Peter Stringer COM ’98 talks Digital Media in Sports

The internet was just starting and social media didn’t exist when Peter Stringer landed his first internship building content and a website for NESN. It’s a different world today, as he now leads a seven-person digital content team as vice president of digital media for the iconic Boston Celtics.

You’ve gone so far as to have the Celtics Twitter handle painted on the court. Does the rise in digital media change how you target your fans who don’t use it?

You certainly aren’t trying to leave fans behind that aren’t a part of that, but if you look at the demographics of Facebook – everyone’s parents are on Facebook now. Twitter and Instagram may skew a little bit younger, but the games are still on television and radio. The methods that an older generation used to follow the team are still widely available to them. We’re making the team available in new ways. If your grandparents are 90 years old, they can still consume the product just as easily as a 13-years-old on SnapChat.

I know you have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, your mobile app… Is it important to keep the messaging consistent across all of those platforms?

You have to understand the audience on each platform. Obviously Instagram is an image platform, so we’re trying to provide high quality imagery that you may not see anywhere else.

Right.

Twitter is a real-time platform, so we’ll present things happening live in that moment. Facebook is run by an algorithm. You might see stuff from five minutes ago and from five hours ago and even a few days ago. That said, in many cases we are trying to be consistent about the way we portray the brand, but the message and package we use on those platforms are designed to work best with the ways platforms operate, and the way people expect them to behave.

Twitter is where a lot of brands have direct conversations with fans, but you tend to not do that as much.

If you’re American Airlines and a flight takes off late, you have an opportunity to try to fix that or enhance their experience. I would say 90% of the commentary on Twitter about us regards game play or a trade we make. We can’t control what happens on the court – that’s just out of our hands, so there really isn’t much we can say to fans. Realistically, it just hasn’t been a part of our overall strategy.

How often does your strategy change? I know Twitter has a new algorithm coming in, and I think Instagram too.

A perfect example. With Twitter introducing an algorithm, it’s going to change how we look at the platform and it might change our strategy in terms of how we interact with fans there. The big thing is really understanding the platforms how they operate at a deep level, then adjusting strategy accordingly.

I imagine you don’t have time to really assess your strategy during the season. If things change mid-season, do you adapt on the fly?

You kind of have to, to some degree, but you’re not going to drastically shift strategy during a season. We certainly tweak our strategy when things change – maybe the algorithm starts favoring a different type of content, or there is suddenly an opportunity we feel we need to take advantage of, like restructuring Facebook advertising – but those things are maybe once a year. Generally, the changes show their effects over a few months and you want to have a good data set to understand what they mean, and strategize accordingly.

Speaking of Facebook advertising, you use the “pay-to-play” phrase a lot, which I understand to mean that you have to pay for your audience to see content. How do you measure what’s worth paying to have seen?

 I think anything that we can direct back to a real ROI. If we’re going to pay to promote a post on any platform, we have to have an expectation that it will deliver results. That might be ticket sales or brand exposure for our partner that’s paying us to reach our audience.

Back in the early days [of Facebook] when we had about four or five million fans, it was not uncommon to reach two million fans with a post. Now, if you reach 2-3% [of your audience], you’re doing okay. When you see Twitter doing that [shifting to run on an algorithm], whatever you thought your reach was before is gonna be scaled back. This seems like a natural progression for them to try another path to monetization – forcing companies to spend on advertising to reach their own audience. These platforms have become just a media spend more than anything.

Those are the traditional platforms, but what about new ones? How do you decide what’s right for the Celtics?

You have to be paying attention to the marketplace. When SnapChat came out and started really gaining traction, we took control of that Celtics name. But then you really have to evaluate the marketplace. It’s really hard to have a strategy on a new platform without just starting to use it. As you start using it, you can start thinking about what that strategy might be.

I’m not a huge SnapChat person, but it could simply be that I’m not in the target demographic. I can’t let that affect the way we think about marketing at all. We need to be in touch with what people are doing.

You basically created all of this out of Celtics.com, e-mail marketing, a childhood passion for the Celtics. Where do you see it going next?

Anything that takes fans closer to the action. You never quite know what’s going to be on the horizon, but we can take some good guesses. For me, it’s always been about trying to stay as close to the edge as possible. A big part of that is understanding what isn’t part of your future.

Before I let you go – what’s one piece of advice that you would give to a student looking into your field?

Everything in marketing is measurable. Honestly? Learn Microsoft excel. That’s probably the most valuable thing for almost any job really, not just a sports job. I’ve never been a math guy necessarily, but I understand enough about it to be dangerous in terms of being able to look at the ROI or our stats and being able to shift strategy accordingly.

BEpstein

Originally from New Jersey, Brianna is working toward her second degree from BU’s College of Communication – this time as a graduate student in the Mass Communication Studies program. She is passionate about creating memorable experiences, both on a personal and professional level, and hopes to apply this passion to a career working with brands that make a point to have positive impacts on their communities – particularly in the sports and entertainment or consumer goods spaces. She also loves to travel and try new things, and may or may not be slightly obsessed her dog. Want to know more? Connect with her on LinkedIn!

 

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