#1: Social Media Marketing Strategy with Eric SanInocencio

Eric SanInocencio is the Senior Director of Digital Media for the Houston Texans. We discuss social media analytics, ad spend across social media channels, and breaking into the field of digital marketing. Eric is such a cool, down to earth guy and he offers actionable advice on managing your social presence. The video shared here is the full length interview with Eric.

Video of Scott's Interview with Eric SanInocencio

Podcast Audio of Scott's Interview with Eric SanInocencio

Transcript of Scott's Interview with Eric SanInocencio

Intro: I'm Scott Davis, an Assistant Professor of Marketing at University of Houston-Downtown Marilyn Davies College of Business and I'm so excited to introduce this interview with Eric SanInocencio, Senior Director of Digital Media for the Houston Texans.

In this interview, we talked about social media analytics, how to allocate money across social media channels, and how to break into the field if you're interested. I know you're going to get so many interesting nuggets out of this interview. I hope that you enjoy it, let's go.

Scott: All right Eric, first I want to thank you for joining us, it's such an awesome opportunity for our students to be able to connect with practitioners, particularly when they work for such a cool organization as the Houston Texans, so I just want to extend a hearty thank you for agreeing to sit down for this interview.

Eric: Yeah, it’s always great to talk to you and always happy to help and give some behind the scenes of what it's like to actually work in sports digital media.

Scott: Awesome. And sticking with that with that subject of sports digital media, I imagine there's a lot of people who want to work for professional sports teams especially in the NFL and there's probably a greater number of people who want to work in digital media right now, so this is a really nice intersection and I imagine everybody wants a job kind of doing what you're doing, so I want to start by asking how you earned your way into this position with the Houston Texans.

Eric: Yes, it's a unique trip, it's been an interesting journey for me, I first started in sports information because when I graduated college back in 2003 digital and social media didn't exist, so I came out just more of your journalism background and then I stumbled into sports information, I played sports my whole life, I played baseball in college, so I've always been interested in sports and really, Scott, my goal in life has been to find something I really enjoy and then find a way for somebody to pay me to do it, so kind of what I've tried to do throughout my career… I started in sports information. I worked at UAB mostly the collegiate level at the SEC and then I went to the Gulf South conference which is a Division II league in Birmingham. this was around 2006/2007. Facebook and Twitter were kind of in their infant stages but again I knew I liked to use them from a personal sense. I really enjoyed the interaction and the way that you can meet new people and so my brain started working, you know? How can I make this a part of my job and how can I make the something that we can use in our field.

So the GSC judging by you know most people they don't know where it is. I'm sure most your students will know either but there's still great stories and great things happening among the athletes that are participating there, so we started to use Facebook as a way to push our content out. How can we reach alums of these schools, how can we find ways to interact with people in these different cities where these events were happening? And we started to have some success, it's actually pretty crazy. I remember we celebrated like we have won a national championship when we got 2,000 likes on Facebook. That was a really big deal back in 2007.

And so when I was doing that at the GSC, the Southeastern Conference which is also in Birmingham, they noticed and they came to me with the opportunity, “hey can you build our digital network we don't really have social media feeds we don't have a social media page, can you help us get this started?” and that was the first time in my career that my title changed from sports information to digital media and that was in 2009. And eight years later, here I am with the Houston Texans so it's been quite the ride.

Scott: Wow that's an awesome story and I imagine your story's a lot different than what the story would look like for one of my students, for example, who's entering this field either after undergraduate or after earning an MBA, so that's a that's a really interesting path because it was a success of timing and also just recognizing an opportunity which is which is really neat.

Now to get to… your job sounds really cool but to be completely transparent one thing that I look at is a huge disadvantage is that you're kind of always on the clock so to speak which is another reason that I'm so thrilled that you were able to join me because there's probably stuff blowing up on social media right now that you should be attending to, so again your time is really appreciated. But my question is could you kind of briefly walk us through a day in the life of being the senior director of social media for the Houston Texans?

