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Timbers’ Kayla Knapp on Building a Social Voice From the Ground Up

After spending five years at FOX Sports, Kayla Knapp moved to Portland where she was handed the keys to the social accounts of the Timbers and Thorns.

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Kayla Knapp originally headed to Los Angeles in search of sunshine and a job in sports.

She got the sunshine right away and the opportunities followed — first serving as a writer for LA Galaxy Confidential, then as a staff writer for Soccer By Ives, and then finally as a digital video producer for FOX Sports. Before jumping into her role at FOX Sports, she also founded Women United FC, a website that was created as a space for female fans of soccer to gather and discuss the game.

A graduate of Ithaca College, Knapp was able to apply what she had learned as a journalism major to her digital and social roles. After spending five years with FOX Sports, Knapp joined the Portland Timbers and Thorns as their senior manager of social content and strategy, a title she has held for closing in on two years.

In today’s episode, Knapp takes you through how she convinced her boss at FOX Sports to get rid of the outside company running its social media to let her do it, why she decided to move her whole life to Portland to join the Timbers, and why her passion for content is rooted in storytelling.

Edited highlights appear below:

On Her Time at FOX Sports (13:58)

“After graduation, I moved out to Los Angeles in search of the sun and a job in sports. After a couple of years, I ended up at FOX Sports Digital, working specifically at FOX soccer. My initial role there was just working as an editor for foxsoccer.com, my first big foray into social in the first few months. When I came in, they had hired an outside company to run all their social media. I did not think they were doing a very good job and I thought we were paying them way too much money to do it.”

“It took about a month or so to convince him and eventually my role expanded into running all of our social media accounts. I was there for five years and had my hand in everything.”

On Transitioning from Media to Team Side (18:28)

“It’s been an interesting transition to go from the media side to the team side. For me, what’s most important is storytelling. I felt like working on the media side, we were telling the stories, but we were just regurgitating news we found other places. What’s most important for me is storytelling. Even before the Timbers and Thorns reached out, I had wanted to move to the team side. I had already been looking at positions for six to eight months.”

“The biggest difference to me is having the access to the players, the teams, the fans and the community. It’s a direct line.”

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On Her First Order of Business at the Timbers (21:14)

We had a lot of accounts up and running but there wasn’t a concrete voice for any of it. It was very PR and very stiff and the club wanted to move away from that.”

“The very first thing I did was reach out to fans in the community who were super involved with the team that wanted to help me learn about the club. I felt like it was super important for me to understand the fans, understand their wants and their needs, but also their traditions and their inside jokes.”

“There was so much learning for me in the first six months, kind of across the board, to be able to craft what I felt like was the right voice for both teams. It wasn’t just creating the Timbers’ voice, it was the Thorns too.

OTHER EPISODES: Cowboys’ Taylor Stern on the Digital Strategy of America’s Team

On Changing Strategy (31:49)

“This year is my second full season. 2017 was a lot of tinkering and trying things out and seeing what voice fit and worked. 2018 was about refining the voice and the strategy and 2019 is about what can we do from the content side to step it up even more than we did last year.”

“As far as the voice and the strategy goes, that’s kind of largely stayed the same. It’s more about how do we just keep making our content better, how do we serve our fans better and how do we assert ourselves in the digital space a little bit more.”

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Twitter’s Will Exline on the Platform’s Evolving Place Within Sports

Twitter’s Will Exline joins the pod to discuss his favorite team accounts on Twitter, areas of improvement for sports commentary on the platform and more.

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Due to the real-time nature of the platform, Twitter continues to be a major part of the sports landscape more than a decade after its launch. By working teams and brands all over the industry, Will Exline has been a driving force behind Twitter’s constant presence in the sports and digital world.

A graduate of Long Beach State and the University of San Francisco, Exline spent nearly a decade in sports working with a variety of teams and brands including Fox Sports, Top Drawer Soccer and Advanced Soccer Media prior to joining Twitter in 2016.

Now Sports Partnerships Manager at Twitter, Exline joins the pod to discuss his favorite team accounts on Twitter, areas of improvement for sports commentary on the platform and much more.

Edited highlights appear below:

On his career stops prior to Twitter, including with Fox Sports and Advanced Soccer Media (11:51)

“Throughout your career it’s important to take little pieces, or even big pieces, of every stop you go through. Going all the way back to when I was with the startup, you need to be flexible and willing to take on pretty much anything that comes across, like not being too big for any one job or one task. That’s something that I still try to hold onto today. With Fox Sports, being that big of a company, it can be pretty difficult to get ideas past the higher-ups or get approval. So you really need to be good about selling your ideas and really push what you believe in, which is gonna help you for any role down the road.”

