Ep. 19: Social Fan Engagement & Community Building with Tom Weingarten
In each episode of The GameDay Playbook presented by FanFood, Rob Cressy discusses how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate gameday more efficiently.
Tom Weingarten, Head of Social Media at Overtime, joins Rob Cressy to talk about fan engagement and how brands can build a community on social. What does Overtime’s fan engagement mindset look like and how has it helped them build one of the most engaging brands on social? Why is brand voice so important and how does creating great captions allow that to shine? Why is responding back to your fans such a crucial part of fan engagement and brand building? How is Overtime forward thinking with their fan engagement and why are they all about Tik Tok right now?
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Rob Cressy: (00:04)
Welcome to the Gameday Playbook presented by FanFood, a discussion around how leaders are transforming the sports and live entertainment industry by leveraging technology to enhance the fan experience and operate game day more efficiently. I'm your host Rob Cressy. And joining me today is Tom Weingarten, head of social media at Overtime. Tom, great to have you on the show.
Tom Weingarten: (00:30)
Thank you Rob. Thanks for having me.
Rob Cressy: (00:32)
Can you give a quick overview on who you are and what you do?
Tom Weingarten: (00:35)
Yeah, definitely. So like you said, Tom Weingarten. I work at Overtime, it's a sports media company kind of for GenZ for the next generation of sports fans. And I run all of our socials. So we cover all sports but mainly football, basketball, soccer and e-sports. And we'd have accounts for all of them, men and women in sports as well, and basically work with a big team here to figure out what the audience, what younger people want to see from a sports company like us. So a lot of publishing content, a lot of looking for content and a wide variety of different things.
Rob Cressy: (01:07)
So what I want to talk about among other things is fan engagement because I know Overtime has done an incredible job of two things that I see from the ad side, building a community and then engaging the community. And those are things that they would seem obvious like, Oh, of course you would want to do that. But then when we look at the marketplace, you continually see brands who are not doing either of those things. So I want to see if you could give us some insight first into how you guys think about fan engagement.
Tom Weingarten: (01:41)
Yeah, I think it started kind of right when we began Overtime. So three years ago when we first started launching our social media accounts, we had a really small team. There was like myself and like three or four other people. For social I was the only person publishing. So it really felt like a personal account, from our voice and our captions. Like it was just me speaking from reacting to fans and followers. We were very personable and like for me, I was a high school football, high school basketball coach. So I dealt with a lot of athletes who were in that high school range and I knew that like they just, they want to feel like authenticity. So to be able to be real and have like a voice and have a conversation with them where it goes past the brand, it feels like you're talking to someone. I think that kind of started it and we just developed it over time to keep making it feel like Overtime isn't just like a company or a brand like that. There's people behind it and showing those people consistently really helps.
Rob Cressy: (02:34)
So I think that's an important thing that I really want to stress and this can be for any brand anywhere, is the importance of captions and your ability as a brand to let your brand shine. Because I think a lot of times you hear brands that say it feels kind of weird when we talk like a person as opposed to talking from a brand. And I've always been one in the camp of there's a person running this account, so talk like a person, don't talk like a brand. So expand a little bit on that.
Tom Weingarten: (03:09)
Yeah, and I think that we kind of take it to the next level. I've posted every single post on Overtime's Instagram for three short years. It's been almost a thousand days. So it's really me, and that voice does feel consistent, but even as we work at other accounts and where we're more people, the consistency really matters. Like to have the same people or the same type of voice continuously. That makes it feel real. And I understand what brands, it's like how do you switch to that? And it's a slow process. You can't just jump from doing what you're doing now to jumping into that. But I think usually you slowly kind of build it up and really think about how you can, all right, we're not going to do it in our captains at first, but we're going to reply to some comments or we're going to reply to our DM that way and then slowly build up to the point where now your caption is going to feel more authentic and more personable. I think that build-up is really important for brands that are trying to make that switch.
