How BBC Sport Grew a Facebook Page’s Referrals by Over 10,000%

December 14, 2015

Written by NewsWhip
BBC Sports

A social media lead at BBC Sport tells us how they use social media to reach millions of fans and readers every day. 
What’s it like to manage the social media presence of one of the UK’s biggest sports sites?
We talked to Ian Singleton, Online Assistant Editor at BBC Sport. He’s the day-to-day lead for the social media team at BBC Sport, which has a huge social presence across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more. He told us what’s working, how they decide what to post, and how they boosted their click-throughs.

Can you explain your role at BBC Sport, and what your daily workday looks like?

I am the day-to-day lead for the social media team at BBC Sport. We have 12 social media accounts with total followers of more than 21m. Our core social strategy is as follows:

  • Curate the best content on social media and create shareable content.
  • Enhance our live event coverage, particularly around events of national importance and our broadcast content
  • Increase our reach on social media platforms, to engage with young audiences, and where possible bring them back to the BBC.

In terms of my own workload, the rapid development of social media and digital in general means there is never a dull moment. Thanks to the development of mobile, the public are more connected to the media than ever before but they are a discerning audience with a strong voice and a demand for quality. It is a brilliant time to work in journalism.
I’m usually in the office early to spend some quiet time looking at analytics and our posts from the day before as you have to constantly adapt your tone and style. After that, I will be guiding our social editorial output that day, preparing for upcoming events and broadcasts, liaising with colleagues across the BBC and working on more mid/longer term plans. I sit on the BBC Sport interactive management team so have a role to play there, and I report into BBC Sport’s Digital Development Editor who guides our overall social media strategy and who works closely with the major social media networks.

How important is Facebook and other social networks in reaching audiences for BBC Sport?

Our following on Facebook is 80%-plus under 34, so social media is a key way to reach a younger audience. Because we are a digital publisher and a broadcaster, this has different outcomes for us. However, whichever the platform, a key part of our strategy is bringing people back to the BBC, be it an online piece of content or watching a TV programme.
In an online sense, we find increasing numbers arriving on our mobile content from social, so us guiding that content discovery is important, even when we still attract a high proportion of direct traffic to the BBC website. For TV, short-form shareable video helps promote programmes while we endeavour to steer the social conversation around our biggest shows.

I was interested to read how the Match of the Day Facebook page increased their referrals by 6,000% earlier this year. Can you explain how the team achieved this?

We have had a dedicated social media team at BBC Sport since May 2013 and our initial focus was on growing the reach of our accounts. Last summer, once we had built a sizeable presence on Facebook we conducted some research.
The results backed our editorial intuition by showing the page’s fans, the majority of whom are aged 16-24, wanted the Match of the Day Facebook account to be knowledgeable, cheeky and irreverent, and mirror the tone of the TV presenting team during the lighter moments of our broadcasts. We began to change how we wrote posts but it was a work in progress. We looked deeply at our analytics to refine the style, execution and also guide when to post and how often.
This had a profound effect. In September 2014 we had 35,000 referrals a week from the page. In the equivalent week in September 2015, this figure was 3.7 million. We are very fortunate to have this brand. Match of the Day is one of Britain’s most beloved TV programmes. This is underlined by the fact that, out of the 3.1 million likes on Facebook, almost 1.7 million are in the UK. Out of the Premier League clubs, only Manchester United have more UK fans.

Gary Lineker presents the Match of the Day running order live!
Posted by Match of the Day on Saturday, October 24, 2015

This affection meant that, once we found an authentic tone, the page truly resonated with its fans, particularly as our content could showcase the best of the BBC, be that our coverage of the Premier League, our distinctive global coverage, the best audio clips from Radio 5 Live, or the breadth of our local news sport stories. And that the engagement means we can more effectively promote the programme itself with video clips – including embedded video from select events like the FA Cup – as well as live Facebook Mentions streams with Gary Lineker (we were the first Facebook page outside of the US to use Mentions) and Q&As with pundits.

How do BBC Sport manage their Facebook pages each day? How do the team decide what gets posted, and how are you measuring engagement?

Our team has two key Facebook pages: BBC Sport (8.3m fans) and Match of the Day. The majority of the posts we do are links to BBC online content, and we post multiple times an hour throughout the day. The links could be to sport content, video or audio clips, regional stories, World Service news and news content.
Due to the unique nature of the BBC, we help mainstream audiences to a broad range of sports and events. We will also look to put some native pictures of shareable moments into the page to aid reach as well as short-form video clips. We use the pages to promote broadcast through access to the presenters and pundits through Facebook Mentions and video.
Our Facebook pages are also a really important source of user generated content, the best comments of which are reflected in our distinctive live blog pages, which form a key part of our output – indeed we had 27 authored live blogs on the website during the last weekend in November. In addition we release exclusive clips or action from our rights on the page.
Referrals are a key measure for links, while for native content a combination of reach and engagement is important. Throughout all posts, shares are a vital metric. We’ll also pay particular interest to the people we are engaging and who we are converting to fans of the page. This sits alongside other platforms which are important for us, including Twitter and Instagram, while we have almost 3 million followers on Google+.

How are the BBC Sport team using Spike?

We use Spike, and some other tools, to monitor on trending stories from across the sports world. This can help identify shareable content at an early stage. Another key aspect is how the BBC is performing compared to the wider industry. We use a few tools for this and Spike’s dashboard for shares, likes and comments on Facebook and likes on Instagram helps our wider understanding.


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