How the Atlanta Hawks manage their social media – with Jaryd Wilson – #1

For the first ever episode of the DigiHoops Podcast, we were honoured to be joined by Jaryd Wilson, the Digital Content Manager for NBA side the Atlanta Hawks, as well as the Philips Arena.

In his role, Jaryd Wilson is responsible for managing content for all digital platforms, most notably web and social media. He started as the Social Media Coordinator in 2012, where he created the now-famous brand voice of the Club’s social channels. Jaryd has spearheaded Hawks’ content and social recognition on platforms such as ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Mashable and Bleacher Report, among others. He has spoken at a number of conferences and events, including CoSIDA, the ACC Marketing Conference and the FSU Sports Management Conference. He is also a 2016 Cynopsis Digital “It List” winner.

Prior to joining the Hawks, Jaryd served as the Interactive Content Producer for FOX21 News in Colorado Springs, Colo. A graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, he’s originally from Chicago and is still loyal to Windy City sports teams and pizza. He’s the oldest of four boys.

In the first episode of the DigiHoops Podcast, recorded in the summer of 2017, hear from Jaryd Wilson on:

  • How the Hawks plan out their year from a digital point of view
  • The biggest things that have changed in Jaryd’s five years in the role
  • How the Hawks approach monetizing social media
  • How the Hawks decide which platforms to experiment with
  • Which platforms the Hawks are most focused on at the moment
  • The methods Atlanta have been trying to grow their Snapchat presence
  • How a brand-voice document ensures tone of voice remains consistent
  • Atlanta’s stance on pushing the boundaries with regards to their outputs
  • What kind of input the league has to centrally guide team accounts
  • The tools that are most crucial to do Jaryd’s job
  • Which other NBA team Jaryd feels does the best job on social
  • The advice Jaryd would give to a fellow basketball digital manager
  • And much more!

Follow Jaryd Wilson on Twitter @JarydWilson.

Show Notes

5 Most Viewed Videos on Facebook

Other Interviews with Jaryd Wilson

Social Studies: Hawks Digital Content Manager Jaryd Wilson On Connecting With Fans – Sports Business Daily
Meet the man behind the best Twitter account in sports – SB Nation
Hawks Social Media Coordinator Jaryd Wilson – Ask Me Anything! – Reddit
From the Newsroom to the Hardwood, the Journey of Jaryd Wilson – Front Office Sports
The Importance of the Atlanta Hawks’ Social Media Presence – Fansided

Other Interviews on the Hawks

‘We look at social as part of our overall customer experience’ – The Drum
Atlanta Hawks Thriving Off Court Thanks to Rebranding, Embracing Social Media – Bleacher Report
Atlanta Hawks – How marketing to millennials can turn things around! – Promo Overtime
The secret to social media success – from the Atlanta Hawks playbook – Sports Business Solutions

Atlanta Hawks on Social Media



Okay we’re here with Jaryd Wilson, the Atlanta Hawks digital content manager, Jaryd thank you so much for joining me.

Yeah, no problem thanks for having me.

So, I’d kind of like to start with a bigger overview of the Hawks and how their digital went social- content creation team works. So you’re digital content manager. Having a look on the on the stuff directly there’s loads of stuff and – How do you work out? Can you give us an overview of the structure?

Sure, no problem. We have a full time digital team of three: My boss Aaron Lane oversees our kind of entire digital operation. He is the director of Digital New Media. I manage the content that goes on all of our digital channels and then we have a full time digital coordinator Annie Finberg who reports to me and is kind of more the boots on the ground content gathering kind of executing our social posts and website updates and thinks like that.

There’s three of us who handle the bulk of it, we also have a seasonal person who’s on staff with us who does a great job as well and we also have a contracted writer who does some writing for us about the team.

Okay, so then when you’re in the off season and you’re looking ahead to next season, when you’re sitting down to work out, uh, you know how much sort of planning goes into (THIS is what is happening to me this time of year) do you break it down into pre-season, regular season, post season and off season or is it kind of like more reactive, as the season goes on do you kind of work things out in a week to week basis?
Yeah I think it’s a little bit of both I think during the season we’ll definitely , well plan for big time pull initiatives that we have, things that we know are gonna be happening, opening night is obviously a big one for us and then we get into the meet of the first two months. We’ll do some stuff leading up to the all-star game and all-star break and obviously as we push forward into March we start to look at the playoffs and some things we can do from there for a team that contends which we’ve had for the past ten seasons.