Rob Cressy: (03:57)
All right, well that's a great transition to the next part of fan engagement is the response. So, so often brands will say, all right, my job is done when I do the post. That means I can check off social media, boom, I did my social media for a day. But the brands that succeed likeOvertime, that is actually just the start of the conversation. So dive into this a little bit.
Tom Weingarten: (04:24)
That is just the beginning. Finding the content, writing the caption is the easiest part. Now it's taking that next step further to reply in the comments too. Commenting on other people's stuff too. Making sure that people know who you are. Overtime has this playful, fun vibe, we have actually people here. I think myself and a couple of other people who will go in the comments and roast our comments there, have playful jokes, make fun of them, they make fun of us back, make fun of our competitors, like other brands in it. Like it's kind of this back and forth game that we play, but that's kind of taking it to like that next intense level. But or not like even just replying to commenters and like being able to joke and make fun of yourself because a lot of commenters are like haters or jokes or making fun of something you posted.
Tom Weingarten: (05:06)
So being able to have like playful interaction with that, it makes it feel a lot more real. I always say like your comment conversation should be like, it's you and your friend hanging out in a basement talking sports. It's like, it should feel the exact same way. So as long as the comments feel that and they feel organic, then that just, that's gonna make a huge difference. Even just liking people's comments. If you're a brand or something where you don't feel comfortable with responding, throwing a like even I think for them to get that notification from a brand with a million followers, with a blue check mark or anything that is going to make people feel so much more connected to you.
Rob Cressy: (05:35)
Yeah, it's really about acknowledgement and awareness. So there's so many different ways to think about this. If you wanted just on an awareness level, just by hitting that like button, what you've done is you've made that one person more aware of what you do. And then if you take this to the next level and you start responding back to them, and I always give example that I think about the brands that have responded back to me on social media. And it's not very hard because there's very few of them. I can probably count them on one hand, but you know who's done it not once but twice. Budweiser. So going to Wrigley, they've got the Budweiser bleachers I believe, and there's this giant Budweiser sign in the right field there. So naturally I take a picture and then I cheers up to it or something. And what happens, whoever's running that Budweiser account responds back not with something generic but with something like, wow, that was actually a heartfelt, I dug it and then I did it again, I don't know, weeks or months later and boom, Budweiser came back again. And I feel like there's such an opportunity for brands to do this and stand out because so few others aren't willing to because I believe in it's actually the culture and mindset of how most brands run social media. That is their downfall. It is the check box, not the we're building and engaging the community in. What would you want to hear or feel like if someone responded to you?
Tom Weingarten: (07:07)
Yeah, no, 100%. It's incredible how you can like make someone's day even by just replying even from my personal account, which doesn't have a ton of followers, it's like replying something. Like they might take a screenshot and put it on their story. Like the Budweiser thing is a perfect example. You're going to go tell your friends about that. You're telling me about it. Like it's a conversation thing and it's something that people like want to share.
Rob Cressy: (07:27)
So let's take this, and I don't think this applies once again just to overtime or sports media brand that this can be done on the smallest level with an account with 100 or less followers. Because it's something that I talk about every time I'm, I'm working with clients is engagement. The first thing that you have to do is you have to put yourself out there. You have to continually ask questions because no one is ever going to respond to you if you don't ask the question first. And at first you have to prime your audience because if you're going from zero engagement to I want to engage this audience, you now have to say, I'm going to put it out there. We want to engage, we want to engage, we want to engage. So now all of a sudden your audience starts getting this mindset of engagement. At first they're just used to buy what I'm selling. They're ignoring you, but then one person responds and then that's when you have your opportunity to say, great, let me start working on building that brand and then you rinse and repeat. So it's something that's a a longterm mindset that you have to show up every day with.
Tom Weingarten: (08:34)
Yeah, 100% like when you start social media kit, you can't be thinking like okay, I'm going to get to this amount of hours and I'm going to stop. It's like there is no end. It's very like nonstop grind and like I said, it's consistency. Consistency is the most important thing. Like every day we're going to post these eight to 10 times, every day we're going to respond to all of these people. It's like even if you're not a sports fan or something, you're still posting stuff and I think building that consistently of when you're posting what kind of content you're posting and like being analytic about it. Like looking at the data, okay, this stuff does really well. People start responding to this and now I can respond to that and you'll see your engagement go up and you'd start replying people. It's really a chain reaction where they started to tag their friends and more people want to get those kinds of replies.
