ESPN marketing director Shields talks future of social media

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ESPN marketing director Shields talks future of social media

Ben Shields, director of social media at ESPN, gives a keynote speech Monday afternoon at the McCormick Tribune Center. The speech was for the Great Lakes region meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors, hosted by the Sports Immersion Program and Medill Career Services.

Ben Shields, director of social media at ESPN, gives a keynote speech Monday afternoon at the McCormick Tribune Center. The speech was for the Great Lakes region meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors, hosted by the Sports Immersion Program and Medill Career Services.

Annabel Edwards/Daily Senior Staffer

Ben Shields, director of social media at ESPN, gives a keynote speech Monday afternoon at the McCormick Tribune Center. The speech was for the Great Lakes region meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors, hosted by the Sports Immersion Program and Medill Career Services.

Annabel Edwards/Daily Senior Staffer

Annabel Edwards/Daily Senior Staffer

Ben Shields, director of social media at ESPN, gives a keynote speech Monday afternoon at the McCormick Tribune Center. The speech was for the Great Lakes region meeting of the Associated Press Sports Editors, hosted by the Sports Immersion Program and Medill Career Services.

Eli Panken, Reporter

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The director of social media and marketing at ESPN spoke Monday at Northwestern about the recent developments of social media at his job and the future of the field.

About 30 individuals gathered in the McCormick Tribune Center to listen to Ben Shields (Communication ’03, ’04, ’08) speak about his five years working at ESPN, which he called  “an eternity, in social media terms.” He obtained three degrees from NU and said he was excited to be back in Evanston, as he “basically bleeds purple.” Shields spoke about ESPN’s overall philosophy and how it was molded around the increasing popularity of social media.

“In 2009, we realized that if we didn’t get involved in social media space, we were going against our own mission,” Shields said.

Shields said ESPN’s goal is to serve sports fans any time and anywhere and recognized that although social media is effective in accomplishing ESPN’s main goal, it cannot be the only method of providing information to sports fans.

“Social is a tactic, not a strategy,” Shields said. “We can use social media to help market viewers, create the best content to be shown, and develop larger sponsorship opportunities.”

Shields prepared a number of examples to demonstrate to the crowd how social media has worked on ESPN, including the use of #SCTop10 during “SportsCenter” broadcasts and the comedic “This is SportsCenter” commercials.

Shields addressed the development and growth of new social media platforms, such as Vine, Instagram, and Snapchat discussing how they have been used both by sports teams and within ESPN. He had multiple examples for each platform about how ESPN has utilized each platform to better perfect highlights, generate awareness for live events and give viewers a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on with different teams.

“Social media isn’t just the Facebook post or the Twitter feed at ESPN anymore,” Shields said. “We’re trying to use these tools to accomplish our goals more effectively.”

Shields held a question-and-answer session after his presentation where attendees asked questions about his social media team and their most and least successful practices. He said his favorite part of the job is reacting to new developments in social media.

Medill sophomore Megan O’Brien said she was surprised to see how much work it is to utilize social media on a network like ESPN.

“I never realized how much thinking and creativity goes into using social media,” she said.

O’Brien said she was intrigued by ESPN’s use of newer outlets to provide audiences with new ways to view the same material. Shields mentioned the newer outlets allow for the network to expand their programming.

“It’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy,” he said. “You have to adjust the programming to fit the platform.”

Medill freshman Jesse Kirsch, said he gained a new, optimistic perspective on social media from Shields’ talk.

“If social media is important now, I’m sure it will be ten times more important when we graduate,” he said. “With all these new platforms, I feel more confident about the post-graduation opportunities for our age group, which is pretty social media-savvy.”

Email: elipanken2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @EliPanken

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