A few years ago I took a vacation to Cabo. It was beautiful and relaxing…except that every time I tried to relax on the beach and enjoy my surroundings, somebody wanted to interrupt the experience and sell me something. Sombreros. Ice cream. Water sport activities. Colorful souvenirs. Beach blankets. And you know what? It was frustrating. It wasn’t the experience I had hoped for, and it’s one I’d prefer not to repeat.

Do you realize that same type of thing is happening to consumers every day when it comes to online advertising?

There are certain types of digital ads that are like those beach vendors. Instead of displaying their wares in an enticing way and allowing consumers to come to them (like the nice locals I actually did buy something from in Cabo), these ads get right in the consumer’s face and make it difficult for them to do whatever they were trying to do online.

Since advertising money supports more than just businesses (think social connections, valuable free content and journalism), there’s a group called the Coalition for Better Ads that has developed a set of Better Ad Standards to try to improve consumers’ experience of online advertising.

Here are the types of digital ads the Coalition’s research revealed as the most intrusive and disruptive to consumers:

This month, Google Chrome is rolling out an initiative to improve their user experience based on the initial Better Ad Standards. That means they’ll warn sites that display these types of ads and block ads on those sites if their concerns aren’t addressed. And Google isn’t the only one taking action – you can expect to see others following suit.

So what does this mean for you? Basically, treat consumers the way you would want to be treated. Be considerate of the experience they’re trying to have. Ensure that your digital advertising strategy is focused on adding value for consumers and becoming part of their experience rather than interrupting it. Think about what’s useful and relevant to them, then offer it in a way that’s respectful.

Just when you thought you knew what content performed well on Facebook, the social media giant is shaking things up. In early January, Facebook announced a reform to their algorithm that will make organic reach more difficult for businesses while improving the Facebook experience for consumers.

The adjusted algorithm prioritizes “high-quality posts” or posts that they believe people want to see. That means content from friends, family, and groups that encourages interaction between people will perform better, and posts from businesses, brands and media will be held to the same standard. Just getting likes on a post will no longer be enough to grow its reach; now brands have to get followers commenting and re-posting in order to build a greater brand awareness.

Now that they’ve changed the rules, marketers have to change how we play the game. But, you may be wondering, how exactly do you do that?

The “quick fix” answer: pay to play. Now that it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for marketing content to be seen, we will likely see a rise in the use of promoted posts. The problem here, however, is that you have to convince your higher-ups that social media is essential for brand awareness and, even more so, that these posts will give you a return on your investment. It also means rethinking what little budget you do have for social media marketing and getting even more strategic with your targeting and placement. Continuously evaluating and adjusting your campaign performance and spend will help you respond to this algorithm, but it’s something you should be doing anyway, and it’s not going to be enough on its own.

The more strategic answer: get better at posting content that inspires people to interact with you, and don’t be shy about asking fans to follow you on Facebook. That means consistent creative engagement with the small audiences you can reach. To Facebook, “meaningful interaction” means having a conversation; the more comments you can get, the better off you’ll be.

So what can you do to start conversations? Sports teams have some of the most loyal fan bases around, so there is hardly a limit to the conversation. Create a poll on Twitter so your followers can vote on their favorite player moment from last week’s game. You can also encourage them to post gameday photos or videos of their own using your team or university hashtags. Think about what you, as a fan, would want to talk about on social media and create content that facilitates that discussion.

Do you have new players or coaches? Introduce them to your followers. Use Facebook and Instagram to host live events when key individuals can sit down and answer questions from fans. Make sure that you’re creating a situation where your fans feel welcomed to talk to you as well each other.

Another smart approach is to make sure you’re aware of what’s going on locally and piggyback on current events, activities, and topics. As a sports team, this is one of your easiest methods for drawing engagement. You can use your social media platforms to host contests and giveaways for team merchandise and tickets to upcoming games. Even if there’s an event coming up that has nothing to do with your team, you can put a unique spin on it to make it relevant to your followers. Something as simple as asking your fans to come out and participate with the team in a charity event at the university is a great way to gain some good publicity.

Just be careful to keep your content and comments natural. Sharing something and inviting others to share back is appropriate social behavior; including things like “COMMENT on this post!!” makes you seem insincere and reeks of self-interest. Nobody likes making forced conversation in real life, so don’t expect them to enjoy it on social media either.

One thing that’s constant in the realm of social media is change, so don’t let things like Facebook’s latest algorithm adjustment stress you out. Look at it as an opportunity to become a smarter, more strategic marketer. Then look at the other social media channels you’re using and think about how you can improve your approach on those channels before another algorithm change comes along. By acting now, you can build a better knowledge base of what it takes to succeed on all of the social platforms you’re using and come up with your own creative ways to engage your fans.

#ExOps18 is in the books and by all indications, it was a rousing success. Huge thanks goes out to Brad Wurthman, Ryan Peck, Chris Ferris and Daniel Veale for traveling to Norman, spending a couple days with us and contributing great information to the discussion. Thanks also goes out to everyone who joined remotely. We were excited to see that people from the industry were tuning in, asking questions and participating in the discussion. We had a great time, learned a lot and have a lot of notes on ways to make #ExOps19 even more engaging and valuable for everyone.

We covered a number of topics during our day-and-a-half of discussions. You can watch it all for yourself on the Old Hat Facebook page or you can simply read my recap below.

