COLLEGE PARK, Maryland — NBA team Twitter accounts have tapped into the social zeitgeist in a way that sets them apart from sports franchises in other leagues. That’s not an accident.
A group of social media managers fluent in Internet culture and meme-speak, operating largely independently, have helped set the tone. Capital News Service interviewed five of them to learn how the team accounts are run.
How did you get in charge of running (NBA Team’s) Twitter account?
“I was hired by the 76ers in 2015. Before being hired, I worked for NBC Sports Philadelphia (formerly CSN) as their social media manager and before that I worked / interned at a handful of smaller agencies in Philadelphia,” said Philadelphia 76ers Senior Social Media Manager Kurt Gies.
“I started my career in managing social media and digital channels for a group of local radio stations here in Indianapolis. Then, I moved to Pacers Sports & Entertainment to run social media for Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the WNBA team, Indiana Fever. After a year in that position, I transitioned to Pacers social media, where I’ve been running our accounts for five years,” said Indiana Pacers Director of Digital Marketing Celeste Ballou.
What is it like interacting with another team of Twitter?
“It’s fun – a lot of the NBA social people know each other and there are a lot of great people doing great things around league. Fans always like it when the teams interact.” said Detroit Pistons Social Media Director Doug Wernert.
“Most of our interactions are spur of the moment and have to do with what’s happening in the game. Some teams plan in advance with other team social media managers,” said Gies, of the 76ers.
What is your personal favorite tweet or conversation your account has had?
“It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I think the coolest content that I have captured that went viral was Vince Carter hitting a half-court shot & then doing a between the legs dunk during his pregame warmups when we were on the road. You never know what you’re going to capture and it was cool that I was in the right place at the right time to capture a legend doing that,” said Social Media Producer Amara Baptist for the Memphis Grizzlies when this interview was conducted in April. She now works for the Portland Trail Blazers.
Just a casual between-the-legs dunk. Nbd.
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) March 21, 2017
“My favorite conversation with another team was with Atlanta earlier this season. We had already beat them twice and they tweeted at one of our fans who was excited to get tickets to the game that they should be hawks fans instead. after a few tweets exchanged back and forth I finally sent them a screenshot of the standings (we were first, they were last in the conference). That’s probably the riskiest I’ve been tweeting at another team but it was fun and didn’t go too far,” said Boston Celtics Head of Strategic Marketing Kara Hutchinson.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 10, 2017
“A couple years ago, a lot of the teams got together over the summer and did some fun hashtags and Photoshops around different topics like #NBAMovies or #NBACereals. People really got into that. Just from our account, it would probably be the Jumpman video we created for Andre Drummond for All-Star voting,” said Wernert, of the Pistons.
— Detroit Pistons (@DetroitPistons) January 5, 2016
“It’s been too much to remember in my time here, but I love being the first account to showcase a big play or funny GIF from our guys and seeing it go viral. Victor Oladipo’s head shaking meme this season was one of the favorites from the past year,” said Ballou, of the Pacers.
When Victor Oladipo sees you haven't voted to send him to the All-Star Game.
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 9, 2018
“The best conversation we’ve probably had with another team is when the Sacramento Kings asked to swap picks (we had 1 and they had a much lower pick) and we responded with ‘New phone who dis?’” said Gies, of the 76ers.
.@SacramentoKings New phone who dis
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) May 18, 2016
Which teams do you like conversing with? Which teams do you not converse with?
“Typically I don’t start anything with other teams but if they tweet at me I’ll often respond, so it really isn’t a matter of who I will/won’t respond to, just mostly whether the topic is a good fit and we can maintain our brand voice throughout the conversation,” said Hutchinson, of the Celtics.
“They all have their different styles & it’s really fun to talk to them all, but I personally like to interact with the Jazz, Trail Blazers, Hawks & Kings!” said Baptist formerly of the Grizzlies.
What is the typical process of creating a tweet for your team?
“I’m in charge of all the tweets so I have a content plan for what we want to communicate. I have access to photos and videos and templates and assets from our creative team and then I draft the copy (or use copy if it’s provided) and send it out,” said Wernert, of the Pistons.
“It depends on the situation, but in-game usually it’s going with the flow of what is happening in the game. I’ll live tweet plays, use gifs if one of our players starts to score a lot of points & post video highlights. On non-game days, we have sponsored content & other off-day content that we need to post so I’ll go from there depending on what is on my schedule,” said Baptist, formerly of the Grizzlies.
How is the account typically managed? How many people run the account? How does a tweet get approved?
“The account is mainly me and one other person that also helps with our Web site. There’s not really an approval process – I may run something by our PR staff or Community Relations staff or partnerships team depending on what it is, but for the most part, I’m the approval process,” said Wernert, of the Pistons.
