Analytics in the Outfield

How Social Media, Baseball, and Business Play the Same Game

Have you ever heard of the game where you go on Wikipedia, think of two seemingly unrelated terms, and see how long it takes you to get from the first to the second by clicking only one hyperlink on each page you visit? If not, you’d be surprised how quickly you can get from “Bill Gates” to “grilled cheese sandwich” or from “Barry Bonds” to “molecular biology.” Try it.

My life and career so far has felt like that game because I’ve gone from “classical musician” to “bartender” to “bank teller” to “social media coordinator” to “digital insights specialist.”

What does my story have to do with digital and social media analytics? More than you might think.

The Development of a Baseball Nerd

See, before I was anything, I was a boy who was obsessed with baseball, especially the Chicago Cubs. Not just playing on the field or playing a video game, but everything about it. My mother bought me a book for Christmas when I was in elementary school containing every MLB team’s roster, their statistics for the strike-shortened 1994 season, each of their players’ birth dates, locations, and projected stats for the 1995 season.

I quickly memorized all of the information in the book. Little did I know it then, but my love baseball statistics would lead me into a digital analytics career in advertising about 20 years later.

Brad Pitt, Billy Beane, Hollywood, and Analytics

In 2002, Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane realized that by tracking data and analyzing what statistical outcomes in games most often led to wins, he could take one of the smallest market teams in baseball and not only keep pace with the cash-heavy giants in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, but beat them with players many teams gave up on.

Sound familiar? It should; it was the basis for the book and movie “Moneyball.”

The basic idea of data analytics in baseball, also known as sabermetrics, is that by evaluating players using advanced statistical analysis in addition to traditional scouting methods, baseball front offices can better gauge a player’s true value.

Social Media Speaks Loudly: Are You Listening?

With the rise and utter dominance of social media in our lives today, an opportunity exists for businesses to reach their customers in a way they never could before. In the world of newsfeed algorithms, businesses compete every single day to get their messages on that feed and have you stop your thumb from scrolling past them. Much like baseball’s front office executives needing to predict the future value of a player, marketers need to be able to predict the future value of their content in order to gain a competitive advantage in the social media marketplace.

The myriad of social listening and analytics tools available today allow businesses to not only monitor and evaluate past and current performance of marketing and advertising campaigns, but to also gather insights and develop strategies from a substantial amount of data to better predict what kind of media, messages, placement, and timing will resonate with a potential customer.

In baseball, one of the most popular offensive statistics is batting average. However, as explained by Neil Weinberg of Fangraphs, a leading baseball statistics website, batting average is not nearly the best metric for predicting run production in baseball.

“Batting average is built into the language of the sport, but it’s simply not a useful statistic and if you want to analyze a player properly, it’s something you don’t want to pay close attention to at all,” says Weinberg.

Batting average isn’t a useless statistic, as Weinberg opines, but it ignores a huge amount of data when it comes to scoring in baseball: being on base. There are many ways to get on base in baseball; a hit is just one of those ways. A player can also reach base on a walk or by being hit by a pitch.

The same philosophy applies to social media marketing, as well. Likes and follows are a couple of the easiest ways to see how many people have chosen to follow your page, but they are very broad metrics that only tell part of the story, like batting average in baseball.

Take one of our client’s brands, Caboodles, for example. Caboodles became an insanely popular brand in the 1980s and 90s, and remains a favorite product for many when it comes to jewelry and makeup storage. The brand has a large following on social media platforms, including over 250,000 likes on Facebook. However, as mentioned earlier, likes tell only part of the story of how potential customers are interacting with a brand.

I work at CJRW, a full service ad agency based in Arkansas, and we are always looking for methods to effectively and predictably deliver messages to our clients’ audiences. Analytics show that video content consumption and prevalence in the news feed is very much on the rise. In fact, social media company Hootsuite referenced a Cisco report that predicts that “video will account for 80 percent of global internet traffic” by 2019.

With that in mind, we decided to feature a Facebook live video of a CJRW employee giving a makeup tutorial for Caboodles.

Unsurprisingly, the video was highly successful, generating 73,240 impressions and 4,048 new page likes for the client. Compare that to a still image in the same ad set: it generated only 559 impressions and 28 page likes. In fact, the live tutorial accounted for 98% of the page likes in the campaign and 97% of the impressions. Additionally, the video generated a robust click-through rate of nearly 8%.

Analytics take out a lot of guesswork with social media and digital marketing, and provide instant feedback and accountability for businesses operating in the ever-evolving digital sphere. However, it’s important to not lose sight of an incredibly important fact when it comes to data: it represents people. People will always dictate what’s creative, what’s relevant, and, quite frankly, what’s cool.

Social and digital analytics aren’t exactly rocket science, but they are a lot like baseball.

P.S. Go Cubs!

Paul Hughes is a dedicated social media/ digital analyst with experience on the content and data side of digital content production.

Originally trained as a classical musician as a cellist in addition to earning a liberal arts degree in International Relations with a German Language minor. Paul’s love of data came from being a huge sports fan, especially baseball. The emergence of analytics in baseball made him realize he wanted to get into the field. Now he’s proud to work for the best ad agency in Arkansas, CJRW.

Paul believes the Chicago Cubs will win a World Series during his lifetime, as he’s done with “waiting ’til next year.” ***EDIT*** He’s done waiting.