As such I had a look at the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube accounts, activity and engagement to assess each organisation’s ability to interact with their existing audience as well as enticing new fans to ride with the Cavaliers or roll with the Warriors.
The NBA is North America’s fast growing professional sports league and second most popular (behind the NFL) and in March this year agreed a deal with YouTube’s over-the-top streaming service YouTubeTV. With exposure on the video sharing service surely set to increase for the NBA, let’s start there and see what we find…
There are striking differences between each franchise’s approach.
Spoiler: Cleveland don’t seem to have an approach. With few videos and posted with no apparent regularity, the platform either doesn’t work for them or it isn’t a priority when it comes to engaging their loyal fans.
Golden State on the other hand is the polar opposite – which makes for some refreshing viewing.
Clear categorisation, saved and curated playlists and multiple daily uploads give the impression that YouTube is a channel where the Warriors not only nurture existing relationships with fans but also foster new relationships with anyone searching for the latest Steph Curry or Kevin Durant highlights.
The Warriors utilise each of the labelled tabs at the top of the platform too (home, videos, playlists and channels), and you get a strong sense of community through their choice of uploads and their playlists (‘Don’t Miss This‘ is a personal favourite).
In a sport that has to be seen to be believed at times, it’s clear that investing in the video platform wasn’t rocket science for Golden State.
The YouTube subscriber numbers of the two teams are barely comparable (561K for the Warriors vs 14K for the Cavaliers) and although Golden State’s videos don’t amass millions of views, thousands will do and the Warriors take round one – you can’t tell me this doesn’t get you hyped:
YouTube Winner: Golden State Warriors
The teams’ Twitter accounts are pretty similar and follow the pattern of being informative and media rich (clips of a Lebron James slam dunk or a Klay Thompson spot-up-three pointer).
From the numbers, unsurprisingly, the Warriors have a bigger following (5.7M vs. 3.2M) – being from a big market city like Oakland, CA – but a larger following doesn’t necessarily mean higher engagement.
As we can’t drill down into their Twitter analytics, and find out their respective number of click-throughs, we can only go off replies, retweets and Likes as the metrics to measure their success on the platform. In order to do this I had a look at the activity of each team, for all of their posts on a Saturday for respective ‘Primetime’ games…and to make things fair and interesting we’ll look at games where the teams both lost to see how they post even in the face of disappointment (N.B. they both lost to the Houston Rockets).
What did I find?
Firstly I decided to look at tweets and engagement before the games tipped off. Since the Warriors are up 1-0 in this social media series, let’s get started there.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary. The first tweet is simple and informative, supplying followers with all of the relevant details for the upcoming game. It also got a decent amount of retweets and Likes too.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 21, 2018
The tweets throughout the games are a good mixture of in-game photos and highlights, score updates and funny GIFs often using players to convey the humour.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) 21 January 2018
As you can imagine, players garnered a lot more interest and engagement. What’s worth noting is using media forms like GIFs helps to humanise the team’s social media activity. People love to interact with other people and by adding a bit of humour through GIFs and pictures, I think the Warriors show that they don’t take themselves too seriously and are happy to poke fun at themselves, even when they’re up against it:
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) January 21, 2018
The Warriors appear to have fairly active fans throughout the game, amassing a decent amount of Likes and retweets and it’s fairly enjoyable seeing what the fans have to say.
Even in defeat, there is no despondency which I think is testament to the team’s approach to using the platform for one of its most basic functions – giving your followers updates they will engage with and enjoy.
What about Cleveland? It seems they start their game promotion a lot earlier than the Golden State Warriors. With nice shots of player jerseys and sneakers before the game, the activity makes you feel as if you have an all access pass to the locker room – something I think all NBA fans secretly yearn for.
This results in higher than average engagement, getting a lot more Likes and retweets than the Warriors at tip-off:
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) February 3, 2018
In general, the Cavs seem to be a lot more active on Twitter throughout the game. They have everything that the Warriors have but throw in other non-game/player related posts like this.
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) February 4, 2018
Posts like these help to add a community feel that the Cavs exude on their Twitter account. You may not have tickets to the game but you’ll be taken care of by the social media teams selection of fan shots, pre-game highlights and in-game action.