Eric: Yeah and the first thing I would say is that for your students to realize is that they have the most powerful piece of technology they carry around in their pocket with them every day it's this phone and what this phone has changed is the way we consume content but also the timeliness with which we consume content. Everything it's instant now. We’re one push away from finding everything we want to know, whether it's in the movie world, pop culture, government, politics and sports so when you see all that intersect you, to your point, you're kind of always constantly on the clock because things happen in real time, but I think for me, my morning starts I wake up and usually the first thing I check is again the phone and make sure you know things are kind of how we line them up. You get into a bit of a routine especially in season in terms of how you're covering the team, there's press conferences, there's news stories that we're constantly pumping out but for me I actually have three screens at work and I've got Twitter on one, I've got the software called Chartbeat where I'm measuring our website and I feel like I’m in almost kind of in the stock market. it's kind of the way I feel because you're just measuring all this engagement as it's happening and then if you see something pop, you want to be ready with your writers and your content creators. “Hey something happened today, Dwayne Brown showed up back at our facility today so let's make sure that we're covering it with A,B, and C.”

So I think you're monitoring more than anything, like you may only send out ten tweets in a day that doesn't mean you didn't monitor TweetDeck for eight hours to do that, so I think you're constantly in a state of observation and then from there you're using your knowledge of your team of your fan base of your audience to create content that encapsulates what happened that day and also is relevant to them as big fans and followers of your team.

Scott: That's really cool so I like the analogy you made to kind of monitoring the stock market because it really shows one of the ways in which this field has evolved because it seems like in 2009/2010, people didn't really know what they were doing they just felt like they should be.. they should have a voice in this space but they didn't know how to measure anything, so it's a new world now and I think that if you're going to go into digital marketing or social media marketing you have to have a really strong grasp of  analytics. You mentioned ChartBeat which I assume is an analytical tool that you're using, so is there anything, have you garnered any really cool insights out of marketing analytics? Is there a story you can share with us where, you know, if you weren’t monitoring social media you would have missed something?

Eric: Yeah, I think there are several great stories there's one I always like to tell but to your point I think you make a really great point in that, the first thing that we teach is how do you measure the success that we're having or what we're doing on social media, so I have you know two coordinators that work with us as part of our team that monitor social alongside with me and every week where you know they're tasked with doing a report of you know what's the top engagement, how did we get that engagement, where are they coming to our app from. There's all these different pieces and, to your point, back in 2009 each platform was off on its own it was a silo essentially now all those platforms are basically their own websites, so you know for Facebook you have a different audience, well when do they like to engage with you, what's their age because it's important to have a great idea but if you're coming to somebody especially a hiring manager “I have this great idea,” if you can show the analytics and the data that backs up what you're trying to produce for a social media campaign, it makes it that much more likely that they'll let you try it or that they'll believe in your hypothesis.

So I think analytics is the key. We’re so grounded in that. It's very important because that’s the first thing that I have to teach them because if you come up with an idea, that's great but how do you measure it because a lot of times of social media you know everything that you think will work won't and you need to be able to figure out why it didn’t. But I think when it comes to being able to monitor as far as creating content, a great story I like to tell is I do yearly reports that break down where our fans are from, whether they're coming from Texas, Los Angeles, in all these different markets and what I saw is that we had the top ten markets are what you would expect for the Texans everything in Texas, San Antonio, Houston…

All of the sudden number nine was this town called Moses Lake, Washington. “I said man I've never even heard of this.” So that was on our website analytics using Adobe then I went to our podcast analytics and you know things that we use to measure our radio and I saw that we have this live stream that's always on in Moses Lake, you can see the little pin drop and it's kind of three hours east of Seattle like “what's going on here?” So I started to look up and all these different pageviews that we're getting we're getting almost you know 125,000 page views a year from this town called Moses Lake and there's like 5,000 people who live there.

