ESPN’s Ryan Spoon On Evaluating Platforms, Experimenting In Social, Podcasting

NEW YORK — At Hashtag Sports last month, an ESPN-centric panel with Ryan Spoon, Senior Vice President of Social Content, and personalities Katie Nolan and Jason Fitz took the main stage at Times Center in Manhattan. The trio discussed all things social, ESPN’s new SportsCenter show on Snapchat, evaluating platforms, testing in social and more.

Below are key thoughts from Spoon, who assumed his current role in September 2017. 

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On which social platforms are the most influential to ESPN…

We don’t play favorites because we think of everything as its own property. One thing I’m very proud of, and we have the freedom to do this is we also have the luxury to have the resources and so forth, is we don’t create something and publish across everything. We know it doesn’t work that way. Again, that’s a luxury that we’re able to take on. What (Katie Nolan) does on Snap is very different than what (Jason Fitz) will do on the Twitter shows. We can’t take the same effort everyday from Snap and say, ‘This is really good. Let’s put it on Facebook’. Or, ‘Let’s take that same piece and put it on ESPN.com’. We think a lot about…each environment. … It does take greater resources. It takes a lot of experimentation, but you’ll find what we do on each platform is in itself unique.

On how ESPN views each new platform, new social features within each channel…

I believe you either have to be first and do a great job and when it doesn’t make sense, sit back, watch, learn and then choose to enter at the right time. We did that with all of the platforms. There are times, like Snap, we weren’t just one of the first launches on Discover in 2015, we were also one of the first shows when it rebooted. We look at that as something that if we’re going to do that, it’s a significant investment, both in people, time and effort. The number of people in different kinds of skills. But if we’re going to do that, we want to do it really well. Snapchat is a phenomenal platform.

And then there are times when something comes out, a platform might affect where we want to put digital reach. It might affect social executions where you have to decide the concept of a minimal, viable product. Does that make sense here? … Should we sit back and watch? We think about that all of the time. We had two efforts go up the day of Instagram TV because it coincided with the NBA Draft, which is a marquee event for us, great content, and we thought it was important to be there and try it. Do we know what it means yet? No. We don’t fully understand how those numbers sit next to another Instagram post or a Story we did that night. That’s the fun part. We can sit back, watch and learn.

On experimentation/testing in social…

My point of view on almost everything is we should test everything. We should go into any effort and say before we do it, how will we define success or failure? It’ll likely be somewhere in between but at least have an idea going into it that we understand what we’re measuring and how we’ll classify success. Then, you can make the determination quickly, and that’s the key to it. If you test things, you also need to understand quickly whether you did think there were positives and negatives and adjust.

On social listening determining what’s being discussed/posted, Twitter shows…

Where the Twitter shows become interesting is when they are itself interactive. To do that you need to both, I think we’ve learned, you can’t force discussion or topic. You need to surround yourselves with topic and discussions that’s already occurring. So, that in itself requires social listening. In some ways, it’s very radio-like. That’s why we’ve had a lot of success with talent like Fitz because he’s great on both platforms. We have a Facebook show called “First Take, Your Take”, which by definition is social listening. Today, at 3 p.m. we’ll post a 10 minute or so show of (Stephen A. Smith) and (Max Kellerman) debating a topic. It will end with, ‘We want your opinion. Come post it in the Facebook group’. Over the next 48 hours, fans upload their own opinions. Wednesday at 3 p.m., we’ve had a team who has been curating those and positioning them into a fun, good looking video that comes out Wednesday. Wednesday ends with, ‘Did you see your face here? Come back Friday and see one of you debate Stephen A. or Max live’. That itself is social listening. It’s interactive.

On audio strategy, podcasting…

We were really early into podcasting at significant scale, both turning shows into podcasts but then we have, and you know this well, podcasts that are stand-alone. An example of where all of these things meet in the middle is we are the leader in fantasy sports, fantasy football obviously being the largest. Fantasy has a podcast that does massive numbers, and it’s a 60-minute podcast. It gets listened to for 60 minutes. These are huge, and it’s published five times a day. The beautiful part about it is there’s a rhythm to it. On Monday, did your team win or lose? On Tuesday, who should you be preparing for waiver wire. On Wednesday, injuries. Thursday, game. Friday, predictions. Every show has its own thing. This year with Twitter that podcast will continue…but they will turn that into a live Twitter show. If you want to interact and take part in the podcast or the show, you will do that via Twitter. Then, if you want the produced version to go in your back pocket, or while you drive into work, can listen to that on the podcasts. These things all sit together. There’s something to radio. … The ability to interact, carry time, adjust and move that translates really well into some of these live platforms.

About Mark J. Burns

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