Rob Cressy: (09:16)
So where do you guys find people say, but I don't have the time for all of this, Tom, how do you guys think about that? Because it's the most logical excuse. We don't have the time, budget, resources, knowledge to do anything. It's all the excuses you hear for why things can't happen. But what I want to do is break things down so that when someone's listening to this right now, they can actually take this away and say, listen, time is all up to you. So how do you guys think about this?
Tom Weingarten: (09:46)
Yeah, well if I'm a brand or something that you know, I don't think you can put a limit on social. Like there's not that many things more valuable than that. So you make the resources, then you make the time for it. If you're a brand, when you're just someone who's running an account, it really is a grind and you'd have to like be really dedicated to it. So every single day you can build up. If you're only going to be able to post once a day, what's that time of the day where you're going to be able to respond and engage as much as possible? Or can you post and then make sure that 10 minutes in an hour you're going to have 10 minutes of free time to respond as much as possible.
Tom Weingarten: (10:23)
I think that like you'll, you'll get the results and the hard thing that is, it's a really slow buildup, right? That first thousand followers, 10,000 followers that build up is hard. You know, once you get to that big numbers, then you're like, okay, this is easy. I want to keep doing it. It is really hard. So you need someone who's super dedicated to it, someone that's going to, it's going to be their life. Someone that's gonna make it really, really important to them. And I think that yeah, the success you see from it is how much you time, how much time you can put into it. It really is like, it's something where you really see your time pay off.
Rob Cressy: (10:55)
One thing that you mentioned to me before we jumped on the podcast is some past experience you've had working on smaller accounts. And what I loved about this is that it really shows your breadth and that you're someone who practices what you preach. And I believe you said it was a high school booster club.
Tom Weingarten: (11:14)
Yeah. Drawing up my first job while in college was coaching high school football. One of my closest friends, he was my coach. He let me come join the squad and I was like, how can I help this football coach? I'm in college, I don't have any background other than climbing. And he was like start helping out with our social and I had no background at all and it was, you know, a high school football team and then I eventually started doing the basketball team and so on and so forth. But yeah, it was just like, I don't know how to do social. And it's crazy. They had 75 hours I think when I started and I was running Overtime with like a million followers and it was just like I was telling him just as much time and doing focus and it was really fun. So you can do it. Once you're into it, you kind of like pick up those tricks and those habits, but no matter what, you could be the best social media person in the world. It is all about the grind and like how much time you're willing to put into it.
Rob Cressy: (12:05)
Isn't that crazy though, that you're working on one account with 1,000,00, one with 75, but the tactic is the exact same thing. I and I want to stress that that fundamentally you can't let the number of followers that you have determine your effort and your strategy towards it because your success is the exact same thing.
Tom Weingarten: (12:26)
No, exactly, and I think honestly with less followers it's actually more focused. You don't have any room for errors. Right. Or at the time like I posted, that's not great. If you have a smaller account and you post something that's not great, you're not engaging, that is going to be have way more of an impact on that account. When you go to a smaller town and trying to build it, they're asking me and obsessiveness with every post is going to be great. Every caption is going to be on point. I'm going to have the right line breaks. I'm going to have the emojis in the right place. I'm going to respond to comments. There's any like a simple way that's going to make them feel like they're talking to someone. When you're first starting, it's those little things that kind of separate you. I think.
Rob Cressy: (13:05)
I agree 100% intention is always in the details and this is one part are one part science but it's a constantly evolving algorithm for you as the brand.
