1-on-1 with Twitter's Omid Ashtari

Photo by Roxxe Ireland/Marc Bryan-Brown Photography
Ashtari: “We’re not asking you to get closer to the edge. We’re asking you to be authentic and share what you would share with your fans anyways and just have fun with it."
Twitter Head of Sports Partnerships Omid Ashtari sat for a wide-ranging Q&A at the ’13 Social Media & Sports Series, where he discussed the company’s new content deal with the NFL, the relationship between Twitter and TV, how sports teams can better engage their fans through social media, and whether there is competition with Facebook.

Why the NFL deal works: “We’ve been working with a lot of media partners, specifically content owners, to help them extend their reach on social mediums, Twitter specifically. We’d done deals with the NBA and ESPN and we looked at the NFL because you look at Twitter on Sundays during NFL seasons and the conversation is dominated by NFL. We wanted to make sure that we could help the NFL get to that audience. We don’t all have RedZone and we don’t all have every channel, so it’s an opportunity for the fans to see highlights, whether it’s postgame or halftime, and on Thursday games you get to see it in real time. So it was a matter of helping our partners, the media entities, reach out to a bigger audience, some of who might not be watching the games, and give them a chance to see the highlights and then tune in to the game, and vice versa leading people to tweet more about the game.”

On the new Amplify ad platform: “The premise is actually pretty simple. We’re helping the partner, in this case the NFL, to reach an audience beyond that real-time component. At the end of the day Twitter is real time conversation and the tweets are flowing. If you tweet something at, let’s say 5 p.m., and you log on at 5:10, you may have missed it. But we’re able to help that content get in front of you as someone who’s a fan of the NFL even after it happened. It’s an extension of the audience. And the opportunity there is also to bring in a sponsor to be associated with that content, which creates a new revenue stream for the NFL.”

Working with Geoff Reiss & Ben Grossman:
“We wanted to bring in more people with a lot of media experience. Jeff worked at ESPN for well over a decade … and he has a lot of sports relationships. It’s important for us to keep making our relationships stronger, so we brought in Geoff. Ben, similarly, has a lot of experience in the media business and we wanted to just grow our team and build more relationships because we look at our platforms as being so complementary to the media entities that we wanted to bring in some more folks in the media industry.”

On the relationship between Twitter and TV: “We’re working with Nielsen and essentially giving them our data so they can analyze it, and they’ll put out a Nielsen Twitter/TV rating, which is coming out in the future. They’re able to tell programmers who’s talking about this show, how many people are tweeting, how many tweets have been sent out, and more rich data will come around, in terms of where are people are tweeting from. … We know anecdotally from watching something happen on Twitter and then turning the channel that it works. And Nielsen proved that with a study that came out in early August that there’s an actual causation between social conversation, specifically on Twitter, and ratings going up.”

Trial and error with sports team Twitter feeds: “Teams are constantly live tweeting stuff throughout the season, but we wanted to figure out further, what is the stuff that has the most traction, what is going to give them the most return. … So we staged this conversation with five teams that MLB helped us set up to just test different things out. The biggest thing that came out of this, which everyone assumes but it was proven, is people love media. They want to get closer to the action and they want to get that insider perspective that nobody else has. What was fascinating is the performance of Vine -- people love the story telling that’s happening on Vine.”

Getting involved in big events: “The Super Bowl was great because we were fortunate that a lot of the conversation was happening on our platform, but also what ended up happening was the brands were actually shining during that period of blackout. Oreo did a very unique ad that got a lot of mention and press, and Calvin Klein did a Vine of a guy working on his abs while the lights were out. … Us being a part of the conversation is simply making sure that our partners are able to use the platforms without anything going wrong.”

Best Twitter accounts: “The L.A. Kings is far and away one of my favorite accounts. They’ve taken on the personality of the club but they also sort of shine and show what the personality of the team is. There are two specific examples. One was during the elections. They sent out a tweet on Election Day that said, ‘Make sure you get out there and vote because you will impact who’s going to shake our hand when we go to the White House.’ Then on the other end of the spectrum, the day they got knocked out of the playoffs by the Blackhawks, they sent a tweet to the Penguins that said, ‘Do you want to go get a drink?’ because the Penguins had lost the night before. It’s just personality. It shines through and it shows. The NBA is phenomenal because they’re constantly highlighting their players, celebrating them, sharing stuff that’s really interesting to the fans in real time.”

Advice for improving feeds: “We’re not asking you to get closer to the edge. We’re asking you to be authentic and share what you would share with your fans anyways and just have fun with it. Part of getting closer and getting more insight is having a little fun with it. … We’re just continuing to try to educate our partners and brainstorm with them in what is this content that’s going to differentiate you and the stuff that your fans really want, but that’s also complementary to what’s happening on TV. You’re never going to replace the live action that’s happening there, but you’re complementing it with either social conversation or just insights and bringing them a little bit closer.”

Can Twitter sustain the suggestion that 50% of tweets are sports related? “Anything that’s live, anything that is going to drive conversation, anything that is talked about publicly, does well on our platform. Sports – it’s evergreen. There’s a game pretty much every single day of the year. … Whether it stays at 50% or 40% or 60%, I can’t predict that, it fluctuates. If you look at it on a month-to-month basis it depends on how much sports are on in a month. But because every single sports event is live, is conversation, is public, it does really well on our platform. You can’t say that about all television shows. A lot of television shows are scripted, and so it’s not the same. It may be airing live but it’s at different times on the East Coast and the West Coast. Sports is happening simultaneously in terms of the viewership by everyone around the country.”

Offline opportunities: “Encouraging our partners to educate their fan base. At the end of the day we want to help any team get as many of their fans as possible on the platform so they can communicate with them in real time.”

Can Twitter drive ticket sales? “In helping (teams) build their follower base, and doing these case studies around live tweeting, we’re trying to figure out what people engage with. We don’t know yet because Twitter’s not a commerce platform. Do people want to buy tickets on Twitter? I don’t know how much impulse purchasing of tickets happen. Surely if a team has 1,000 tickets left to sell they could potentially send out a tweet at noon and try to drive people to a site. Whether that ever lives on Twitter or not, I don’t know, but we’re not going to become the commerce platform but we may enable other people to do it.”

On competition with other social media: “These are social mediums that people use to communicate, but they each have different utilities. There’s certain things that differentiate Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and us. The things that we look at and focus on are the live, the conversations, the public. We hone in on what our strengths are and try to keep building on top of that. If people are using one, they’re probably using the other. Facebook may be the biggest right now because they’ve been around the longest and they’ve also amassed the largest audience, but they have a different utility than Twitter. So we look at them as companies that are in the same space as us and we’re all sort of rising together.”

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Related Topics:

Twitter, Media, NFL, Facebook, NBA, ESPN

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