How the Portland Trail Blazers Became the NBA’s #1 Ranked Twitter Account
Three thousand, two hundred and eighty-six days ago, the Portland Trail Blazers sent their first (and likely most infamous) Tweet.
Being excited after getting the #1 draft pick in the 2007 NBA Draft.
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) May 28, 2007
At that time, Twitter was a shiny new digital toy that most publishers, brands, and influencers had yet to sink their claws into — that phenomenon took off in late 2008-early 2009. Fast-forward nine years and there isn’t a (good) marketing strategy on the planet that doesn’t include Twitter.
Nothing meshes more beautifully than live sports and Twitter. Chalk it up to the demographic crossover, the ability to voice a strong opinion, or the fast-paced speed of sports and Twitter paralleling each other. There is nothing like the second-screen experience that Twitter provides during a big game. It’s like being at a sports bar filled with celebrities, athletes, analysts, and fans alike. Twitter has changed the way people watch sports.
An early adopter to Twitter, the NBA and its teams have set the bar when it comes to digital innovation and fan engagement. In fact, the NBA has put such an emphasis on social media that every official NBA basketball has the @NBA handled etched into it.
While the LA Kings redefined the way that sports teams use Twitter, the NBA was the first sports league to have the majority of its teams buy into the witty, sassy, personable nature that Twitter lends itself so well to.
— NBA (@NBA) May 31, 2016
NBA Twitter has become so popular that publications have actually begun to rank team Twitter accounts based on their appeal to fans. Those of us in the industry think it’s pretty cool to see our work evaluated. So when Complex Magazine ranked the @trailblazers account #1 in the NBA for the second consecutive year last week, our department felt a great sense of accomplishment and validation.
What did it take to earn the #1 ranking? Complex has detailed commentary on why they named @trailblazers #1 in both 2015 and 2016, but I’ll give you a peek behind the curtain so you can see what makes our social engine run.
But First, Remember…
Not all teams are structured the same. Actually, no two teams are alike. Staffing, prioritization, resources, and access all vary drastically from team to team. In City A, you may have one person creating graphics, taking photos, running every social account, updating the website, and writing content all on their own. In a neighboring city, you may have one person dedicated to each of those roles.
How to Build a Better Social Media Team
Here in Portland we trend towards the latter. We had at least four people working during each one of our games this past season (home and road). Most home games had up to seven people contributing to social and digital. That alone put us in a position to succeed. Having a strong system in place is key on game nights. It allows each person to focus more on specific tasks and jump on opportunities much more quickly and effectively.
With all that being said, there are three factors that contribute towards a successful, well-oiled content machine.
Factor #1: Content Creators
Simply having all hands on deck during game nights can lead to a strong social presence in and of itself, but having the right people is even more important. We are fortunate enough to suit up a dream team of content creators: a veteran beat writer who has covered the team for a decade, a digital designer who is the best I’ve worked with, a dedicated video guy with the quickest GIF’s in the country, a Jack-of-all-Trades who can fill in for anyone while creating his own content, the best photographer in the state of Oregon, and an intern who keeps us all of the latest pop culture trends.
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) May 12, 2016
While each person on our staff brings his or her own personal preferences, they all carry the same intangibles: They all take pride in their work. They all want to be the best at what they do. They all want to try new things early and often. They all want to create cool content. We all hold each other accountable and push each other to be better.
Factor #2: Empowerment
Remember the LA Kings’ reference a few paragraphs above? Well, the man behind the keyboard with those groundbreaking tweets, Dewayne Hankins, now oversees our entire department. There isn’t a better person to have at the helm. He goes to bat for us time and again; when we tweet something that could be considered off-putting, he fights to get us better access, he allows us to spread our wings, and he provides the resources needed to create top-notch content.
Underneath Dewayne is the guy that keeps us all in check on a day-to-day basis, TJ Ansley. TJ has a wealth of experience in the industry and says “yes” more often than not to our out-of-the-box ideas.
It doesn’t stop with Dewayne and TJ, either. Both our President of Business Operations and President of Basketball Operations, as well as our head coach, understand the power and the importance of social media. In fact, during the middle of our improbable playoff run, I received a surprise email from Coach Stotts. Somehow, a fan’s pipe dream tweet made its way to him, and, in between Games 2 and 3 against the Golden State Warriors, he took time out of his day to contact me and work out a way to make that fan’s dream come true.
I had a dream last night that Terry Stotts congratulated me on graduating 😅
— gracey (@GraceyBeans) May 5, 2016
seriously freaking out pic.twitter.com/8xjbX3hEZd
— gracey (@GraceyBeans) May 5, 2016
Factor #3: Operator
This part is awkward for me to write about, because, no matter how hard I try, it will come off as self-glorification. I absolutely don’t want that to be the case, but, truth be told, there is a lot of pressure on the person managing content and running the accounts for a well-loved brand.
With our team of phenomenal content creators, my primary goal has been to make sure all their hard work is seen by as many people as possible. There’s a lot that goes into that: it’s not just hitting “send” on a Tweet. You have to create a community that people want to be a part of, one filled with humorous blind love for our team, one that can toe the line and relate to pop culture just as quickly as it can respond to a question from a fan.
Tank top weather in Portland this week ☀️🎽 pic.twitter.com/Ml4Y8HqjUh
— Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) May 31, 2016
Being able to sprinkle in some wit and hyperbole with premium content is a fine balancing act and requires 24/7 involvement, but I think we pulled it off this year.