Tom Weingarten: (13:18)
Yeah, I like it. It is a little things, especially with all your time too. It's the stuff that I don't think any like random person would see you have to like really dive in, but I was just talking about it like our captions, like you'll never see a line break where an emoji is on a separate line than the words you'll always see the same way of crediting. Our footage is a certain timeline. Everything is the exact, we start with something that's going to really pop to you. There's mass, there's a ton of things that go into it that are like really, really small details and they make a huge, huge difference.
Rob Cressy: (13:51)
One thing that I want to talk about with you next is being forward thinking and Overtime is quick to jump on new platforms because you guys are thought leaders in the industry there. So people are looking for you guys to say, Hey, where can you build a community? How can you engage? And I think Tik Tok is an example of this. Share a little bit about why and how you guys got into Tik Tok and sort of the results that you're seeing.
Tom Weingarten: (14:16)
Yeah, I've been waiting for this moment for like three years where it was like we would finally get a platform that we could start at the same time as everyone else, right? So when we got on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, those are 10 years old, you know, and every kind of brand has already been on it. And we were kind of late to the game as a new company. But with Tik Tok, it was like, we can be the first people on there and we'll actually start at the same place as all of our other kind of competitors or other brands. So I became obsessed very quickly. It's very similar to how Vine was for kind of maybe the older generation that used Vine, which I used a lot growing up in middle school and high school. So immediately I didn't know that I would kind of know it would click them what would work.
Tom Weingarten: (14:55)
But again, I was saying to your followers and realizing that not every platform is the same. What does well on Instagram isn't necessarily going to do well on Tik Tok, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, they're all very separate and we look at each platform really separate. So we hopped on there very quickly. It was just at a ton of research and I tested a bunch of different kinds of posts from highlights to heartfelt stuff to different sports, the funny things and really figured out the timelines. I really figured out quickly what worked well on that platform. We've been able to grow to 3.4 million followers. Honestly, by the time this comes out, it'll probably be 3.6 million followers. And about three to five months. I think we've grown that much. It's bigger than our Instagram at this point last month. We have several accounts. We have our main account and then we have our different sports.
Tom Weingarten: (15:42)
And then our talent here also has accounts. And combined, we did over 400 million views in the month of October. So it is a huge platform for us that we're super excited about.
Rob Cressy: (15:53)
And since it skews younger, is Tik Tok something that you would recommend for most brands? Or what should the mindset be about adopting things? Cause I think one of the challenges that brands with limited resources have, one, it's hard enough for them to even get one platform right nonetheless. Saying you're now going to be moving to Tik Tok even though you or I were so forward thinking. When we see opportunities, everything's an opportunity to create a positive brand interaction with your targeted demographic. So when you take the intention in the engagement, you're like, of course we're going to do this. But not everyone is to that point in welcome to Marketing 101 on Instagram when all you hear is you need to be doing this, you need to be doing this, you need to be doing this. And then I probably can't even do one of those. So what sort of your thought process on Tik Tok specifically?
Tom Weingarten: (16:43)
Yeah, I think that if you're a brand that's hanging on there, you have to be someone that's going to be willing to put the time into it. It's something where one post is going to take hours and you're going to have to create content for it. And it's not just, Oh, we're going to take this thing that I post on Instagram and then slap it on there. That's not going to work. So if you don't have the time and the resources, I would recommend finding a way to do it, to get it, find a way to make resources and that and have space to be able to work on there. Because I do think it's important. I do think it's a huge audience that is going to kind of be the future. But if you don't have the time or resources to really get on it, then you know, I think there's probably something more wrong with your business. There's something wrong with your social strategy. Less about kind of, well, you can do from there. So I think this then comes down to creating an engine or process for your brand that you're comfortable with that says within your time resources,
Rob Cressy: (17:50)
Make sure you're 100% during that allocated time.
Tom Weingarten: (17:55)
Exactly. You have to plan and be ready to go. Like when you have that time, you know like I have to do the same thing cause I'm working on all these different platforms. In the morning, I'm willing to go on my Instagram when I get to this time I'm working on. What is the YouTube video that has to come out at 5:00 PM today? You have to split up that time. And during those times when it comes to social, like you have to be 100% locked in because whether you're creating content or thinking about it and writing captions for it, it's something that like you can't just do on a whim. You really have to be locked in for that. So whether you have 10 minutes, an hour, five hours, like make sure that you have dedicated time to, we can really focus.
