Moving from events to stories

To help sports marketers get a sense of what some of the biggest and best sports brands are doing on social media, we analyzed last year's NFL Instagram posts. This analysis works for other sports leagues as well. As you can imagine, there is a great deal of video highlights from games and pictures of in-game accomplishments. A lot of what we'd call event coverage.

But beyond event coverage, we see brands starting to use social to hit on themes that go beyond the event. Themes that can be organized into stories and used for branding and content marketing. These are some of the content categories that emerged from our analysis.

Schedules and countdowns. Lots of brands are using countdowns to games, schedules, and rivalry match-ups to drive excitement about upcoming games and seasons.

Hometown pride. Clever brands are broadening their sports social media audience by including other regional teams in their social media content.

Behind the scenes special access. Sports fans are hungry to know how their favorite teams operate and get closer to the athletes they love. Sports brands realize this and are starting to give looks behind how teams travel, train, and even select their players and staff.

Nostalgia. Sports brands know they strike a cross-generational cord, and they've gone further into their archives to surface more than just old game highlights. Social media lets brands build on their retired legends and follow former players even if they're still playing for other teams.

These are just a few of the more than a dozen content categories that emerged from our analysis. We see this grouping as an important first step to give shape to the "on-field" social media product sports brands develop. Sports marketers are wise to view these seemingly random photos and posts as less random. The best sports brands on social media will start to create systems for producing, scaling, and monetizing this content.

On air, sports marketers know what to buy. The inventory is well defined. On social it's less clear. Here's a great example of how the Boston Celtics are developing branded content systems to define a social media asset -- inventory.