I think off season’s a little bit more kinda scheduled out. We usually, once we’re eliminated from the playoffs, we go over you know, player recaps and king of just season overview content.

And that usually takes us into the point where we look at the draft and doing some kind of scouting in digital content around the draft, we have the draft around the end of June and then July’s a busy month with free agency and so much happening at the same time.

And then August and September is where we transition into what we look out for with the next season with the schedule being released, production in media days and training camp and things like that.

We’ve got a pretty well rounded kind of year long cycle of stuff that we kind of know it’s happening so that we can plan around.

So, you’re overseeing heading into the off season, do you do a kind of wrap up looking back on this season and sort of examining what works, what didn’t work, what you want to do more, what you want to do less of, and if so, how do you go about doing that?

Yeah, we haven’t got much of that yet. I think right now our season just ended a week ago and we’re really kind of focused on day to day content as we wrap up the season and look back on it but in terms of internally what worked of what didn’t. Yes, there will definitely be a time where kind of post-mortem debrief-if you will- and we will evaluate both quantitatively and qualitatively what worked what didn’t and certainly we will make adjustments (from year to year based on content that’s working and content that’s not working, you know, adjusting roles and stuff internally as needed and kind of figuring out now where we’ll go from here.

Obviously, we know technology but all of this changes rapidly so that kind of dictates a little bit of how we execute and how we’re playing for the next season. But yeah that’s that never happen.

You have been in the role around 5 years, is that right?

Yeah, just finished my fifth season with the team.

How would you say, um, how the landscape and things have changed since you have been in the position?

Yeah, it’s been crazy to just thinking back to 2012 and now. I think the one thing for me that stands out right away is, this is a monetization area now. In ways that never was in 2012, in terms of revenue generating and the types of things you can do to generate revenue and I think everyone wants a piece of digital now, and it’s really interesting to, and challenging at times to figure out, how we monetize this space while we also keep our content authentic to our fans and keeping things kind of real. And doesn’t seem like an advertisement but certainly that’s the challenge we face internally and something we see externally, is that everyone wants to be part of it, everybody wants to have their name on what we are doing, which is a great problem to have, it’s just figuring out how to make it organic and authentic.

Is that, um, is the kind of social aspect now something that sold, with your sponsorship packages and it’s something that, is it something that you have to negotiate with the sales team kind of like what you are willing to do and what you are not willing to do?

Absolutely, you know we have an inventory document that we give them that kind of outlines the content that we are doing and what we have that is sponsor able. But we are also willing to kind of come up with new stuff as a partner comes on and says, you know, we want to be a part of this but we don’t necessarily know what we want, we kind of help to shape those packages that are potential opportunities for our partner. But yeah I say for the most part, almost every, not every, but almost every single package for our sponsorship team does include digital element, we are definitely pushing to make that a valuable piece of what a partner pays for when they come on board with us.

Talking about the monetizing piece, and social media, you know you always hear this talk about kind of return on investment and everything else like, do you have a way to directly being able to track, how your social media content links back to ticket sale with an actual attendance to games?

Ticket sales and attendance, we do have tracking of our ticket links and we work with ticket master, that’s the provider we use for tickets we are able to extend, you know what is very commonly known in the industry as infant codes, and that allows us to track our progress with our, who is buying tickets from what channels and that’s obviously goes across all digital and social media, or mobile or web or, you know targeting paid advertising, digital advertising whatever that is, we have a very good grasp where tickets are coming from and obviously we can adjust our strategy based on that.

Are you able to share which social media platforms are the best converting for you?
I mean we know generally speaking based on performs well just because they have the best targeting capabilities of the social networks, typically the paid Facebook that we buy, and if you throw money at Facebook obviously, you are able to target a lot more dynamically than you would than just putting up organic posts, but we see some pretty good return on sponsor post we do with Facebook.

