May 5, 2016
On the court, the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors are the best regular season team of all time, with flashy highlight plays and smothering defense. But how has their social media team won big online?
After winning the most games in a single season of the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are on the road for their second consecutive NBA title. But they may have already won in one area this season: social media.
Dennis Yu, co-founder and CTO of Blitz Metrics, who also runs social media advertising, strategy and marketing for the Warriors, said the team saw 2,013% return on advertising spending from October to December 2015. By the end of the season, he said this number jumped to 2,900% as the audience pool became richer and stronger.
Yu says many other sports franchises and onlookers don’t believe numbers, but the Warriors social team is simply “using Facebook, Google and Twitter the way they intend us to use them, and that generates engagement and sales. ... There’s a lot of data to pass around.”
The Warriors’ “Strength in Numbers” slogan number isn’t just a slogan, Yu says. It’s how the team is constructed from top to bottom and how the social media team views its data.
“It’s not about the personality, it’s not about the superstar, it’s about the team approach and that backs into the whole ‘strength in numbers’ thing,” Yu says.
Marketing Insights spoke to Yu about the work behind the successful Golden State Warriors social media campaign.
Photo care of BlitzMetrics
Marketing Insights: Facebook has been extremely valuable for the Warriors. Your top three posts brought in an earned media value of $700,000, according to your presentation at Social Media Marketing World. You told me in our e-mail conversation that this is because of the “power of remarketing.” Tell me a bit about how remarketing has worked for the Warriors’ account.
Dennis Yu: When we first started doing this three years ago—that’s when custom audiences were mainly available in beta—we were able to turn $1 into $8 and everyone was so excited. A lot of people didn’t understand what remarketing was, which now is commonplace; it’s when someone comes to the website then you follow them around all over the place; inside their e-mail, across their search, on random properties, on Facebook.
Most companies that are doing remarketing, they just use brute force, sledgehammer power. Where anyone who has been to the website in the last 180 days is just bombarded with the same message because [the marketers] just don’t know any better. Because the ROI is high enough that they don’t need to really tune it, because they were using some tool. All kinds of reasons.
We decided we needed to be smarter about that. We started to set up remarketing by what players they like, by how recently they visited the site, by if they have installed our app or if they are a fan or not a fan or season ticket holder or not. Or if they have bought from us. …. You can imagine all the different bucketing that we can do to then drive something more personalized.
In doing that, growing the audience and the team winning—which is very important—and the prices of the tickets going up … all of these factors combined together, we’ve been able to drive ROI that is north of 30 or 40x. You put a dollar in, you get back $30 or $40. The owners or the finance folks, a year ago they said ‘This must be like a typo, you need to re-run the numbers, there’s no way. You’re double counting. This is cannibalization, this is revenue we’ve already got.’ Sure enough, we checked it again and we found that when you remarket, which is simply taking advantage when their interest is high and knowing when the windows are when people buy. …
We’re fortunate to test with the Warriors because there are 82 regular season games plus the playoffs every year. That is a lot of testing options. We’re testing video, we’re testing images, we’re testing if we promote games three weeks ahead cause maybe there’s a really big game because LeBron James and the Cavaliers are coming to town. …
It’s taken a while. It’s surprisingly more complicated than you might think to get this in place. The ads are actually not hard … but we’re running remarketing across other channels too .We actually drive a lot more revenue on Google than we do on Facebook.
A lot of it is because the engagement on Facebook is an assist that then drives people to do a Google search for “Warriors tickets” or “Warriors Friday” or these different types of terms. It makes sense, because people see their friends are celebrating or you see that we won, see this amazing half-court shot, you sees something and you’re excited. You’re more likely to buy tickets. If you look at it the way most people do with the whole attribution thing, last click, those people are going to mistakenly think that Google drove the sale when really they were just a conduit.
MI: Where else do you use this aside from Google and Facebook?
DY: Every channel can drive an assist and can drive a conversation. They could be on our season ticket holder list, a video remarketing audience, they could have watched a bunch of YouTube videos. … They could have done any of these things and those are all remarketing pools. They could have installed the app; our most active audiences are people who have installed the Golden State Warriors app. They log in something crazy like twice a week and six minutes per time. It’s double the engagement from the website, more traffic on the app form the website, and all these people live in this website world, but things have changed. People aren’t using the yellow pages anymore.
This whole mobile and social and video, [Mark] Zuckerberg said two weeks ago that video is the next mega trend, as big as mobile, and we see that. Most of our content out there is video, and video is good for remarketing. It’s good for engagement. I consider a 30-second video view more powerful than a like, comment, or share because of the amount of follows or engagement and sales we drive.
I know that when we boost a really good video, even though it drives likes, comments, shares and all this engagement, it actually drive a lot of sales too, because we track those audiences all the way to the sale.
MI: So if they watch the video, there’s a greater chance of them buying?
DY: Oh yeah, there’s a little bit of chicken and egg. We’ve tried different video of different length. We’ve even tried things that are 20 minutes long where there’s a mini episode or behind the scenes of the team traveling, how they eat, how they practice, that kind of stuff, and we’ve tried things like the best plays from Steph Curry that will be like two minutes long, or a 30-second game recap.