Rob Cressy: (18:29)
Is there anything else in the world of social or fan engagement that has your eye right now from a forward thinking perspective?
Tom Weingarten: (18:38)
Good question. I've been pretty locked into Tik Tok lately. I would always say that it is kind of like what I'm looking for, but I think that the biggest thing that I'm seeing is brands trying to become more authentic and real, but really having a hard time with it. And it's hard, right? Like I think Overtime's in a great place where we kind of came in that way doing it. So it's easy, but when you have to adapt and kind of reverse, that's really hard. But I think that one thing I continue to see is stuff that ESPN and Disney are doing, you know, did Disney+ stuff and ESPN+. You can still see so much of this on social for free, and these kind of older brands that now want to do something younger, but do they still need to have a pay wall behind it? I think that's gonna be something really hard and something that they might shovel with that they're going to see. Like there has to be a better answer through social rather than through just watching it on TV or watching it through an app.
Rob Cressy: (19:40)
Yeah, I agree 100% and it's always going to come down to the relationship and I think it's one of the biggest challenges that I've seen in the sports media landscape in general because I never understood how it was possible that you and I right now wouldn't be wearing ESPN or Sports Center T shirts for the amount of brand equity. Right? Because I've watched more Sports Center hours than anything in my entire life. So you've got that there. But where they missed the boat was on the relationship and the engagement. It really just said, here's the information. So it wasn't about a conversation, it was about a content delivery. The challenge becomes as digital and social evolved, where no one cares where they get their content from anymore. Now you have to say, how does one brand separate from another? And you say, well, you've got to build a community and a relationship and when that is missing right there, you've got a gigantic challenge. And at some point brands get so big as you said, how the world are they going to start building this authentic community when it wasn't part of who they were? And are they willing to realize this right now and say, you know what, the best time for us to have planted a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is right at this moment.
Tom Weingarten: (21:03)
Yeah. I think that the loyalty thing is something that you kinda touched on that I think is really important. And I think ESPN had that when they had their personalities that people really associate it with. So like back in the day for an older generation and it was like Dick Vitale, Stewart Scott, and some of those guys are still around, but there isn't that loyalty anymore because they become so big and they haven't kind of refreshed those palates. That's how it with newer people. I'm sorry. The oversight that I think is great is like having Overtime. Larry, Chloe like our talent is so close to the community and no matter how big they get, they'll go talk to younger kids and they're part of that community, but it's not just the Overtime account, it's all of the people around it. So I think for bigger brands they need to figure out how to make those personalities more accessible and younger. And we're not even younger, just a fresher vibe that is going to give maybe a younger generation the ability to feel more connected to them and feel like they're more similar. So I think that's a real struggle. But yeah, it needs to start now.
Rob Cressy: (22:07)
And you're preaching to the choir for me, because I'm all in on podcast video and live streaming and these are things that traditionally brands are slow to adopt because they take more time and resources and knowledge. Most brands don't have someone internally who's like, yeah, I'll jump on camera and be the face of this. But it is that brand connection and heartbeat that we're all searching for. The opportunity is right there. All you've got to do is be a brand that embraces it and say, Hey, by the way, we realize there was a way that we were doing things, but we want to be more open with you now and we want to let you know who we are behind the scenes and give me — I almost think of it like a wheel and spokes — all of the different ways that you can engage an audience and one of them may be what you're selling. But there's a lot more. There can be stuff that's fun. There's learning, there's just so many different things and your team can be part of it because now you're giving people a reason to want to hear back from you and you feel that brand heartbeat.
