Social media campaigns are living, breathing things. In spite of all the research and prep that marketers funnel into campaign planning, creative production or hashtag ideation, campaigns tend to chart a path of their own post-launch. Rather than resist change, the most strategic teams consider this an opportunity—using insights from social to understand the untapped potential of campaigns, extending their relevance and maximizing their impact.

This approach, powered by social analytics and listening, has been hugely influential for the NFL Players Association (NFLPA)—it has sharpened our overall business strategy, encouraged more players to get involved in our programs and influenced holistic, multichannel campaigns.

Social drives game-time decisions for campaigns

As the social media and content manager for the NFLPA, my job is threefold—promoting NFLPA programs and services, sharing player-driven social content and connecting players with potential partnerships. Our #AthleteAnd campaign was born out of those three elements coming together.

We know that NFL players are more than just football players—they are authors, philanthropists, CEOs. Each of them is an athlete and then some. Initially, #AthleteAnd was just a hashtag we used to brand and market players’ stories. As players started to share their stories and photos using the hashtag, we expanded to a full, ongoing campaign that showcases their talents outside of the NFL and attracts new partnerships.

Social listening helps us identify who is using #AthleteAnd in their posts, what they are talking about in relation to it and if there’s an opportunity to reshare user-generated content across our channels. With active social listening topics in Sprout, we automatically capture any mentions of the hashtag so we are consistently presented with new insights, stories and opportunities to build on the campaign.

We use social analytics to determine which content formats and social channels are most conducive to achieving our campaign goals. If we’re putting money behind a campaign, we especially want to make sure that we’re targeting the right audience and that the content is performing well.

For instance, if we share an #AthleteAnd story with the goal of driving partners to our website, social analytics validate whether we’re successful. If our goal is to bring awareness to our video content, we’ll look at how many people are watching them and for how long. Then, we use that performance data to refine content and inform how we approach future campaigns.

Social data strengthens NFLPA partnerships

It’s important for our entire organization to be aware of what fans, players and partners are saying about the NFLPA. Social listening helps us track sentiment and conversations around specific campaigns and major events throughout the years. It’s also an additional source of data that we use to report on performance of the initiatives we work on with our partners.

In 2020, the NFLPA’s for-profit arm, NFL Players Inc., helped Lowe’s launch Lowe’s launched its inaugural season of the Lowe’s Home Team — a group of players working with the home improvement retailer to support rebuilding and community-focused projects in all 32 NFL markets. The involved players support the campaign by posting to their social profiles, tagging Lowe’s and including relevant hashtags like #LowesHomeTeam. We use listening to review posts and hone in on variables that contribute to successful performance.

If one player’s post is surging, we’ll dig deeper to understand why. Maybe it was the time of day that they posted or the number of followers they have. On the other hand, if a player’s post didn’t perform that well, we might look at whether they used the hashtags correctly or if they chose to post a video versus a photo.

Being able to share metrics and insights with stakeholders in our organization, our partners and the players is a win-win for everyone. We’re constantly learning from our efforts, which emboldens our collective strategy and strengthens our partner relationships.

Social is a playmaker for the entire organization

A significant part of my job is making players aware of the professional and educational opportunities that the NFLPA offers. The NFLPA manages programs and services like externships, where players can shadow businesses in a variety of fields and get hands-on career experience. Social campaigns and content have made a huge impact in this regard.

In previous years, we did not share much on social media about our externship program. But when we turned our focus to social, we were able to meet players where they are online, show them the possibilities and share stories of players who already participated. Using social analytics, I could see how many people were clicking through to our program landing pages, report back to our Player Affairs team and compare those metrics with the upward trend in applications.

Promoting programs on social has helped lead to our largest participation in the externship program since its start. Our participants share their experiences on social, which brings even more awareness and engagement to our campaigns.

Put social in your starting lineup

With powerful social analytics and listening, we’re able to see campaigns differently. We see them as a source of business intelligence, a driver for empowered partnerships and a key player in the overall success of the NFLPA.

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