Like Golden State, the Cavs use a lot of in-game highlights and pictures to update fans with what’s happening throughout the match but I think it’s the additional steps that the Cavs take to make you feel like you’re at the game (through their choice of images, additional information and exclusive content), that gives them the edge on this platform.
Although they don’t seem to get as many Likes and retweets as the Warriors, overall, they do seem to garner a lot more conversation and replies to their posts which, again, emphasises the community feel you get from a lot of their updates.
The Cavs may have two million fewer followers but that doesn’t matter when your engagement is higher. Cavs take the Twitter round, for my money…
Twitter winner: Cavaliers
As we’re tied at 1-1, let’s have a look at both teams’ Instagram accounts to try and break the deadlock.
Both teams Instagram are virtually identical and looking across the league at some of the other basketball dynasties, their Instagram accounts don’t offer much in the way of variation – indicating the teams in the league have perhaps found a template to engage their followers.
Littered with pre-game warm up pictures, in-game shots and video highlights, and score updates, both teams use Instagram to its full potential with high resolution images that make you feel close to the action (even from my bedroom in London, England).
There’s nothing surprising from these accounts and therein lays an opportunity for NBA teams to try and engage with their respective audiences in a way other sports teams are not. Although die-hard fans aren’t likely to change allegiance because a rival is doing something innovative and cool on Instagram, casual fans and fans from overseas may be enticed to engage with a sports team that knows how to attract their attention.
The score stays at 1-1.
Instagram winner: Dead heat
Much like Instagram both teams use Facebook for much the same goals. Game highlights, pictures and videos as well as a mixture of organic and paid-for content.
There are some differences though. The Golden State Warriors provide all of the above with the addition of third-party articles and videos, namely from the NBA and NBC Sports Bay Area / California. This would indicate that they’re happy for their Facebook to be a curation of different media from more than just their own editorial team.
The Warriors also focus very heavily on video as a way to interact with their audience.
This curation is good from a fan perspective as not only does it keep their feed fresh but also adds variation to team voice – shifting away from a potentially ego-centric approach. It clearly works for them as some of these posts and articles are their most shared and liked, like this piece from Time about Kevin Durant:
The Cavs do share some third-party content as well, but a lot more sparingly than the Warriors, which may suggest that they’re a lot more cautious about having a consistent tone of voice on the platform, even when it comes to shared articles.
Cleveland does a lot of mentioning partners and although these posts hardly get that many Likes or shares, it’s all additional exposure for the Cavs as anyone searching for their favourite brands on Facebook, like Budweiser or Jeep for instance, will be able to easily associate their brand with the sports team.
These franchise sponsors only feature on the paid social posts, which all tend to offer different and creative content. This means their feed isn’t strictly basketball – see partner content like this from Georgio’s Oven Fresh Pizzas.
The Cavs also do some cross-platform sharing of media from Instagram over to Facebook. It helps that the two platforms are perfectly integrated and it must be noted that there’s something aesthetically pleasing about seeing their filtered and edited high-res Instagram shots on their Facebook page that again helps to add a bit of variety their posts.
It’s also no surprise that the shared Instagram posts tend to get some of the highest shares and Likes of anything that they post.
Something else the Cavs seem to do more than the Warriors is feature fans in their videos and in their posts. This adds the community feel we also saw on Twitter, something that other teams can sometimes cast aside in an attempt to gain more exposure.
If we are to go off numbers of Likes, shares and video views, as the metrics of success on the platform, Cleveland seem to marginally outperform their rivals which one could infer means they know their audience on Facebook and what that audience wants.
Similar to the other platforms, the Warriors have more page Likes but that hasn’t amounted to more engagement from their fans.
Facebook winner: Cavaliers
Social media can meet different needs for different people and it follows that people interact with their favourite sports teams on social for different reasons.
Some fans are after games schedules, some want match highlights and some just want to have conversations with fellow fans. It’s really up to each sports teams to get to know their fans well enough, in order to supply them with engaging content that they will Like, share, retweet etc.
From my perspective Cleveland does a slightly better job of engaging its audience across more platforms than Golden State, going to show that having more followers doesn’t always result in greater social media success.