So I wrote an article just putting all that together and I called it “Paging Moses Lake” because I wanted to know and I talked about those analytics. “Who are these people out there, why do we have such a big following in this small town and who are you fans?” And what was beautiful about it Scott is that once I put that out on our social media channels people started commenting and you could see like, “I'm from Moses Lake, you know that we used to be an oil factory out here and I moved from Houston” or “Hey! I moved to Seattle and then retired out here,” and then you started seeing people in the comments connecting with each other, “Oh my God, you live in Moses Lake, I live in Moses Lake” and they started to see how many Texans fans were there and now they have their own little Club out in Moses Lake where they watch games on Sunday, we sent them some gear up there. Like it was a really cool experiment using analytics to find out who these people were but then taking a next level creating content around it and then actually allowing them to connect and build a, you know, further bond in terms of following the Texans but in an area that you wouldn't expect, so it was a really cool experience.

Scott: That's such a cool story. If they if they weren't already lifelong Texans fans right, now they will be. They won't they won't be lured away by Seattle or, you know, whoever else they might follow up and in the Northwest.

Eric: Okay well we'll see after we play them this weekend.

Scott: Right-right, oh! That's right, that's cool, very good. So one thing you mentioned that I think is interesting is how these social media channels used to be kind of silos and you were analyzing each one independently. You also mention different mediums like your podcast, your website, your Facebook page, so one thing that seems really daunting for me as a marketer is how do you decide where to spend money? I'm assuming you're advertising on some of these channels, so I have some opinions that aren't really informed by the real world about where you should spend money on social media, so Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, how do you make those decisions? Where are the Texans focusing their efforts?

Eric: I think the first thing I would encourage your students or anybody entering in the business is don't feel the need to have to be in every single space like I think one thing marketers run into is just because there's eight or nine different social media platforms, we feel like we've got to be active in every one of them and I don't think that's the case. I'd rather be really good at one or two than try to be, you know, average in seven or eight and I think all of this starts with who is your audience?

So if you're a marketer, if you're working for a company or I'm working for the Texans, I need to know who are the people that are engaging with me, what are their ages, what are their backgrounds, where they come from, where do they work, I think from there you can start to figure out what platform makes the most sense for you to advertise. So I think you look at it on a case-by-case basis. For me if I'm looking specifically for bulk like the amount, “how can I reach more people?” whether it's video views or whether it's a particular contest we're running with a partner, Facebook probably makes the most sense  simply because a you get a lot of great engagement there but we have the biggest follower base on Facebook.

Now if it's something that's a little bit more photo specific, if we're running something for maybe one of our barbecue events or if we're doing some stuff for our gift shop, that's more visual like we're trying to sell merchandise, then we'll choose Instagram but again I think and we do this all the time with our partners that want to work with us and they want to do, the first thing they'll ask me Scott, they're like, “I just want to be on social media and they may not know and that's okay but then we'll drill down like what is the goal of what you're trying to accomplish? Are you trying to get people to sign up for something? Are you trying to make them more aware of your partnership with us?” Once you figure that out then the next question I ask is “who are the audience you're looking to reach?” I think from there and each platform does a very good job of breaking this down for you like you can go into your Facebook Insights if you have a page and it tells you what age group you have the most followers in, where they come from, cities. Twitter is kind of similar like that as well where you can look in the analytics and see how many people are following you. Instagram has similar versions of this there's websites and products like CrowdTangle and things like that that can bring it all together for you.

I think once you know that then you can formulate a plan of how to spend your dollars. I would say for us about 75% of what we spend is on Facebook just because most of it is bulk in general but we have done some stuff on Instagram and Twitter for us is more of a real-time news service so we haven't really delved into ad placement there but I think again if you're a new service or if you're trying to get out a message that's urgent, Twitter might be the better fit for you. So once you have those questions answered, you can begin to better formulate a plan on where to spend your ad dollars and how you want to spend.

Scott: That's really good insight, so how does the impact look for something like a Facebook ad versus a radio ad. I imagine the granularity of targeting is much different.