Organically social post not so much, to be honest. But I think fans are not yet in the habit of buying tickets directly through social media, we see it as kind of an awareness play, where a fan base see a post that’s talking about tickets to a game that may not be purchase right there but it might kind of trigger something for them to go back and buy them later. So while that’s not obviously something that we can track directly in terms of numbers, we know that there is awareness we obviously contract compressions on all our organic ticket pushes and we know that we are getting that message in front of people so that even that somebody doesn’t buy there they go to and they buy later, we know that they have been a result of them seeing a result tweet come through their timeline or instagram our store isn’t something on Facebook.

Ok, and when it comes to looking at different platforms, and sort of new and emerging platforms. How do you decide at which point the hawks are going to jump on to something and give it a go?

Yeah, it’s interesting sometimes you know we want to be the brand that innovates, we wanna be the first in the market with things. You know our CEO Steve Koonin is really really big on being bold and trying new things and not being afraid to fail, so we think it’s an opportunity for us, if it’s something that makes sense for us from a timing perspective, from a budget perspective I think we are generally pretty aggressive with jumping on things trying new things. It’s not always the case obviously it has to make sense for us, you know we work with a team of three we are obviously a small group and we are obviously tasked with a lot of things, so there might be some things that doesn’t make sense for us to space purely on resources. But generally speaking I think we are pretty open to try new things and if we try some things and it doesn’t work we are not afraid to say that we failed, we are not afraid to kind of walk it back, and maybe lighten the load on it a little bit.

Right now as it stands, which platforms would you say that you are most all in on? And which one has changed the most for you like, over the past season or so that you start putting a lot more energy into one place as oppose to another place?
Sure, yeah I think right now it’s difficult to say that Facebook is the one that we don’t focus on the most, I would say Facebook is certainly for us because it has the most reach, we have the most fans on that channel the potential to reach the most people and obviously with the algorithm. The algorithm paid vs. content is really good and so I think for us and obviously the ability to target that’s probably the platform where I would say we are most all in on, you know I think snapchat is one that is really see an opportunity there, and we are thinking of ways where we can use it a little bit more effectively, we are we know the importance of it we know how fast is growing we know that’s the audience that we wanna capture for us the challenge is how do we make it different and unique and not just the same thing over and over from a game. But kind of challenging ourselves to think of that platform a little differently and different things to do there, so I think we feel really excited about snapchat, and where it’s going and what it can do, and obviously Facebook is certainly the one where we are always pushing our best content forward, definitely spending the most on that channel of all our social platforms so those two combined.

Have you found any particular ways that have been particularly effective in growing of snapchat account, would it be a bit of sort of closed network it seems that a lot of people have a difficulties sort of growing their presence there?
Yeah, I totally agree with you. We have done some things with cross promotion that we kind of just started this year, and either is promoting our snapchat angle on other networks, you know snapchat you can now post your url to get people to find you, and follow you and I think so we do some of that, we do invite our promotion to make people aware of our snapchat and I think one thing that snapchat did, can’t remember if it was last year or the year before, where they started to put in kind of their version of the verified badge, snapchat accounts that are quote on quote verified. So we have our little basketball by our name now which kind of certifies that we are the real Atlanta Hawks, we are the ones you should be following which is really good, so I think it’s certainly a challenging it’s something that we definitely wanna grow more. Part of it now is just kind of fans find it us organically and obviously partner with us, pushing that message on some of our more established social channels and bigger so people know we are on that platform.

Now talking about the Hawks is kind of a brand of voice and messaging of hearing you say on previous interviews that you like to push it as much as you can, and you know how do you work out how far you can push it, you know how do you sort of coordinate across the three of you that work in digital, how do you kind of coordinate together so that you got the same brand voices coming
Yeah, I think for the most part is myself and the coordinator who are actually are doing the publishing, we have a brand voice to act as kind of something that perks up a lot of people when I talk about it. It was actually an idea for our cheap marketing officer who got it from the previous employer, and it’s a really expansive document that outlines what kind of voice we wanna have and that goes into all kind of things that is do’s and don’ts that we learned from trial and error, it build up to the kind of voice we wanna have based on other brand voices that we really like, either that’s celebrities or different brands or whatever, it’s a really expensive document that we reference quite a bit in terms of what we wanna do. But I think in terms of how far to push it, we learned in the past 5 years on this job, that it’s kind of difficult to predict what is gonna go over well and what isn’t internally, but we are gaining knowledge with every single mistake we make, and sometimes you have to make the mistake to know that it is a mistake. And with most cases where we push it, you know if it is something that it is a little tense it’s usually because either we didn’t know about it or we didn’t think it in the way that other people thought of it. So, I think a lot of our learning comes from trial and error, we typically don’t make the same mistake more than once, but we always wanna push the envelope, in terms of what we can do because we know fans appreciate that, and in the end of the day fans are the number one target.