We’ve tried 10 second plays [as videos] and we find that 10 seconds seems to be the sweet spot. [Approximately] 75 to 80% of Facebook traffic is mobile. You’d expect with sports, especially because pro sports has a younger male audience and the Warriors are heavily Bay Area [residents and] tech geek leaning, that our percentage of early adoption is higher. Our highest engagement channel is Instagram, believe it or not, but we still drive more sales on Google.
These adults like to say the kids aren’t hanging out on Facebook and they’ve leaving, but the numbers show it’s actually growing. Maybe it’s not cool to say, but I looked at the actual behavior. … Google isn’t cool anymore, even with their self-driving car and Alphabet. But the utility company never was cool and the postman never was cool, but he delivers your package doesn’t he? … He’s not sexy, but do you want to be sexy or do you want to make money?
MI: Speaking of sexy, you guys have this great Warriors team that just won 73 games. Would a similar campaign work for a smaller company or non-winning team?
DY: That’s the first question we usually get. … Other people in the league, and this goes for NFL and NHL too, these other guys see what’s going on, they say ‘Well you guys are winning in digital because you’re winning, Anyone who is doing the ads and all this kind stuff would win too if the team is winning 73 games.’ So that’s their cop out, right? But we say, ‘Well, clearly that has a significant impact. But we measure what the incremental impact of our efforts.’
We do hold-out audiences, we do lift testing—which is different than split testing—to measure how and when we boost posts and when we promote content, when we do different kinds of targeting how much we’re able to drive in incremental audiences. So if the audiences would have been X and we’re able to drive 3X because, then we can measure what the incremental audience we drove was. And we know how well custom audiences perform. We know a member of a custom audience is worth $1.42 per season and we know that someone who is just a fan is worth 70 cents. It takes about 3 cents for us to convert someone into a custom audience. We know what the ROI of these audiences are because when we get a ton of engagement, we can forecast what the revenue is from these audiences
A lot of people don’t seem to realize that. They think it’s just ‘I just want likes, comments and shares.’ That’s ridiculous; I want revenue and I want to measure incremental revenue.
Photo care of BlitzMetrics
MI: Tell me a bit more about how you grow these custom audiences.
DY: Let’s say we do, as a random example, an e-mail through ExactTarget. We do certain things to grow that list organically and let’s say now one of our lists is 50,000 people. But then we promote it, then we amplify it. We use paid to increase the power of our organic. And now that list 70,000 instead of 50,000. We know what the yield would be on 50,000. We know when the list is now 70,000, it’s 40% bigger, so we’re going to get, all things equal, 40% more revue. We found that to be true.
We’re naturally going to grow audiences across e-mail, across web, across, social, across the apps. Those are the four spheres where you have audiences. When you have organic audiences, there are things you can do to pay to increase those audiences, which then gives you more traffic from remarketing. If we drive a ton of traffic to the website: Let’s say we break some kind of amazing record and we get a ton of traffic. Well, that increases the pools for remarketing on Google and Facebook. When that happens, we know that incrementally these pools are bigger, and then we get this cross channel impact.
There are two things going on. First was if we’re just posting organically through e-mail and Google or whatever it might be … we’re going to get a certain amount of people to come to the website, a certain amount of sales, a certain amount of likes comments and shares and reactions. Therefore, we know what that’s worth monetarily. We’ve done it enough times that we know how well that audience is going to eventually convert into money. When we put paid behind that, we know that it’s proportionally true that if we can double the audience with paid we’re going to double the revenue with that. Therefore, we’re messaging incremental lift associated with marketing and optimization as opposed to [just saying], ‘Well, the team is going to win.’
Effectively what we’re doing is we’re zeroing out the impact of seasonality. The team winning is seasonality, so this will work for any team. It will work for any company that produces content that is basically media, sports and entertainment.
They have a large enough audience that they eventually back into some kind of monetization. Our experience has been that anyone that backs into ticketing—primarily Ticketmaster—it’s a lot easier to track. … You have a direct relationship with the fan.
MI: Are there others in sports who are using this method now or is it still pretty much you guys?
DY: I wouldn’t say we’re the only ones using custom audiences or these kinds of techniques. I think we might be the most public one in [worldwide] sports right now. …
To go back to your other point, will this work for other guys? Yes. You don’t have to have a winning team. You don’t have to have amazing plays or you don’t have to have a Steph Curry but it helps. What you do have to do is produce lots of content prodigiously and I believe anyone that is going to follow these kinds of techniques will win in the same way.
Let’s say you really want to eat a certain kind of food you really like, if you have the recipe and you follow it diligently you will produce what you want. I believe that [this is how this works too]. We know that to be true. We’ve done it in all kinds of industries—Rosetta Stone, Jack Daniels—it has nothing to do with basketball because we think and the owners agree that the Warriors are an entertainment company that happens to have basketball involved.
We’ve done social analytics for a few years for Red Bull and Nike. It’s the same thing. [Red Bull is] an entertainment company that happens to promote sugar water, right? Think about it; what does doing a triple back flip have anything to do with caffeine water? Nothing. … With basketball you have to get the basketball into the hoop, but they’re really an entertainment company when you look at all the other stuff on top of it.