Eric: Yeah, without doubt and I think Facebook gives you some metrics where you can line it up, like I you can find out for instance how much it cost you to get a link click, so if your job is I'm making a post and I want people to click on this link so they can sign up for a fan club or they can register for an event that we're having, it'll break down to the moment how much you're spending, so that's a great way to look at it, I think radio you look at it in bulk and you have to because we're doing so many radio shows, so an ad just doesn't run on our Texans Monday program from 8 to 10 and they also run on our Texans all-access, so I think what you do is you take the amount of that and then you get recognition and you use other tools, we use JD power and stuff like that and focus groups to kind of gauge brand affinity with our product at the Texans and then we can present that to them in a recap and say listen this is what you spend on the radio side, this is the value you got for it and on the digital side, here's how you did it.

So, I think it's hard to compare because like you said on the digital side you're so much more targeted but on radio it's more about affinity and brand awareness and you're reaching a certain amount of people almost every time you do it, so I think they have their pros and cons depending again on what you're looking for and your what your goal is within that campaign.

Eric: Sure and I like the way you stated it that you start with your clients’ goals or even internally with what are your own goals and who's the audience. Those are really the key questions it's you know “who are we working with and why are we doing this?” and one of the may be old tendencies in social media was to kind of find experts who would just you know but, through hubris maybe, assume “I'm the expert this is what we're going to do, these are the channels we focus on” but through analytics and experience that the game certainly has changed quite a lot, even in the last probably a year, let alone three years or five years.

Scott: Yeah, I personally hate when anybody says a person says their social media expert because I think there's no such thing, you know. It's only been around for 10 to 12 years so I don't know how you could possibly be an expert on something that not only changes every quarter but also has only been around a decade. Think about things that we've been arguing about for hundreds of years, then you might become an expert. I don't think that term is accurate nor does it really exist because again like you may have been expert two years ago but Snapchat wasn't around two years ago how do you monetize that? How do you use it it's part of your overall strategy?

So I think once you start to ask those questions and you get that information locked down then well you can figure out through trial and error a lot of this. I wish there was some magic secret but a lot of times we're just trying. We may have made a mistake it worked, it didn't. How do we improve, look at the numbers make a better suggestion the next time and the beauty of social media is that once you start a campaign you'll get feedback pretty instantly. You'll know whether it went good or bad almost immediately on these social media channels again it's a good learning experience but you have to take the hubris out of it because you're going to have some swings and misses, so again ask those questions and if you feel like you have the data points that you want, you can take your best attempt to make it work.

Scott: That's awesome. Hopefully everyone's scrubbing “expert” from their LinkedIn profiles right now.

Eric: I think social is, it's like many things right, like the person who promotes themselves the most, oftentimes gets the favor or gets the benefit the doubt that they're an expert just because they tell you over and over that they're an expert. What I found in my time working in digital is if somebody has to tell you how good they are they're probably not, so you know for me it's what can you show me relative to campaigns and what kind of data can you show me that proves that you've had some successful luck and again when you did fail how did you fix that, how did you work through, what was your process to try again, so that you'd have more success the next time?

Scott: Awesome really good stuff, are y’all doing anything outside of the US?

Eric: Yeah, we actually are, last year we played in Mexico City and we took on the Raiders on Monday Night Football, so it was a first opportunity for us to really delve outside the country, we actually have quite a bit of a following in Mexico City. Mexico City is actually our second biggest city in terms of followers on Facebook behind Houston, so we’ve actually really dug in there, obviously natural connection, we’re close, a lot of people from Mexico obviously moved up to Houston, there's a bit of a connection but we're a relatively young franchise, so to have those numbers was a really good start. So we started our “Somos Texans” campaign and it worked really well, we had our players go down to visit different areas and see MX which is what they call it and we got a great -great response and great following. So that was our first foray and we had some success and then this year the NFL chose us is one of the pilot teams to have what's called a Weibo account and Weibo is a social media platform in China.

So we've actually had the opportunity to work with a marketing agency in China to help build a fan base for the Texans and we send them a lot of their content, we also do some customized content for maybe they have a fall festival that we kind of had one of our players try to pronounce in Chinese what the festival was, so we've done some fun stuff there. Also sent them some pictures and cool things, so we're now officially pushing hard in Mexico and China and again the returns have been pretty interesting to see and you know it's funny when you go to Weibo and you look at the platform on our Twitter handle, I call it Twitter because that's what it kind of looks like to me, when you look at our Weibo handle it's all written in Mandarin and all the sudden you see all these people responding to it, it's just really cool and shows you how big the world is but it's a great opportunity for us to continue to grow our brand.