“I am the only one who is running our account currently. I usually do not need to have a tweet approved because I have the trust of the organization. If I do have a question about a tweet that is borderline risky however, I’ll text my boss & get their opinion before I post it,” said Baptist formerly of the Grizzlies.
Does your account have a particular style or personality?
“We just try to be reflective of our brand but have a little more fun with it. As a very traditional/historic brand, one of my main challenges is toying the line between being youthful and fun and a little risky with maintaining our championship-caliber attitude. We won’t do cheesy gimmicks because our audience sees right through that and frankly is more interested in the basketball component than smaller market teams might be dealing with,” said Hutchinson, of the Celtics.
“We’ve traditionally been a bit more straight-laced with less of a personality in past years and that was mainly dictated by our Basketball department. With changes in the front office in the past year, we’ve been able to open up and have a bit more fun, which is the whole point of social media. We use our account to share that of our midwestern pride, embracing the underdog persona, and toe the line of being sarcastic/playful. We know there are teams that are far more edgy than us, but that’s not the persona that we’re seeking for the Pacers,” said Ballou, of the Pacers.
How do you think the culture of NBA Twitter has evolved in the last few years? Does how other teams act impact how your account acts?
“It’s almost become a culture in itself, constantly pushing the envelope and finding new ways to keep it fresh and interesting. I always am looking at other teams to see what they’re doing that’s new that we could consider adopting or looking for ideas on ways to improve what we’re already doing,” said Hutchinson, of the Celtics.
“The culture of NBA Twitter has evolved so much within the last few years. It is the leader in how people find out information about the team, what happened in a game & you can always count on teams to be the first to comment on a trending topic with something witty. It will only continue to grow as technology changes & evolves,” said Baptist formerly of the Grizzlies.
“The shift has gone from live tweeting play by play to being more of a second screen or the feeling of watching the game with a fellow fan. We still post top highlights but we’ve moved away from play-by-play on our Twitter account. We definitely watch others teams to see what kind of content or even just copy is working for them and see where we can use it ourselves. We also get daily reports with rankings and interactions across social channels so we can see how we’re performing, compared to teams across the league,” said Ballou for the Pacers.
What do you think makes the NBA Twitter community so fun and popular?
“It doesn’t take itself too seriously. The teams have fun with it and try to relate to their fan base on personal levels. I like adopting the voice of the fan as the voice of the team and I think that helps keep the community so fun and popular,” said Hutchinson, of the Celtics.
“It seems like fans of the NBA and the players themselves are definitely the most vocal on social media, so when you’re watching a game & tweeting about it, it feels like you are with a bunch of your friends at a sports bar watching it together. Fans really feel like they are a part of the conversation & Twitter gives them a direct way to contact their favorite teams & athletes,” said Baptist formerly of the Grizzlies.
Does how your team performs impact how you tweet?
“In some aspects, definitely. Being self-aware is a big part of social media and while there’s things to highlight during poor performances, over-tweeting could and usual does receive backlash from followers,” said Gies, of the 76ers.
“Certainly. There will be subtle differences between how we tweet a huge loss, a narrow win, to a come-from-behind victory. The tone will be a bit different if we’re on a 6-game losing streak compared to a win streak. Sometimes, our job is to give fans hope or remind them why they’re fans of the team. Sometimes we have to acknowledge that the team didn’t meet expectations, and other times we have a different kind of confidence and build our fan base even further by highlighting things that are going really well,” said Ballou, of the Pacers.
How does tweeting change in-season versus out-of-season?
“Without the games, the focus goes more to the draft, free agency, Summer League and any other moves we might make. We don’t have as much access to players so we have to look for other ways to tell our story,” said Wernert, of the Pistons.
“With no games in the offseason, we need to come up with compelling content that our fans will enjoy that is outside of the typical live tweeting of games. During the season there is constant content every day i.e. game highlights, game previews & recaps, practice content, twitter takeovers etc. We have a lot more access to do things with players during the season as well,” said Baptist formerly of the Grizzlies.
What are your plans for the future of your account?
“At this point we just want to make sure we’re constantly looking ahead and keeping the account fun and light. We’re going through a transition internally this year/in the next few years on really forming a voice/identity, something organizationally we didn’t put much of a focus on previously,” said Hutchinson, of the Celtics.
“We definitely think we’ll push a more playful attitude as we continue. This season was the first step for us, and we look to further establish our voice while also creating new and unique content that our fans may not even expect. We have the greatest access to our players and I hope to continue to find fun angles to share their stories and personalities with our fans,” said Ballou, of the Pacers.