Tom Weingarten: (23:09)
Exactly. Yeah. And I think you brought up a good point at selling. What we're trying to figure out right now is how to sell. For us it'd be always just pushed out content, right? And now as we start to have a parallel start to have more things that we want to sell and put in front of people, we're trying to do it in a totally different way. So we're creating like funny Tik Tok to show off the apparel but not not just throw it in your face and be like, you need to buy this. Shove down your throat. Get mom's credit card. More. So like, here's a funny thing we're making fun of. People are making fun of ourselves and it's like how can you keep like selling stuff but also keep that engagement in that fun part of it. So that's something that I think we're trying to do and I'm interested to see what other brands try to do to, you know, there's just so many things being sold. I don't think you need to have something that's going to catch people's attention.
Rob Cressy: (23:50)
Yeah, and I think the way you do it is natively the most successful brands are going to be the ones that can natively put it into their content because you do want it to where it's less of a sell and sale. And more of an opportunity, like if I get down with Overtime and I see that dope shirt you're wearing right now, like, Hey, where can I get that? I think that's what you would like to get as the relationship goes to where can I get that? Instead of the constant pounding of boom, boom, boom, boom, here's all of the different stuff because you want to give your art, your audience, the opportunity to be able to extend that relationship and get down like the talent or like the brand does.
Tom Weingarten: (24:31)
Yeah, exactly. It's figuring out how you can kind of keep it authentic and still do and create that need for it rather than the here buy it.
Rob Cressy: (24:39)
Is there anything I didn't ask you that you think would be valuable to the audience or any final thoughts you want to give?
Tom Weingarten: (24:47)
I think the final thought I would give is when it comes to social for me, I had no formal training, no background. The way I got started was I Googled sports internship and I skipped to the 50th page of Google. And because I think anyone on the first 50 pages about hiring me and I found Overtime. I had no background in social like I said, and there's like, Hey, can you post a couple of times on our Twitter tonight for the NBA finals? And I haven't stopped ever since. And I think that sometimes we are so deep into like, how can I learn or I don't know how to do this. You just have to do it and start doing it and make and do it your own way and make it feel really real. For me, like I said, it just like I'm sharing my own thoughts when I have a good day. I'm making the captions happy when I'm having a bad day. Responses might be like sad, like there's human emotion kind of totally take over your social voice. That's really important. So the more you can hammer that voice and make people feel connected to you, I think that is the power of social and that's when you build a community.
Rob Cressy: (25:48)
I love your origin story because it very much resonates with some advice that I was given early on in my career. That changed everything for me. Someone said, Rob, if you ever hope to get paid to do what you love, you better be doing it already. Yeah. It's no wonder why I'm at 500 podcast episodes published. It's because immediately I said, all right, I can learn judo and like I'm lying to thought, casting videos, social media marketing, audio, video editing. Like you can learn all of those things and create your own opportunities. And I think that's actually super applicable for someone like you or I, an individual all the way up to the brand level. The brand can say, we don't know how to do this well, go and learn if Tom and I can learn from zero, so can anybody else, right?
Tom Weingarten: (26:40)
Yep. And you just gotta be a self-starter. I think at the end of the day, figure out what drives you. You figure out like why you're doing anything and it can apply to all jobs, doesn't have to be in social. Like you figure out what drives you and you're like, this is what I'm going to do. And that's how I am. At my heart, I'm an athlete. So whenever I was going to get into, I was gonna be super competitive. I ended up being social media and like it's just like I'm competitive. It's going to be nonstop. You know what I mean?
Rob Cressy: (27:03)
I love it. Tom, this is a super enjoyable conversation. I'm a big fan of what you and the team at Overtime are doing, working everybody connect with you.
Tom Weingarten: (27:13)
Definitely check it out Overtime. So it's @overtime from everywhere. I you want to check me out, it's overtimetom on Instagram. You can throw me some love on there. That'd be cool too.
Rob Cressy: (27:23)
As always, I would love to hear from you about this episode. I'm curious, have you downloaded Tik Tok and are you active on there? If so, why? If not, why not? You can hit up FanFood on Twitter @fanfoodondemand, on Instagram @fanfoodapp or on LinkedIn. And as always, you can hit me up on all social media platforms at Rob Cressy.