BLOGS WITH BALLS and The Future of Sports Bloggingby Jeff B.
Last weekend I had the opportunity to represent Carrot Creative at the BLOGS WITH BALLS 1.0, the first ever sports blogger and new media gathering in NYC. Hosted by the guys at HHR Media Group and sponsored by Yard Barker, SI.com, SB Nation and others, this was truly a ground-breaking event. It's not everyday you get the guys from Deadspin, Kissing Suzy Kolber and FreeDarko on the same stage as members of the MSM (Mainstream Media) in front of a big, unique audience. And not everyone in attendance was a big time internet blogger; There were people who get 2 visits a day and others who average hundreds of thousands.
Not only was this event groundbreaking, it was also glass-breaking. When Guinness starts getting served at noon during a sports blogging conference, you can only expect that things will get a little lively. It was a long day of listening and people were eager to chat and meet each other. You would start to hear the chatter as soon as a few attendees lost interest in a panel. For instance, during the Leveraging Social Media panel there was mainly only talk about Facebook and Twitter followers, and people got talkative because they got tired of hearing about that. Thinking about this led me to finally realize that bloggers want to be ahead of the game. Most of them are already on Twitter and Facebook – they're on top of all that buzz. They want to know what they need to do next and how they can improve it.
During the conference, I started writing notes about my thoughts on the future of sports blogging and how social features have the potential to drastically improve the visitor's experience. My main thoughts are listed below.
There are a ton of ways you can leverage social media to increase traffic to your blog and gain awareness. For starters, every blog should use these: Facebook Fanpage, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube channel, Tumblr site, Delicious, Digg, Disqus, BallHype and FanFeedr. Fanfeedr offers personalized real-time sports aggregation and it launched in public beta yesterday. If you run a niche sports blog, it could be the perfect way to stay on top of your team, region or league. All the tools I've listed are absolutely free, easy to use and they will allow you to have a presence in multiple communities. There is no reason your blog shouldn't have just as much personality as the writer behind it... just look at HHReynolds and LaxAllStars (disclaimer: I'm a co-founder).
Player & Team Accessibility
Players and teams are going to become much more accessible to the average sports blogger. With more and more big names embracing social media, there is no better time to start planning a strategy for getting your foot in the door. People get jobs through Twitter, so why not try snagging an interview or a press pass? Whether it's a blogger or journalist, a good writer deserves a press pass.
Real World Networking
Three words: BLOGS WITH BALLS. Don Povia and Chris Lucas from HHR Media Group are onto something big here. BwB facilitated great discussions and networking, and more of these types of events will surface. There's no doubt that sports bloggers who attended the event came away recognizing the value in what they can learn from meeting with others who are in similar shoes. Tweetups, meetups, BwBups... A community of sports bloggers can and will unite.
As one panelist mentioned at BwB, it's important to keep a good list of your contacts. The truth is for every article there is a good reason to reach out. When it comes to players, teams, brands, or any blog post's subject you can always find someone important to share the link with.
At BwB, there was a guy representing a Cricket blog. During Gary Vaynerchuk's keynote, Gary asked the guy what he wrote about and people chuckled at his reply. No one there was an avid cricket fan, but there is an audience out there just waiting for the best Cricket blog on the planet. Sport-specific advertisers, time on site, influence and trust – there is huge potential in catering to a specific sports niche. Banner ads and full-out site sponsorships are going to become easier to sell because advertisers are going realize the value in keeping their brand in front of eyeballs for a long period of time. Time on site will become a huge factor in ad rates and so will the ability to influence purchase decisions.
With new media rapidly evolving and the demand for real-time access to information increasing, it is important to keep friends close. Bloggers should have a group of people they can reach out to immediately if something big happens. Ranging from friends and family to avid commentors to contacts made via Twitter, it is important to reach out and include them when exciting things are happening. Building a community of core people who visit the blog everyday will allow you to easily collect feedback, solicit ideas, and ask for input. This is crucial. After all, these are the people worth writing for.
Building out social features on a blog will inevitably help grow traffic and keep visitors engaged. Adding ShareThis or similar capabilities is a must. Beyond that, just picture giving your readers a chance to publicly submit links others might like, then you add a voting function and all of a sudden your community is filtering content. You can learn a lot about your readers from such an addition. Or what about asking your readers what other blogs they visit and creating a RSS feed hub (think AllTop Fantasy Football or SportsBizFeed.com) as a place for them to start their day? Another idea: welcome any other sports blogger to automatically dump their info into a blog directory on your site. It's small features like these which aren't difficult to build that will strengthen a blog's long-term potential and bring it notoriety.
More and more bloggers are going to get developers on board. The ones who move away from Blogger-esque hosting and onto custom-built platforms are going to hit home runs. The best platforms will embrace the social web, integrating relevant social media mentions into layouts while simultaneously giving readers the power to easily respond. At some point a specialized sports blogging platform can and will be openly shared, allowing bloggers to control every aspect of their site without having to come on board a blogging ad network. The possibilities are endless here.
Traffic analysis is incredibly important and any good sports blogger already has Google Analytics or something similar. So, what's next? Look into a real-time service like Chartbeat and you'll see the possibilities. Not only can a blog owner see what's happening right now on their site, they can now adapt and change things quickly. As your blog becomes more sticky and average time on site increases, imagine the effect displaying real-time stats publicly would have on your audience. Another service, Navegg, collects navigational data from visitors and provides you with demographic information on your visitors. Currently in private beta, the goal is to help you make your content more relevant and target advertising more efficiently. All-in-all, these tools are important to grasp because they allow for deep analysis of who's actually reading your blog and how you can create a better user-experience.
Can you think of other things that will effect the future of sports blogging? Drop them in the comments section or shoot me an email. If it's unique, crazy, or downright brilliant, we want to hear about it.