We talk email marketing, social media strategy and staying focused during the holidays with Dan Levak, Director of New Media for the NFL's Falcons
Meet the Atlanta Falcons' New Media Group. Dan's on the left.
With the football season in full swing and the holiday season approaching, Dan Levak is a busy man. He directs the Atlanta Falcons' interactive marketing efforts and manages their digital media staff, keeping Falcons fans engaged with their favorite team on a variety of web properties, social mediums and mobile platforms. He took time to share details about the Falcons' email and social media strategy, plus how the team navigates their holiday schedule.
Read on for a glimpse at the Falcons' fine-tuned approach — you'll be as impressed as I was.
How do you use Emma to reach your fans, and how often do you send emails?
We understand that people have more email than they know what to do with so we try to be very disciplined about limiting and consolidating our messaging. We send a weekly e-report that's a digest of significant events, stories and news. We also send a "pre-game" season ticket holder email filled with useful game-specific information relevant to folks attending the game — such as when the tailgate lots open that week, pre-game entertainment options around the Georgia Dome, etc. We also send various one-off emails to fans that opt in for various value propositions: ticket specials, third-party offers, etc. Again, because of the avalanche of email people face today, we are very selective of these third-party offers — there has to be true value to Falcons fans, or we won't send it. On occasion our senior leadership team needs to directly address our fan base, and we use Emma's platform to send out "Letter From…" emails crafted to look like they're on Falcons letterhead. And we also utilize Emma for what we call operational purposes: season ticket renewal information, reminders for deadlines, applications for season-long parking passes, etc. It sounds like a lot – and in the aggregate, it is — but we are very conscious of timing and frequency of our mailings.
Who works on the Falcons' email marketing strategy, and how do you set priorities as a marketing team?
We work under an empowerment philosophy. That's one of the main reasons we're with Emma — the ease of use of the platform. I've used several large enterprise email marketing platforms throughout my time with the Falcons, and many of them require two-day training sessions just to understand how to deploy a single campaign.
Emma's platform was clearly designed with an emphasis on user interface — it's so easy to learn and use. We've been able to empower various departments throughout the organization to deploy their own email campaigns. Our Ticket Office is a prime example. Folks generally aren't experts using HTML or CSS, but we set up very flexible templates that allow them to enter their own content & graphics, schedule their emails, manage their own lists and even monitor their own analytics. It's taken much of the burden off of our digital media group, and it allows them to be much more spontaneous when spur of the moment campaign needs arise.
What's your most popular content, and how do you continue to come up with fresh topics?
We continuously ask the question: "If I were a fan, and I didn't have access to our players, coaches and front office, what would I want to know right now?" It's actually easy when you simply turn it around and always look through the fan prism.
You also use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to reach fans. What's your social media strategy?
The $64,000 question. There's so much focus on "social strategy," and yes, we have a very specific one with very tangible strategic goals layered with discreet tactical measures geared toward achieving them.
Without going into too much detail, our social media strategy is centered around two things: be consistent in our interaction and be authentic. We are all bombarded by so much information in our lives. Social media platforms –- especially Facebook & Twitter –- along with the mainstream penetration of smartphones and tablets has created shorter and shorter attention spans among consumers. The mediums are so much more efficient, but this has paradoxically made it more difficult to get your message across. So when someone takes the time out of their busy lives to reach out to us –- via an email, a message board post, a comment on our Facebook page, an at-reply on Twitter –- then we OWE that fan a response. Even a simple acknowledgement that "yes, we heard you" goes a long way. Rewarding someone who invests their valuable and increasingly scarce time with our brand is one of the most important things we do.
And authenticity is paramount. It's not just adhering to the basic customer service tenets of acknowledging your mistakes and not sugar-coating or trying to BS your customers. Authenticity is also about relevance. I created a filter internally that we all use when deciding whether or not to put something in front of our audience on Facebook or Twitter. It's very simple, really. We ask: "Why does this fan care –- what's in it for them?" There MUST be a genuine value proposition, or we're not going to clutter up someone's timeline and risk our users tuning us out on Facebook. For example, if an automotive corporate partner came to us and asked us if we would publish a wall post to our Facebook page announcing their new model year lineup, we would decline. It's not specific enough to our audience, and generic messaging is the bane of effective social media. But if we pushed back and worked with this partner to create a program whereby you visit a local dealership and purchase one of their vehicles in a given month, you get a pair of season tickets for next season –- well, that's different. That's something Falcons fans can embrace and want to know about.
Finally, we look at these social mediums as an extension of our online presence, and we're not focused on our dot-com site's major metrics the way we used to be. Uniques, page views, time-on-site is important, to be sure, but their significance is wrapped in the context of the overall universe — including social. I think making sense of social analytics and being able to derive truly actionable business intelligence from them is a major market opportunity.
This season, you'll play New Orleans the day after Christmas and Tampa Bay on New Year's Day. Any special tricks for maintaining focus around the holidays?
We never have issues maintaining focus. We're all so passionate about our careers and pro football in general — this is what we love to do. What is difficult at times is not being able to spend traditional holidays with your family because the NFL schedule requires you to either play a game or be traveling to a game on major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Everyone in this business understands that taking a few vacation days or a full week off around the holidays isn't realistic. It's what we signed up for, and it's one small con in an industry that's filled (literally and figuratively!) with pros.
Do the Falcons have any holiday traditions as a team?
Hopefully we'll look back 10 or 15 years from now and say our holiday tradition each season was getting ready for the playoffs. Our owner provides a unique opportunity for all the business units that make up the Blank Family of Businesses to come to Falcons headquarters on a weekday for a mid-December holiday luncheon. It's a great opportunity to meet and visit with folks who share your culture, but not necessarily your day-to-day experience.
We also partner with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta for an annual holiday ornament drive. Each year we design a unique ornament, and each one has the number of one of our roster players on it. We manufacture several hundred of each roster number, then the players get together and sign all of the ornaments with their number. Fans can then purchase the autographed ornaments (they're tax-deductible). Because of demand for our highest-profile players, fans don't specify which player's ornament they receive — they're randomly sent out, and it's the luck of the draw. It's a fantastic program that benefits one of the best nonprofit children's hospitals in the nation.
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