For the Chicago Bulls, remembering the glory days does not just stop at ESPN’s “The Last Dance.” While the documentary series is in the rearview mirror, the team is continuing to honor its past successes across its social media platforms.
While the coronavirus pandemic put a pause on the NBA season in mid-March, Bulls Manager of Digital Content Joe Pinchin says that this gave the team a chance to transition to nostalgia content. Refocusing the team’s social media strategy toward that direction paid dividends when ESPN moved the date of the highly anticipated “Last Dance” series from X to Y.
“It was super fortunate for us to then lead right into a lot of key dates in the Bulls’ history in the recent weeks,” he said.
“The Last Dance” was a slam dunk across the board. ESPN averaged 5.6 million United States viewers across the 10-episode series, ranking as 10 of the 11 most-watched telecasts amongst the 18-34 demographic since mid-March.
On social media, “The Last Dance” was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter for five straight Sundays, where the social conversation on a per-episode basis was higher than any other TV series in 2020.
“The Last Dance” also drove the Bulls to capitalize on its national attention creatively. It paved the way for the team to publish more content on Bulls Archive, the NBA’s first team archive-focused social media account. Following the series debut, Bulls Archive grew its Instagram following by 44%; by the finale, it increased its following by 50% overall, which currently stands at more than 87,500 followers.
Across the @chicagobulls’ Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter handles, the club drew 366 million impressions, 55 million video views, and 900,000 shares on Last Dance-related content, including Facebook and Instagram shares as well as Twitter retweets. These statistics are drawn from April 15 – four days before the series premiere – to May 24, one week following the final episode.
From a social media standpoint, the Bulls have continued to revert back to nostalgia-themed posts, Pinchin said.
“We’re trying to continue to allow people to enjoy that while also locked down, and there’s no basketball going on, but also reigniting that interest that they have for this exciting young team,” he added.
Although “The Last Dance” is over, Pinchin and his colleagues – Bulls digital content coordinators Kamil Strycharz and Nikko Tan – are still providing never-before-seen content that resonated with fans during the docuseries.
Whether the subjects are Bulls legends of new or old, age is playing no factor in the Bulls’ digital posts. Bulls Archive’s post on May 28 is two parts: a still photo of former star Kirk Hinrich and a video of him running down a loose ball during a 2014 contest. The one before that? A picture of Michael Jordan – with Luc Longley and Scottie Pippen – arguing with a referee during the 1996 season.
“For the most part, we’re staying true to what our strategy is in terms of showcasing these never-before-seen photos,” Strycharz said. “But also, we’re experimenting with different forms of content where you can probably see as of late; we’re resorting back to some more modern-day players.”
Another emerging part of the Bulls’ throwback content is GIFs. On GIPHY, the GIF-making and sharing website that was recently bought by Facebook for $400 million, the Bulls’ digital team worked with their creative services department to create custom-made, “Last Dance” GIFs. One GIF of Michael Jordan celebrating generated more than 100 million views in one week alone. Another GIF featuring Rodman garnered more than 18 million views and is only a handful of customized GIFs that the Bulls made around “The Last Dance.”
The Bulls also utilized Tenor to turn their archived video footage into interactive GIFs. Working in tandem with the team’s internal video department, two GIFs – both including Jordan and Rodman – surpassed 100 million views.
Alongside their GIFs and archived photos, the Bulls have looked elsewhere for social media inspiration. Luka Dukich, the team’s director of digital content, has had a close relationship with Dino Tomic, an artist with more than one million followers on both Facebook and Instagram.
During “The Last Dance,” Tomic worked with the Bulls on recreating Jordan, Pippen, and Rodman as cartoon characters. Each player had their own individual social media posts with nine different variations of their cartoon figures. Despite its stark differences from other Bulls content, the cartoon posts are of three of the team’s top five most-liked Instagram posts during “The Last Dance,” with each accumulating more than 2.5 million impressions on the platform.
This focus of diverse content – from GIFs to cartoons – is evidence of the Bulls embracing variety during and after “The Last Dance.”
“It’s a mix of nostalgia, highlights, graphics, and I think we’re able to give any type of fan content that they could enjoy,” he said.
Now with “The Last Dance” in the past, the Bulls’ attention is slowly getting back toward live basketball. Recently, both the NBA’s board of governors and the players’ union approved plans for a 22-team, eight-game wrap-up to the regular season at Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex near Orlando that would begin in July.
As they begin to prepare for the return of NBA action, Pinchin, Strycharz, and Tan will still be looking to Bulls faithful to help guide their social media approach. Recent campaigns have seen fans be invited to share their thoughts on different key moments surrounding the Bulls’ history, helping determine the content they enjoy the most.
“That was super educational for us to test and see what worked and didn’t,” Pinchin said. “We are now looking at new ways to allow our fans to interact with each other in that community of Bulls fandom in a digital sense whilst we don’t have live sport happening in person.”