Texas, Social Media, and Pickup Basketball

Bo Jackson.

Deion Sanders.

Robert Bochnak?

Yes, once upon a time I–like Bo and “Primetime”–was a single season, two-sport athlete.

It was the winter of my twelfth year and I was playing right wing for my local youth hockey team when I heard about an upcoming CYO basketball tryout. The year before, I had become obsessed with the college game and each Saturday I would watch hours of it and then head outside to shoot baskets in my driveway. So, when I found out that tryouts were happening, I jumped at the opportunity (ignoring the obvious reality that, if I made the club, there was no way I could do both since many of the games and practices conflicted).

I ended up making the basketball team and what followed was–as expected–a disaster. Some weeks, I skipped hockey and my teammates would be upset. Other times, I missed basketball and those teammates would get angry.

Ultimately, I gave up my basketball aspirations and became a high school hockey star. Well, that’s a bit of a stretch. I was–at best–slightly above average. But at least I looked tough.

After high school, I hung up my skates and didn’t think too much about hockey or basketball. I graduated from college–and later grad school–got married, had kids, embarked on a career, and moved to Texas with my family in July 2016. One day, while relaxing in our new home, my wife turned to me and said, “Hey, there’s a bunch of guys who play basketball here in Harvest (where we live) and you should check it out.” So, one Saturday morning, I grabbed my running shoes–I hadn’t picked up a proper pair of basketball shoes yet–and, like I did thirty years previously, headed to a basketball court. Since then, I’ve logged hours on the court and since I see almost everything through a social media lens, I’d like to share what life as “baller”* has in common with social media.

Play to Your Strengths

Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, wants to go “viral.” That is, we want what we post on social media–whether you’re a social media professional or not–to be seen by millions of people and  end up featured in articles like this.

We all want to “go big” on the basketball court, too. We want to drain threes like Steph Curry, dunk like LeBron James, and pass like Chris Paul.

But, let’s face it…going viral and playing like this, is not in the cards for most of us, myself included. So, what can we do? We can ignore reality (see below) or we can focus on what we are good at.

On the basketball court, I have two things going for me: I hustle and I’m fairly tall. The former helps because, since I’m running around a lot, I can usually grab some loose balls and get to the few areas on the court that I feel comfortable shooting from. Since I’m around 6 foot, three inches tall, I can rebound pretty well and play passable defense. What I DO NOT do is toss up a bunch of three-pointers or drive to the basket since both my long range shooting and my dribbling skills are suspect at best.

When it comes my work on behalf of the Harvard Business School (HBS), I follow the same strategies I do on the basketball court: I focus on what I’m good at, as opposed to trying to be something I’m not (for example, I don’t try to “talk” like a millennial or post amusing memes that have nothing to do with HBS). What I DO believe I excel at is using data (we collect information–year of graduation, interests, city and state of residence–for all the alumni we interact with on social media) to develop and sustain strong digital relationships with our alumni.

Below are some examples of this approach in action.

I’ve followed this direct engagement model since my first days at HBS and it’s helped us generate more than 100,000 alumni interactions since January 2013. It’s an approach I’m completely comfortable with and this makes it much easier to scale. Could I succeed if I was asked to apply a different social media model? Maybe. But I doubt we’d achieve the same level of results.

How did I determine which areas–both on the basketball court and on social media–were strengths? I experimented a lot and collected as much data as I could. For basketball, this meant taking mental notes of where on the court I shoot best from. For social media, I was a bit more deliberate. I collected (and still do) information on likes, comments, replies, and clickthroughs, and tried to deduce which type of content generates the most activity among our audience. For example, the data shows that certain campus shots on Instagram resonate with alumni more than others. I also know that alumni on Twitter tend to respond more to career updates about classmates than anything else. With this information at my disposal, I can combine this data with my skill set for maximum benefit. It’s a sort of predictive analysis that, while not perfect, is a much better option that closing my eyes and lofting up the social media equivalent of a full court shot.

Adapt, Adapt, Adapt

We never know who’s going to show up to play on any given day. Since most of us are married with children, it’s pretty common for family responsibilities to take precedence over everything else, including Harvest pickup basketball. This means it’s unclear who I’m going to be running plays with or facing off against on defense. Therefore, I have to adapt. One day, I may be defending someone taller with roughly the same build. Other times, I may be covering someone who is much younger, quicker, and hasn’t attained “dad bod” status yet. This means I have to adapt and modify my approach on both offense and defense. For me, this may mean posting up more on offense or running around the court even more than I already do.

Social media is the same way. We’re constantly adapting to changing circumstances and trying to capitalize on them as soon as possible. This isn’t to say that we don’t have a plan for each day–especially around events like reunion–but we are quick to abandon them if more promising engagement opportunities come to our attention. Because we never know when….

an alumnus plans to visit a country for the first time…

..hung out with an internationally known business leader…

…or just witnessed movie history.

Keep Shooting

No matter how well I’m playing, eventually, my shots stop falling and I go ice cold. When this happens, my first thought is, ‘well, then stop shooting.’ This thought process is entirely natural…and wrong. The only way to really get out of a shooting slump is to keep shooting as you make subtle modifications like adding more arc to your shot or tinkering with your release point.

Social media managers can go into slumps as well. Maybe your Instagram posts aren’t getting “likes” or maybe your tweets are getting absolutely no response. When this happens, you have two options: you can stop posting and call it a day or you can keep pushing out content. Like readjusting your shot, there are some things you can do. From my experience, I’ll take a look at the photos or tweets that performed well in the past and share a similar image to get things “rolling” again.

For example, when we’re experiencing a slow period on Instagram, I’ll post a photo of the HBS sign (see below).

For some reason, photos like this always do well and get me back on track–it’s the social media equivalent of a “lucky roll” off a bad shot that somehow finds the bottom of the net. If we’re slumping on Twitter, I may push out a particular type of question that I think will generate some responses. An example of this would be our chat on Amazon’s second headquarters, a discussion that generated more than fifty alumni responses.

 

No slump, whether it’s on a basketball court or on social media, lasts forever and the key is to just keep plugging away.

Because, eventually, your shots will hit nothing but net.

Robert Bochnak manages social media for the Harvard Business School’s alumni office. Follow him on Twitter at @RobertBoc.

 

*This is the only time in this post that I will try to sound cool or anything other than what I am–which is a forty-year old guy who digs “ABBA,” “The A-Team,” and thinks curling is pretty awesome.