different wat to approach it. I think the way we’ve approached it, our fans have connected with it and really enjoy it. We’ve gotten a lot positive reviews from it; we see all the time fans are talking about how much they love the voice we have. It did not come overnight. It took some time, but I think now it’s an expectation and one that we’re really excited to continue and hopefully enhance, because there’s still work to do. We’re not perfect, there are areas where we can get better, and we’re continuing to improve.
How does your team come up with other marketing initiatives? I.E. Themed nights Some of it is driven by what’s going to make the best fan experience in the arena. Other stuff we kind of think about what’s going to be talked about, what’s going to generate some buzz, what is the media going to cover and what is going to resonate with our fans. We have brainstorming sessions all the time where we throw out wacky ideas. We try to be relevant with what’s happening, try to be trending. We’re always kind of looking for what’s that next thing we can latch on to and capitalize on in pop culture, entertainment, sports or the community.
What other teams do you think do social media well? From a digital content perspective the (Sacramento) Kings really understand it. I think they do a great job of creating unique digital content that no one else is doing. The Sixers and the Bucks on Snapchat are two must-follows. Portland and the Warriors…I know a lot of colleagues and a lot of accounts and a lot of teams that are doing it the right way. It’s really cool to see as a league that there are so many teams embracing it and using it for what I think it should be used for. It’s a good way to resonate and connect with fans.
Favorite apps? Most of the apps I use are practical instead of entertainment, so I don’t have a lot of games or things that kill your free time on my phone. I love the Netflix app, the Marta app, Twitter, Instagram, the ESPN app for scores and such.
Favorite sports account you follow? The NBA has a lot of really good accounts…the Sixers, Blazers and the Kings, in baseball the Indians and the Cubs and in the NFL, the Patriots. Outside of sports Arby’s and Oreos do a great job on social.
Your job revolves around social media does that make you engage less on your personal accounts? I do. I used to be a lot more active before I started this job, and now that I do this day-to-day for multiple brands, I do find that I’m posting less on my own accounts because I don’t have the time, and when I’m not at work I want to unplug a little bit.
How do you unplug from the noise? I like beer, so trying new craft beers and going to breweries, watching sports; not necessarily basketball. I’ll flip a sports game on and watch that, hanging out with friends, hiking and traveling.
How do you stay #TrueToAtlanta? On the Hawks account, it’s nothing I can take credit for. It’s just a larger organizational initiative. We really want to dig in the roots of our community and show them that we care. Renovating basketball courts, getting out in the community and volunteering, recognizing and acknowledging local businesses, local influencers; the things that are the fabric of Atlanta and the things that people who are ingrained here are really close with, I think being able to recognize those things that our organization is doing on social media helps us be True To Atlanta. We have our concert series where we bring in Atlanta-based artists; it’s not a social media initiative. It’s an organization-wide initiative to show that we are True To Atlanta, and telling those stories on social media only amplifies that. Social media in that sense is used to amplify the great things our organization is doing.
Me personally, Atlanta is growing on me. All I knew about Atlanta was that it was really hot. Humidity was one that I was not looking forward to. I’ve been here for almost four years and I’ve realized that this is a cool city. It’s diverse, fun, there’s a lot do, and the people are nice. I’ve been blown away by my perceived expectations before coming here versus what I’ve seen now.
Any last words? One thing that I always want to say is that this is not a one-man group. My name is associated with a lot of the social media accounts, but a lot of what we do is collaborative in our organization. There are a lot of good people here coming up with a lot of cool ideas, and I sometimes get credit for ideas that I didn’t come up with, just because I pushed the button. We have a really great marketing team, we have a great organization in general and we have ideas floating from all over the organization, not just marketing. I definitely want to recognize my colleagues that sit with me and help come up with all these ideas and help make our brand a really, really cool brand to follow.
The Hawks have definitely provided the blueprint of how to effectively use social media and as a whole the organization has been getting it right from top to bottom. They are innovative in providing their fans the best fan experience through social media by educating, engaging and providing entertainment. As Jaryd stated earlier, “If you’re not trying to push the boundaries, I don’t think you’re not using this space effectively.” Kudos to Jaryd and his team for using the social media space effectively. I’m looking forward to what they have up their sleeves this season.