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  • Writer's pictureDavid Brake

Engaging Europe on social media the NBA way

The NBA Finals is one of the greatest sporting events in the world. That's a fact. Broadcast around the world, featuring global superstars such as Kevin Durant, LeBron James and Stephen Curry, it's not exactly a tough sell. The pitch could easily be: 'Do you love extraordinary talent and jaw-dropping action? Welcome to the NBA Finals.' That's too simple though. It's generic, easy, and lacks that special engagement with any fan outside of the hardcore realm.

As we approached this year's finals, running the social media operations in six European markets (UK, Poland, Turkey, Spain, Italy and France), we wanted to approach the event with a fresh, localised and inspiring take on content. The key questions we faced were: what's the process of supporting one of the best brands in the world on social media? How do you reimagine the battle between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors as they face off for the fourth year in a row? What are the best snacks to support staying awake until 7 am?

Let's begin with the markets. I'll take you back to 18 months ago, where yours truly was a basketball novice. I couldn't identify an alley-oop from a handle. For shame! From the day-to-day exposure, my understanding, appreciation, and love for the game has reached unparalleled heights. Even now, I'm aware of my previous ignorance, where I knew so little about this glorious sport.

The value comes when you speak to our wondrous social managers from each market: die-hard geniuses of the sport. Our Italian manager, Dan, is even nicknamed The Professor in our WhatsApp group due to his encyclopaedic knowledge of the game. As you approach the NBA Finals, you need to ensure you're hitting every fan group you can – whether they be a professor or a former dunce like me. Our Finals 101 was our central entry point for fans across the board, retelling the story of how both teams got to the NBA Finals, in local language.

It's much more than this, though. In the UK, the education level about basketball is considered lower than that of Continental Europe, so we spent greater resources developing the hype and information levels around the game: infographics, hero GFXs, reaction videos, hype trailer, individual player highlight compilations and more.

Meanwhile, in Spain and Turkey, where the love of basketball is phenomenal, you've got to approach things differently. Adding into the mix two players from each nation - Cedi Osman (Turkey) and Jose Calderon (Spain), you've got a fantastic opportunity to score big wins. It began by focusing on these fringe players as the heroes. We even produced phone wallpapers to drive tune in and celebrate the talent. It's not just about celebrating local players that brings success, it's the little things that make a big difference.

When handling six markets across several time zones, you learn some fascinating isms. In Spain, my manager Aaron consistently wrote 'amig@s' when speaking to fans on Twitter. My Spanish isn't what it used to be, but it always struck me as sleep-crazed-double vision or a mere keyboard error. Thus, I questioned Aaron and pointed out that 'amigos' is a masculine constructed phrase in Spanish, which presents a potentially innate, if unintended, sexism. In France too, Stéphane often mixed English and French language in his social copy. The mix delivered the best results, as fans embraced the US' nature of the sport, appreciating the finer details in their own local language.

That's the blessing about speaking with people in each country - they know their markets. We can install the best social practices into them to guide their work towards brilliance, but without that local knowledge, it's meaningless and simply repeating the excellent work produced by the US global team.

There are so many elements required to make the NBA Finals coverage work. For starters, you've got to ensure you're up until the sun rises / the game finishes, as that's what you're encouraging your fans to do. It seems hypocritical at the very least to drive tune-in daily and refuse to stay up with them. Our Italian custom hashtag of #NessunDorma (Never Sleep) delivered a sensational return – not only in numbers but long-term loyalty.

Beyond this, you've got to be in complete sync with the tremendous global social output. You can't work in siloes, simply repeating the work of the @NBA handles. Thankfully, we had direct lines to the central team. Even with the multiple channels and browsers open, communication remained crystal clear into the wee hours of the morning. A credit to everyone involved.

With the Golden State Warriors defending their championship against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA season is over for another year. As my sleep pattern finally returns to normal, it's great to see how we were able to tell this story to each market with education, engagement and passion. The exciting news is to see what we do next year…

P.S. For those wondering, the best snacks are bananas, toast and Percy Pigs. An unbeatable combo.

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