An Unconventional Look at How to Drive Attendance
We kicked things off on Thursday morning with a private presentation I've developed that addresses what I see as a new way looking at collegiate athletics marketing. The group in the room served as my test audience. I do a number of speaking engagements in the spring, and this will be a topic I cover when visiting with athletics marketing groups. In my opinion, we should take a much different approach if we want to fill our stadiums and arenas. In this presentation, I outline what I believe is that approach. Be on the lookout for a webinar of this presentation coming soon.

Major in the Majors
Next up, we had Brad Wurthman of Virginia Tech walk us through a presentation called "Major in the Majors" where he outlined steps he feels we should be taking to focus on the things that truly matter. Brad pointed out that it's difficult to not get bogged down in the minutia and lose sight of the majors, or the big things we actually should be paying attention to. Brad asked questions like, "What's your why?" and "What are we chasing?" and also laid down some golden wisdom with comments like, "If you can't measure it, you can't manage it," and my personal favorite, "We don't want our staff to do more, we want them to do different." Check out his presentation slides here, but I also highly recommend you follow along by listening to the Facebook video feed for a more valuable experience hearing it directly from Brad. 

Roundtable Discussion
After Brad's presentation, Chris Ferris of Colorado State led a discussion on various external operations topics. One strong area of focus was that of student attendance. Everyone felt strongly that despite student attendance being a non-factor in direct revenue generation, there are ancillary benefits that cause indirect increases in revenue. The most obvious of those is the effect students have on the overall gameday experience. Games are more exciting and more fun if the students are there. That, paired with the idea that students are your future season ticket holders and donors, brought us to the conclusion that when the old fans are complaining about the loud music and song selection, but your students love it, you err on the side of pleasing the students. Those die-hard older fans aren't going to stop coming because of the music, but your students won't turn into die-hard fans if you don't give them a great experience.

Effects of the New Tax Code on Fundraising
After a lunch break, we came back to another roundtable discussion led by Ryan Peck of North Texas. We went through what the old code states about tax-deductible gifts and what the new code says. We also talked through a number of things different athletic departments have done to try to prepare for the unknown, but "the unknown" was really where we landed on this topic. The fact is, no one really knows how, or if, the new tax code is going to affect the industry. After some initial panic toward the end of 2017, most of the people at the table agreed that it might not be a major issue. Toward the end of this discussion, we also touched on the topic of data analytics, predictive analysis, look-alike modeling and marketing automation.

Virginia Tech Ticket Sales Strategic Planning Session
Having spent the past few hours in discussion, we turned the live-stream off to get our hands dirty with a little strategic planning for Hokies football and men's basketball. Due to the proprietary nature of both the client information being shared, along with wanting to keep our process for making strategic marketing recommendations under wraps, we didn't broadcast this part to the masses. However, I can tell you that ahead of time, Brad Wurthman gave us a goal he's hoping to achieve: increase non-season ticket sales for football and men's basketball. We dug through the data gathered from surveys we'd conducted, talked through some of the issues Va Tech is facing, and looked at census data and historical sales information before calling it a day. This part of the process was all about information gathering. We haven't completed our strategic plan yet, but we will be doing so in the coming weeks and delivering that to Va Tech with a full list of recommendations to help them achieve that goal in a targeted and strategic manner.

2018 Digital Marketing Trends
We kicked things off on Day 2 with a live-streamed presentation from Old Hat's Director of Web/Digital, Kevin Kelly, on the topic of web and digital trends for 2018. Kevin shared some great statistics on the impact of video engagement vs. the traditional means of communicating on social media. Some of those stats:

- 4 times as many consumers would rather watch a video vs reading
- 1 in 4 consumers lose interest in product if there's no video about that product
- 4 in 5 consumers say video of how a product works is important in decision to buy
- 95% of a message is retained when watched in video vs. 10% when reading

One idea that was thrown out as a result of this is that maybe instead of having our internal video production crews focus so heavily on high-impact, emotionally driven videos, we should ask them to produce more informational videos that actually communicate a message about our product.

Other topics that were covered are too many to name, but I'll be asking Kevin to develop this into a webinar in the spring - so stay tuned for that. There's some great information that can help us better engage with our fans.

Responding to a Changing Industry
For the final segment of #ExOps18, we turned off the live stream and talked through ways Old Hat can better serve the industry. When I started Old Hat 14 years ago, we were a traditional creative production shop, and we were selling a service the industry was already buying and knew it needed. Old Hat just offered a better version of it at a competitive price. However, as I've seen the industry shift, I've realized the need for our marketing to be much more strategic. Therefore, we developed a wide range of strategic marketing services that include data collection, analysis and strategic recommendations that can help an athletics organization identify who specifically to target, where to find them, how to message to them and how to measure the results. Unlike posters, videos and schedule cards, this list of services is not one the industry already knows it needs. During this discussion, we talked through ways of shifting the industry's perception on what marketing should look like and how to convince athletic departments to look at the product they're selling the same way other industries view their own products and services. That is through doing research, developing insight into who to reach and how to reach them and then rolling out a strategic marketing message in the right ways to the right people.

Overall, it was one of the most fun and most valuable day-and-a-halves in my entire career. Outside the walls of that conference room, we ate a lot of great food, learned a lot about each other and enjoyed the company of some very progressive and forward-thinking minds in collegiate athletics. There were so many people that came together behind-the-scenes to make this a reality, and my sincere gratitude goes out to all of them. We can't wait to do it again next year.

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