Tips For Surviving The Visual Revolution of Social Media

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When sports were first shown on television there weren’t fancy graphics. There was, at most, simple text primitively superimposed over footage of the game. In fact, the constant on-screen graphics we’ve grown more accustomed to, like the 1980s references in Ready Player One, only first appeared on sports television in 1994. It was that year that FOX took over the NFC television rights and unveiled their FOX Box during a preseason NFL game. Considering the first televised sporting event was May of 1939, it took over half a century for a fully fledged visual identity to evolve on the small screen.

That graphics revolution has come much, much faster on the even smaller screen thanks to some of the lessons learned from its ancestor.

When I first started in #smsports in 2011 the best way to gain attention was with a witty and well crafted 180 characters. Looking back on it now, that feels quaint. Something as simple as a funny joke or an astute observation was enough to be recognized on most of the social platforms of the time and even considered remarkable by many.

Fast forward seven years and it’s more the exception than the rule that a post that doesn’t include some sort of visual is even noticed in all the noise and algorithms. In about a tenth of the time it took for sports television to be dominated by the graphical representations, social media is now dominated by pictures, videos, gifs, infographics, quote cards and many more formats.

With visual becoming the most important thing you can invest your time creating in social it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do it well. Without the right professional look and feel for your team or brand you could easily lose the trust of your fans, customers, and even clients.

Here are five rules to make sure you don’t miss the mark with a little help from one of the best in the visual business, Nathan Rauschenberg Sr. Digital Marketing Manager at Seattle Mariners.

Determine a Consistent Look and Feel That’s Uniquely You

We want our content to not just jump off the screen, but to be immediately identifiable as something produced by the Mariners. It goes beyond just social media, too. If you see a Mariners TV commercial, a video on MarinersVision, or a graphic on social, they all have a similar look and feel to them.~ Nathan Rauschenberg 

Whether a fan looks at your Instagram account, scrolls through Twitter and passes one of your posts, is in-venue or watching on TV, the second they see your post they should know it’s from your team or brand based on what they see. In a world dominated with noise and clutter, a surefire way to stand out is to make sure that you not only have a stunning visual representation of your brand but that it is consistent every time you use it.

Don’t Do Things in the Spur of the Moment

When you play 162 games in something like 180 days, you don’t have a lot of time to spend building everything from scratch, so templates can be a big help. At the same time, we try not to fall into a trap of doing the same design over and over again since that makes it easy for people to tune out. When it’s something big, like a major milestone or event, we will invest more time in creating content that is truly unique–we want the finished piece to feel as special as the thing we’re talking about. ~ Nathan Rauschenberg

As a first-year social media specialist in the NBA I would have laughed at you if you had told me that saying ‘how in the world are you supposed to prepare in advance for things you have no clue will happen’. I quickly learned this mindset wasn’t only foolish but dangerous for my career prospects and for the team’s brand image.

While you’ll have to play some things by ear and create on the fly for certain elements of your job, you can’t operate solely in that headspace. Preparing image and video templates that are both for specific purposes like scores, signings, trades and quotes and some that are flexible enough to be used for breaking news is key to a good social media strategy. Think of yourself as a social media Batman and the templates as the weapons ready at a moment’s notice on your utility belt.

Don’t Post Bad Photos, Gifs or Videos Just to Post

All of us have the ability to create things in real time if needed. We utilize Slack for quick feedback from the group to keep things moving forward as quickly as possible. ~ Nathan Rauschenberg

As a social media manager, we’ve all fallen into the trap of feeling like we ‘have’ to post to justify our job and the reason we’re at an event. While it’s true that we need to actively do our jobs, it’s better to post one amazing piece of visual content than a dozen poorly thought out, out of focus or irrelevant images, gifs or videos. Thanks to algorithms and discerning fans, social is no longer a quantity over quality proposition. The best curated, most interesting looking and most well thought out content is going to be seen, liked and shared.

The key to making that happen is having a plan, a staff and an in-game communication strategy that works for your team.

Treat Your Social Accounts Like a Broadcast

We worked with our ad agency Copacino+Fujikado to develop a new style guide for the team heading into the 2016 season. The process started in the early summer months of 2015. A small group of people from our production/design and marketing teams collected samples of different designs we had seen and liked. When we laid everything out on a table, there seemed to be a couple of different themes already standing out. C+F took those themes and started playing around with them. We had ongoing check-ins to help shape the direction the design was going. Once we got it into a place we really liked, our in-house design team took the assets and began applying them to the various materials we would need, from brochures to the scoreboard to a win graphic we might post on Instagram. It was a long, collaborative process but we loved the final results. We’re in year three of the design so we spent some time this offseason freshening it up a bit, but the same core concepts still apply.
~ Nathan Rauschenberg

There was a time during the early days of the social visual revolution that posting a few well-timed pop culture/movie gifs were the recipe for success. Believe me, my vast knowledge of 1990s random pop culture was a superpower during this brief period. But, alas, that time has come and gone. Now, social should be treated the same way a broadcast is with its own specific graphics package, style, and planned content.

Score graphics, in-game gifs and every piece of content should be carefully crafted and designed well in advance of the first game and constantly evolving. Elements should be thought out with numerous different variations available so things don’t get stale. (This is where quality templates can come into play.) Even game storylines, much like broadcasters do, should be researched and available to be utilized at any point during play.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here. Social media is the color commentator and not the play by play guy so create things that are informative, unique, interesting and most importantly entertaining. You can find the basics of the game from any account or site so what can you, your team and your brand bring to the table that is unique to you? What can you create that gives people a real reason to listen to what you have to say? Treating the visual aspects of what you’re doing like a broadcast will go a long way to answering those questions for you.

The graphics revolution is upon us and what was once televised is now being posted via social. The clearer vision you have for your visual the better off you and your brand will be moving forward. So what are you waiting for? Fire up Photoshop and get started before it’s too late.