Scott: That's really cool. Did you have some built-in fans in China because of Yao Ming with the Houston Rockets?

Eric: Well, not us necessarily but we had name recognition with Houston. I think that was, and the Rockets have done a fantastic job but I think the NBA in general, they've kind of been way ahead of us on this front and when I say us I mean the NFL and I think it's only natural because they had Yao and basketball has really embraced the global aspect of it while the NFL has been more domestic and trying to own the area here in the United States. But I think we realize as a league that we've got to continue to market our game outside the borders of the United States.

So I do think there was definitely some help there but I think even things like JJ, Deshaun Watson, you know they get excited about a lot of stars and star power. The number one most followed franchise over there is the Patriots which makes a lot of sense they have Super Bowls, they have Tom Brady. Tom Brady went over there. So I think the NFL is definitely trying to work its way into the conversation when it comes to the sports fans in China we're pretty far behind the NBA and obviously the soccer, worldwide soccer, Manchester United all those clubs Real Madrid have really big followings in China but I think we're off to a really positive start and I do think the Rockets connection helps because we do things together among the organizations. But I also think too like just the work we've done trying to provide some unique content for them, it's almost like “hey somebody's actually doing something for us” and it's really worked well.

Scott: That's really cool, one thing that I love about catching up with you, we get to chat maybe once a semester and I think it's always different. Some people I think if we were catching up once a semester just be kind of going through the same old same old but with you your job changes all the time which, I just, I think that that's probably stressful in a lot of ways but I also think it's so neat how dynamic the field is which…

Eric: One thing I always say to our people they're looking to work in the field when I talk to students is that you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable because the moment you think you've mastered a strategy for a platform, an algorithm will change on you or a new platform will emerge or you know something will happen on that platform that will change your strategy, so I think to your point it can be very stressful because just when you feel like “oh! I've got this thing down and we're moving in the right direction,” there's a seismic change that happens or there's something that completely alters or makes irrelevant what you planned on doing, I think the beauty of that is that no day is ever the same, I know a lot of people say that about their job but when it comes to what I do I'm very fortunate when I go to work every day, I can't anticipate and figure out like “oh this is what's going to happen” and I think that's kind of fun because it keeps you on your toes.

Scott: Yeah, that's really cool, so one thing I'm going to, I'm going to claim that you have a certain advantage since you work for the Houston Texans?

Eric: Without a doubt

Scott: You have a built-in audience you know you have huge followings on Twitter and on Facebook, a lot of students that I encounter are entrepreneurs, they're running their own business, they're just kind of trying to figure out “how the heck do I even get started,” do you have any advice for people like that?

Eric: I think the first thing that they need to do is try. You know I think sometimes it can be daunting and it's like “oh! Man I have all these platforms,” I don't know where to get started. Just start I think that can be the biggest advantage because it's just like anything else that you do as part of your career, the more you do it the better you will get at it, so I think just getting on these platforms and again they don't have to get on every single one but pick one or two and dive in that would be my first piece of advice. Then secondarily like we talked about from the analytics side I'd figure out who your customer base is. You may not have a big following on Facebook but you may run a restaurant and you may have the ability to create you know to collect emails so that you can build a fan club there and then transition that over to the digital side you may know all these people I signed up for my fan club are in between forty and fifty-four they really love what we're cooking in our restaurant. Well then hey buy an ad targeting those people in the city that you work in so that they can follow your product and just trail those analytics, trail those numbers, and try to find ways where you can fit in the conversation and I think, too, just be visual.

We're becoming a very picture and video oriented society. The written word isn't as popular as it used to be so that's fantastic if you're in marketing because you can tell the story visually and it'd be appealing and you can get a lot of notice. I mean you think of you know some of the great… I always go back to the NWA when they had the “Straight Outta Compton” movie and Beats put together the you know the overlay that said “Straight Outta…” and then you would put what city you were from and then you would be happy to post on any social media channels but all you were doing, you didn’t realize it, there was a Beats logo on it, there was a movie logo on it, you were promoting their movie for free and it was pretty brilliant because it was great content that you could customize for yourself. Like I did it I put “Straight Outta, you know, Birmingham” “Straight Outta” all these places just to kind of see and all that time you were just because continually promoting the movie for them.