SEE MORE: Midnight Oil’s Jack Appleby on Digital Lessons From His Extensive Career

On best practices for utilizing Twitter from a team perspective (13:18)

“Twitter is very much live… the magic of it is the real-time nature. So as you’re watching a game or an event unfold or even something like NBA Drafts, just being able to fall in real time to see both concept from the teams — but then everything they pull in from the reporters — that’s kind of the sweet spot of it. For teams that do really well, I think it’s a combination of having short impactful content, really eye-catching images or videos and… being conversational. Not necessarily like full-on snark all the time… but just being able to speak in the language of the Internet, I guess, where it’s not just a RSS feed or a play by play of the game.

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On observing Twitter’s evolution over the years (22:41)

“It’s funny, when I first joined the platform, I followed a bunch of athletes. But one of my teachers a couple of months later said you need to follow sports business personalities and the writers. And that was kind of like a light bulb. It’s almost like your personal newspaper. That was kind of Phase One and then it evolved as more folks got on there into almost like a networking [tool].

There were a lot of Twitter chats and [I] met a lot of people through there and some I’m still in touch with today… From there, I think when you started seeing media forward or auto-expanded images, I think that was the next step. Like, okay, now this is becoming a rich media platform and then video on the platform. And then a few years ago when live started to kick in. So it has really evolved from just kind of an RSS feed-fashion and now it’s really like a conversational place for teams and for folks in the sports world beyond just like getting content out there.”

SEE MORE: Annie Finberg of The Atlanta Hawks on Growing As A Digital Pro

Why he loves working at Twitter and how it helped him the sports industry differently (29:24)

“Coming out of school, the very first idea was I need to work for a team. [I thought] I have to get in the front office  That’s the only route into sports. Then, obviously, over time your eyes start to open and see there are different paths that could be everything from working for a social platform like Twitter or working for a brand like a American Express… working for an agency. There are so many different roads to take.”

“As you can imagine, most of the Silicon Valley is very laid-back, but one of my favorite things about it is just how entrepreneurial it is, where it doesn’t matter if you’re a senior vice presidents or if you’re an intern or coordinator. If you have a really good idea, it can scale across the entire organization or across the entire team. Like there’s not a limit on what you can put out or how you can make an impact. [Twitter is] really big on making sure that we’re getting the best ideas from everywhere.”

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Midnight Oil’s Jack Appleby on Digital Lessons From His Extensive Career

Jack Appleby joins the Social on the Sidelines crew to chat about lessons in digital media from a productive career to date with several renowned agencies.

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From video games to hit television shows to Beats By Dre, Jack Appleby has created and executed digital campaigns for some of the biggest brands in entertainment. A manager of bands in his younger days, Appleby moved into the digital and social world shortly after his college graduation.

Appleby spent over five years with Ayzenberg Group before moving on to Laundry Service and then Petrol Advertising before shifting to his current job at the end of 2018. In that time, Appleby led the content and social engagement strategy for the sitcom “Community”, video games like “Injustice: Gods Among Us” and “Minecraft”, and worked on activations brands like GameStop and Nexon. Through it all, Appleby has prided himself on pushing the envelope and being willing to try new things in as digital pro.

Currently the Director of Creative Strategy at Midnight Oil, Appleby chats about his observations on the current digital landscape and gaining experience within the agency space. Plus, the group compares the differences and similarities of working within sports versus other entertainment properties.

Edited highlights appear below:

On spending a significant portion of his career within video games (15:50)

“Gaming clients really understand the need for content and to reach existing communities outside communities and use paid media budgets to create content for potential fans. It’s funny, the year or two I spent outside of gaming, I came sprinting back because I was having to justify my content budgets elsewhere. Whereas in gaming it’s like no, this is the most important thing. What are we going to make to promote this thing? So we’ve got to do some really fun, crazy stuff. ”

Advice for managing social teams (27:10)

“It’s hard to remember sometimes that this social media is still in its infancy. We’re what, a decade into paid social media budgets? … My thing is just always be very open to experimentation. Something I’ve preached with every team I’ve worked with is we’ve got to be willing to try stuff. We have to be willing to mess up. Not on a drastic scale, but if we’re not willing to experiment, we’re going to get stuck in a rut and we’re going to do very safe stuff that at some point will stop moving the needle.”