If you do end up crossing a line and you know, you’re taking it too far or make some mistake or maybe the public reaction isn’t what you wanted to be. Um. How do you deal with that? Is it a case that you remove the post like it never happened or do you just put your hands up and say: “Yeah we made a mistake” or what would you say it’s the best way of dealing with it?
Yeah you know fortunately I don’t believe in my five seasons any mistake we’ve made has resulted in public outcry or a negative public reaction I think most of the mistakes we make are kind of internal disagreement or whatnot but I think in general you see brands kind of apologize for things all the time on social but to me there’s no reason to hide it. I think you own it, you say: “Hey, look, we’ve messed this up, we’re sorry”. To me that’s a lot more authentic than deleting a post pretending it didn’t happened, because you know the second you post something there’s already a hundred screenshots of it out there and it’s already everywhere so trying to hide it it’s not going to be any good but I think owning it I think people respect that you make mistakes and they know that nobody’s perfect and you move on.

On that note, how much control does the actual NBA have in terms of the way franchises are allowed to, you know deal with their accounts and stuff, do they have input, do they provide guidelines, are they a part of the survival* strategy, we’ll say are they gonna push this? Can you push this? Like how does it kind of work with the actual league?
Yeah, the NBA’s terrific. Their digital team is amazing. We have a lot of creative freedom to take control of our accounts which is how I think should be. NBA barely gets in the way. There are some guidelines to what we can and can’t do, just typical things that you would obviously respect and nothing that certainly ridiculous by any means. The NBA has a league-wide initiative, they usually encourage all teams to post about it but it’s not mandatory by any means. We typically obliged just because what’s good for the league it’s good for us obviously and vice versa.
They give us a lot of creative freedom, a lot more creative freedom than other sports leagues here and we’re really really fortunate to be working with a league that’s so open and creative and innovative in that way and understanding what the teams are trying to do.

Do they do any type of sit down meeting of all the digital content managers and discuss things that are working for them that could work for you and do sort of little workshops sessions like that?
Absolutely. Twice annually the league needs to go over best practices league-wide, future league initiatives and things like that. Obviously digital is a huge part of these meetings. Usually digital thrives in those meeting conferences if you will. We all get together a couple times a year. In addition, we have weekly calls on the digital side to talk about digital fresh practices, what’s important and what’s not. Occasionally the league will do a specific workshop where they’ll bring a team who did a great piece of content or had a really big social media success and then the team can actually talk about what went well, what didn’t. So, yes, the league is very good about putting those successes in front of us and allowing us to learn from that and getting us all to talk. In addition, we have a really good relationship with our colleagues across the league. I know most of my counterparts and most of the teams. We all talk. We’re all rooting for each other. We all share ideas, and are very open, even outside the league calls and meetings so it’s a really good relationship and obviously, we learn a lot and get a lot of information from other teams who are doing great stuff.

Some of the most viral videos we’ve seen from different teams and arenas over the last couple of years have actually been non-basketball moments, stuff from the crowd, the kiss cam, the dance cam. I was looking at your website and I saw your top five most viewed videos on Facebook from this season and obviously, a lot of them are from the arena action, the kiss cam video had millions and millions of views. How much of that is orchestrated by the social team and you sitting down and saying “Okay, this would be a really good bit of content, it could do really, really well, compared to actual organic, you know, not set up (content)?
Yeah, I cannot take credit for that. A lot of that stuff to be honest it’s just stuff that happens within a game that we just react to and when it happens we just, we’re ready to post it. I give a lot of credit to our game operation staff for being able to allow those moments happen and orchestrate and coordinate those moments and then our video team is ready to be able to cut those videos and send them to us if something like that would happen. It is kind of crazy how, (you’re exactly right) a lot of those viral moments and whatnot, the game highlights, the moments in between whistles where a fan is acting crazy or doing the dance or we had a couple of those who would blow up this year. It’s just instinctive to know when that moment happens, we know that that stuff will be good to share digitally and get picked up. The mercy of the fans can kind of make those moments happen for us and we’re ready to capitalize when they do.