So, again finding unique and creative ways to tell that story on a visual basis can allow you to really jump in and get some traction.

Scott: Okay, really cool and I think we're down to my last question, so you'll be off the hot seat here in just a second, although you're very cool so I don't think it's really a hot seat for you but, on our, it's related to my question about entrepreneurs but if a student is looking to get a job like yours, so working for you know a medium to a large sized organization in social media, what kind of things should they be doing today to make themselves appealing once they hit the job market?

Eric: I think they need to first off quantify the social media activity that they're already doing, so they're in a unique situation most graduate students and really undergraduates as well, they're going to come in to the digital world with more experience likely than the person that hires them. So again that's a really unique situation that doesn't happen in many other fields so all this time that they're spending on social media with their friends or with their family that's actual real-world experience so again going back and figuring out like how are you doing things, what works well on the platforms that’d be the first step. And I think secondarily you've got to find a way to put some experience on your resume that shows you've been in control of one of these handles. I go back to my story, I started a Division II level. It wasn't the sexiest job, wasn't the most exciting, I wasn't working with JJ Watt, Deshaun Watson like I am now, but it gave me the opportunity to be in control of a handle and run campaigns and have positive and negative success stories that I could share things I did.

So again, if you're wanting to work in sports I think College is a fantastic route to go. There's only you know so many teams in the NFL but there's hundreds of colleges that need a lot of help that have multiple sports so that's a good way to go. I think it was just trying to get in to any business you may have to start a little smaller but you need something on your resume that shows me as a hiring manager that “hey! I've been the voice of something before, I've run campaigns on these specific platforms for X company,” so I think if you can find that whether it's through an internship, whether that's volunteering, whether that's helping with a campaign helping with a non-profit just getting something that shows that you've been in control and then learning to quantify what you've done personally. You build that together and you got a pretty good package to start when it comes to entering this field.

Scott: Awesome that's such great advice, I was just thinking I can talk about social media and our textbook mentions social media, I can talk about it until I turn blue from the academic perspective but just in sitting down with you for 30 minutes or 45 minutes I feel like this is more information than then I could ever hope to espouse to my students, so I appreciate you talking to me so much and we'll probably have to catch up every semester because the information continues to update and, you know, two years from now people won't know what you're talking about when you mentioned Snapchat or Twitter or one of these platforms.

Eric: They may buy Snapchat and just merge it right into Facebook we have no idea what's coming but I think it's a great spot to be in if you're looking to enter this field because every company now knows, it used to be “hey! I think we need to be in this space,” but I think most companies have now figured out “we have to be in this space,” so you can compete for jobs right away and there's not many fields of discipline where you can come in and be in control the moment you start. Like I mentioned earlier we have two people that work for us, they're 24 and 23 and you know they send tweets and post on Instagram from the Houston Texans and our millions of followers, so it's a great place to be in, great place to compete and again if you can show somebody and convince them that you have a general aptitude of how to do it they’re going to let you jump right in so that's really fun and exciting and I would encourage them keep working at it stay with it and don't be afraid to keep learning.

Scott: Awesome and let's wrap up the conversation with if you could tell people how they can follow you on social media.

Eric: Yeah of course, Twitter for sure is probably the easiest way to get me @Ericsan E-R-I-C-S-A-N, my last name is way too long we try to make it a Twitter handle, so that's a good place to find me but I'm also on Facebook Eric SanInocencio, LinkedIn, my name as well. Every platform, you can find me on.

If your students ever have any questions or you know just more information on what we talked about tonight, they're always welcome to reach out to me and I'll be happy to help wherever I can.

Scott: Alright, awesome, thank you so much Eric.

Eric: Take care, man.

Scott: We appreciate you. Thanks.