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On measuring success in social and digital (34:08)

“At the end of the day there’s going to be some mixture of engagement followers even though it’s kind of not great to think that way…In gaming, one of the key metrics is preorders how many people are buying the game before it even comes out. It honestly becomes a mixture of things throughout every campaign… I’ve also worked on campaigns where it was really just about awareness, um, which can mean a lot of things…We want to align very clearly with our client’s business plans. We want to get our clients promoted because we’re helping them accomplish their boss’ business goals.”

Advice for people looking to get into the industry (39:38)

“Do as much as you can on your own outside before you get the job. One of the unfair realities of a lot of social media jobs is they expect you to have years of experience for entry-level positions. I have seen social media internships that expect experience, which is insanely frustrating. But it is a reality. If you want to get into the space, you need to be fairly educated before you even start. The good news is there’s a lot of really wonderful ways to do that. To not use Twitter to both build connections and to learn, you’re just missing out on like just completely like free career growth in many ways.”

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Annie Finberg of The Atlanta Hawks on Growing As A Digital Pro

On this episode of Social on the Sidelines, we chat with Annie Finberg: senior coordinator of digital content with the Atlanta Hawks and host of the Winging It podcast on The Ringer.

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Social managers often have to be multi-talented, but Annie Finberg takes it to another level.  She’s been an NFL cheerleader, she taught English in Asia, and now she’s the senior coordinator of digital content with the Atlanta Hawks.

After graduating from Kansas, Finberg interned with the Orlando Magic in their social media department. About a year later, she landed a full-time role with the Hawks, where she is now in her third season. Finberg also hosts the Winging It podcast alongside Kent Bazemore and Vince Carter on The Ringer.

In today’s episode, Finberg discusses her unique position working both in the NBA and with The Ringer, growing as a professional within digital media, the challenges of being a woman in sports and keeping pace with how fast the sports world moves.

Edited highlights appear below:

How the Winging It podcast came to be (15:47):

“I’ve always had kind of another career goal, which is to get into broadcasting, whether that’s a pregame show or doing sidelines. So anything that I can do to perfect that craft along the way is something I’ve tried to do. The podcast actually started last year with Kent Bazemore and Mike Muscala, and we were part of the Road Trippin’ gang. Channing [Frye] and Allie [Clifton] were a big help to us in getting that all set up, and Uninterrupted was great. It was a really great learning experience for us. Then after that we brought Vince on and just with kind of our restrictions and stuff that we had, we went with The Ringer, and they’ve been great so far. I couldn’t say more great things about them. Bill Simmons is obviously quite opinionated, but he is a great boss, and he’s welcomed us in with open arms, and we’ve really enjoyed it so far.”

On continuously growing in a constantly changing digital landscape (18:26):

“First of all, I have to credit Jaryd Wilson for pretty much everything I know, who I know was a guest on this podcast as well. Jared took a chance on me [by] hiring me to come into the Hawks because that was my first full-time job. The space has changed not as much as you would think over three years as I’m sure you guys both know. I think that Jaryd was kind of one of the pioneers of the sarcastic, witty personalities [on social]. I learned as much of that as I could from him, but I think that the social space has just grown into bigger and better content and higher quality. You can’t just really post a Snapchat warm-up video of layup lines anymore. People are doing so much more. Every time you got to outdo yourself with better equipment, better access, all that.”

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Advice for people struggling to get their foot into the door (26:59):

“Patience is key. We have a part-time position [at the Hawks] and we’ve had people come in and out of that and they have a hard time finding a full-time gig outside of that. You get frustrated and impatient and maybe you even apply for jobs you don’t really want just because you’re desperate to have one. Which, I understand. You got to pay the bills, but I think you have to be patient and be ready for whatever moment it is that’s prepared for you. I think everything happens for a reason, and your next break is just around the corner. I think a lot of people tend to give up before they get that break or don’t have faith enough in themselves to continue to push. Then once you’re in, it’s all about making connections.”

Favorite part of the job (31:13):

“My favorite part about working in the social space is just being there to experience and capture these small moments that people might not see unless they’re at the game sitting courtside, whether that’s a pregame dunk or Vince Carter and Dwayne Wade exchanging jerseys and being able to experience that moment and then also share it with the fans. I know that before I came to the Hawks, they had some live coverage like that but not a ton. So I kind of made that my goal to get as much boots on the ground live coverage as I could get.”

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