Aug 15, 2011 (06:08 AM EDT)
How Comcast SportsNet Plays The Social Media Game

Read the Original Article at InformationWeek

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For the past year, Comcast SportsNet's social media program manager, Rick Racela, has been working to make friends for the cable broadcaster's regional websites, both at home and away.

"We want to bake a lot of the social media experience into our websites," Racela said, while at the same time having effective outreach into the major public social networks.

Comcast SportsNet operates sports sites like csnbayarea.com and csnphilly.com that complement its on-air coverage of local sports, but the websites increasingly feature original programming and aim to be advertising profit centers in their own rights.

"These sites are about helping local sports fans understand what their team is doing to help them win a championship," said Racela's boss, chief digital officer Eric Grilly. In addition to helping promote the "linear" programming delivered on TV, the websites allow sports fans to get content when and where they want it, Grilly said. SportsNet has been working to improve both its social and mobile strategies, and hiring Racela a little more than a year ago was part of that effort.

Racela is not the person with his hands on the keyboard pounding out tweets. He has a staff of 50 people working across the five major markets where the social push is focused--the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Racela is more like the coach, the strategist, figuring out how to make the team win.

The latest two technology choices he has added to that strategy are Gigya's suite of social widgets and Awareness, a social media management product his team uses to publish content to Facebook and Twitter and track the response it generates.

"Gigya is helping our home game," Racela said. Gigya provides a combination of social sign-in--the ability to log into a website using credentials from Facebook or any one of several other social websites, without the need for a separate password. That connection then provides the basis for a number of other social media widgets that can be added throughout a website for functions like ratings and reviews and link sharing, with activity on the website also reflected in the user's social feeds. So far, Comcast is using the social commenting feature of Gigya on the site, making it easier for users to log in, post a comment, and share it with their friends.

Racela said his team will also be looking at ways of applying components such as Gigya ratings and reviews, either on an e-commerce section of the website or maybe even by letting users rate the players they like best. Any expansions to the solution will wait until after a redesign that is currently in progress.

Adding social commenting was the first priority. The site had a way for users to add comments previously, "but the experience was abysmal, the analytics were horrible, and the registration process was difficult," Racela said.

On a technical level, Racela also valued Gigya's promise of providing a universal application programming interface (API) his developers could write to. "I know these APIs change daily, they change weekly, and they're not consistent. Even for Facebook, which is the largest and most important, I know Facebook is one of the ones developers have the biggest gripes with." That is why having Gigya play a mediating role is valuable, he said. "They are the ones who need to be focused on that ever-changing landscape, not me or our developers."

Comcast's "away game" is publishing content and projecting a consistent voice for the brand across social media websites and seeking to bring visitors back to the websites with Awareness, which he describes as "like TweetDeck on steroids, or maybe HootSuite on steroids." In addition to managing social publishing across multiple channels, Awareness includes the analytics that let him see which traffic came back to his website from a particular social campaign.

"Accountability, with an audit trail, is very important to me," Racela said.

The end game will be to tie the two systems together for a complete picture of interactions with viewers across social media and the website. "One of our goals in both of these areas is to identify our influencers and recognize them," Racela said.

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