How CBS Sports are Connecting With Readers on Social Media


By   |   August 3rd, 2016   |   Reading time: 8 minutes Digital Journalism, Interviews

We catch up with CBS Sport’s Editorial Director about how his team are reaching new audiences on social media. 

With the Rio Olympics starting this week, we turn our attention to sports publishers, to get a sense of the sites that will be looking to dominate the social conversation throughout Rio 2016.

CBS Sports is one of the leading sports sites online. Our Facebook rankings consistently put CBS in the upper tiers of the most engaged Facebook publishers.

We talked to Editorial Director Eric Kay about his daily routine, how his team is experimenting with video, measuring success, and using NewsWhip Spike.

Hi Eric! What does your daily workflow at CBS Sports look like?

There are probably three core components to each day. Dashboards, chat tools and face-to-face communication. We use dashboards — daily, weekly, monthly — to help keep score of our work and give us opportunities to debrief and we use real-time dashboards to tinker. Each group looks at their previous day’s work to start their day. Everybody has real-time up at all times. If a story isn’t performing as well as it should, we’ll consider ways to re-calibrate the headline, or swapping out the art to find something more effective.

Slack serves as a digital extension of our newsroom. I can’t stress how important having a great chat tool is for teams that are spread across the country. But I’ve found that even as we lean heavily on communication tools, face-to-face meetings with my editors still prove to be some of the most important moments of my day.

We also spend time each day planning. We maintain daily, weekly and monthly content calendars and our constantly reviewing them. The good thing about the sports space is its regimented nature. We know when games are played, and when other key dates occur like trade deadlines and drafts so we plan accordingly around those events.

How important is social media in reaching your audience online every day? What platforms are you active on?

Social platforms are important water coolers given the size of their audiences. To see something we produce inspire somebody so much they decided to share it … what a great job to have to be able to create something that inspires.

We spend time mining the various platforms including Twitter/Vine, Facebook, Instagram and Reddit for buzzing content. We spend a lot of time thinking about how our content will look on social platforms. That means thinking through the headline, the imagery, the synopsis of a story and the accompanying messaging that goes with it from our social team.

Here’s an example of how we’re prioritizing social:

Instead of identifying the quarterback Cam Newton says is better than him in an attempt to be straightforward and search-minded, we mask that player in the headline and synopsis.

That post was one of our most-read stories of the day. The story and accompanying video offered a great examination on the topic of the NFL’s best players. The sports fan got tremendous value by reading our version of the story, but there are countless ways we could’ve framed that that would’ve generated less reader- and viewership.

Are you using social video? If so, how have the different formats and platforms been for your team?

Absolutely. Our social team has been making some hilarious and informative videos.

And the beauty of caption-based video content that plays well on Facebook is it’s actually really beneficial for a lot of our needs.

So there are efficiencies there in that we can make a fun and informative video that plays well out of the gate of a high-interest news event and distribute it throughout not just social platforms, but our website and app as well. That gives us time to produce additional content, whether it be videos with expert analysts, reporters on the scene, highlight packages or other video experiences that meet fans’ needs. Here’s an example of a caption-based Tim Duncan video that was viewed more than 1MM times.

As a rights holder for several sports, we spend a lot of energy and time on one-plays, which are really designed with social platforms in mind. Whereas in the past we’d only have highlights packages from a game (we still have these) after a game concludes, now we also cut individual plays – when rights allow – and distribute them aggressively across platforms. They’re generally pretty raw in order to keep speed in mind since timeliness is so important on social platforms as game action is happening.

Can you give us some examples of stories that you told in a social native way, that really resonated with your audience?

As a national sports site we spend a lot of time curating and organizing the particular sports we cover. We stay close to what’s buzzing each day, exhaustively cover big unfolding stories like Deflategate and create a lot of team-by-team content. We have tremendous writers and editors who spend their time trying to put the content Rubik’s Cube together.

Here’s a great example from last fall of our strong NFL editorial team pumping social platforms, along with our own CBS Sports digital platforms, full of content all the while using those social platforms to generate even more content. And one of the really cool parts was that this event took place in a Thursday Night Football game so we had great highlight footage within each of our stories as well.

If you can recall, it was the infamous Miracle in Motown in which Aaron Rodgers and the Packers ripped the hearts out of the Lions with a Hail Mary touchdown play.

We shared the topic (Hail Mary win) with our things to know messaging, which gave fans a signal that this isn’t going to be your father’s typical inverted pyramid news story. It will be chunky and scanable and while there are a million things you could know about this game, but we’ve gone and distilled it to just 10 fun things.

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And then we started slicing and dicing to fuel the social conversation. We noticed a ton of chatter about how high Aaron Rodgers threw the football so we went and pulled together a post showing fans just how close it was to hitting the facility. We used the LOOK: call to action to tell fans that by clicking, they’d get the answer to the question.

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And this was one of my favorite breakdowns our talented Will Brinson did. We looked at the film of the game moments after the play occurred and noticed just how oddly the Lions were positioned. We were one of the first to share this perspective with fans on social platforms and the post was a hit. Will’s amazing visuals definitely help bring fans in who were trying to make sense of it all.

As a national shop, we do our best work in moments like this. A big event happens and thanks to our knowledgeable and talented sports vertical teams we can swarm around topics and find creative angles to build stories around.

How are you measuring the impact and success of your content online? Referrals, engagements, or a combination? What are the most important metrics for you?

We definitely look at a combination but I spend a lot of time looking at referrals and we’re focusing a lot on repeat visitors with loyalty in mind.

A lot of what we produce isn’t designed to chew up your entire lunch break. Punchy, entertaining/informative articles about trending topics, and thoughtfully done chunky content that’s team-based and easy for fans to find their team’s blurb are two ways in which we gear content for fans’ social feeds. They’re ways for us to signal to fans that we know you’re time-strapped.

We’re not just competing with other sports sites; we’re competing with family photos, political news, Game of Thrones theories and the countless conversations happening in one’s social feed.

How are the CBS Sports team using NewsWhip Spike?

Each of our sports teams has access to Spike and checks the tool multiple times throughout the day. We also utilize the email distribution feature, where we get a series of trending stories delivered to our sports teams’ inboxes.

A great benefit of using Spike is it’s able to pull in so many international sources and content that we can share with a largely domestic audience.

This post about a Messi fan drew in a ton of readership after our team found it buzzing on Spike.

With the Olympics ramping up, Spike will be a great tool to help us to stay in the know with not just Team USA but buzzing moments from countless other countries.

Finally, what advice would you give publishers looking to grow their audience through social media?

I think we have a pretty good model here at CBS Interactive. We have robust, national accounts — CBS Sports, NFLonCBS, SEConCBS — and a deep lineup of team-based social accounts powered by 247Sports.

By having clearly defined accounts we’re able to sharpen our content creation and voice. I think pursuing a sharp focus helps galvanize the operation as a whole.

There’s also a lot to learn by observing others outside your respective space, who, similarly, are vying for audiences’ attention. I love consuming TV show recaps and examining the similarities with game recaps in how they’re written and shared on social accounts. We’re experimenting with more linear storytelling tactics similar to how an entertainment site may recap Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead.

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