Great! So, we’ve got some super quick five questions just to finish. So, the first one is: What is your furthest* reaching piece of content and why do you think it did so well?
I think there’s a couple that come to mind. I don’t have the analytics in front of me, I know one that I think it’s actually done the best in terms of reaches with that kiss cam that happened with the beauty and the beast actually where the woman kisses the other guy when her boyfriend left her during kiss cam that one wasn’t a piece of content we produced. The emoji schedule we came out with last year was one that did really well. When Kyle Korver got traded this year we produced a tiled, farewell, Twitter screen grab video. That one I know did really well. What else did we produce? A couple of years ago I got to go back but a bit of hashtags for our All-Star campaign where we did the Justin Timberlake Jimmy Fallon #conversation with two of our players, that one is the one I remember did really well. We have a few that have done pretty well but there’s only ones that come to mind right now.

You must have tools in your stacks to manage your social media and digital content. Are there any particular pieces of software, anything else that you use that you highly recommend?
Yeah, the one that we absolutely take and advantage more than any other is a highlight cutting program, a highlight generator, we actually WSC, I know Snappy TV is another popular one, we actually use a program called WSC and were able to get the highlights from the game in real time, play by play and cut them and post it on social, as well as obviously go back out the words and create highlight package videos and stuff. Obviously, it’s been massive for us. Real highlights in real time have great engagement and I honestly don’t know where we would be without a tool like that because it’s just been a sensational tool for us.

How do you put your face down on top of the trends of social media? And what are the top resources for those wanting to learn?
Yeah, I think I’m pretty big (personally) on Twitter so I follow blogs like SportTechie, Mashable, Buzzfeed, things like that. They do a really good job on keeping us updated with what’s going on the industry. And then also my personal following, my timeline, it’s a bunch of people, a bunch of nerds like me who love the digital space and we’re always talking about it so, those are kind of my resources that I use most often.

Apart from the Hawks, which NBA team is doing the best job on social and why?
I got to give it to my boys over in Sacramento, they do a great job. They are very good at capitalizing a real-time thing and turning that into relevant content for their Instagram. They just do a great job. They’re witty, they’re funny, they’ve got a really talented scheme of producing content very quickly and I really admire what they do. There’s a lot of good teams that I could have chosen.

What is the most underrated or underused social media hack?
Goodness! I don’t know, you’ve put me on the spot with that one!

Any little tips that you found work well and you’ve found other people doing?
One thing that comes to mind, on every Instagram post that we do, because Instagram’s hashtags search is not limited to just the caption, it also searches the comments. So, if you want a whole bunch of hashtags searchable on your post, but you don’t want them to show in your caption because it looks cluttered, funky or whatever, what we always do is that we always create a comment right after we post that has all the hashtags we want searchable so what I’ll do is that I’ll post something and then any brand related hashtags we’ll put in the caption itself. #TrueToAtlanta is one that means a lot and we’ll put that in there but then what I’ll do is actually comment and I’ll put #atl, #atlanta #sports, #basketball, #highlights, #video. What that allows me to do, if someone’s searching a hashtag on Instagram, those hashtags that we put in the comments are actually searchable so our post will come up in that search if somebody’s searching but it won’t look cluttered with all the hashtags within the caption section. If that makes sense, I hope I explained that well.

Yeah (it makes) perfect sense. And then, final question: If you were to give one piece of advice to another basketball team’s social media or digital content manager in terms of things that maybe you don’t see people doing a good job of, or you’d like to see more of…. What piece of advice would you give?
Develop a voice. Be the voice of the fan. It doesn’t have to be all “talk” all of the time or simple. Fans want to be entertained, they want to engage. Certainly, they want to be informed as well but they want authenticity. If you treat your social handles like personality, I think that goes a long way with engagement, it goes a long way with followers and it kind of allows your content to perform better and I think everything else will perform a lot better. We’ve seen that work for us.

I think that’s a perfect place to leave it. Thank you so much for taking the time. I massively appreciate it.
Yeah, no problem! Thanks for having me!