Inside MLS’ Digital Strategy and the Impact Zlatan Has Had

You can’t have enough Zlatan. (Photo via MLS)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the type of player that comes around once in a generation. From his ability on the pitch to his flair off of it, Ibrahimovic talks the talk and walks the walk.

So, when Ibrahimovic announced he was joining the LA Galaxy, Major League Soccer knew they had the chance to utilize his star power to continue to help shine the light on what has become one of the fastest growing leagues in North America.

“With Zlatan joining the Galaxy, we didn’t change our strategy,” said Greg Lalas, Vice President of Content at Major League Soccer. “It became more of a question of how you take a personality like Zlatan, who obviously has huge numbers from a reach standpoint, and fold that into your strategy.”

“Zlatan is like a turbo boost for social media.” – Greg Lalas, VP of Content at MLS

When it came to folding Zlatan’s personality into their strategy, Lalas and his team at MLS turned to finding ways to take Zlatan’s personality and leveraging it so it was worthwhile for everyone involved.

“Because he has such a marketable personality, we asked ourselves, ‘How do we double down on getting that personality into the world in a way that is going to be worthwhile for everyone involved?’”

The most important entity involved is the club, Lalas says. His team worked in collaboration with the Galaxy when it came time for the club to announce Ibrahimovic’s signing.

“It was all in collaboration. Everything you saw when it was announced, the lion video etc, we were in lockstep with them,” said Lalas. “We pride ourselves in having a good relationship with the clubs. We feel like we are a family and we are all working towards the same thing, which is to grow this game and make this league into a league of choice for players and fans.”

Then came Zlatan’s two goals in the LA Derby, a moment that Lalas and his team knew was possible, but weren’t exactly expecting.

“For us, when it happened, when he scored that goal, the best indication was that in the moment, right after the goal, one of the people on our social team sent an email to me saying, ‘My TweetDeck just crashed because of the number of retweets that were happening on that goal.’”

https://instagram.com/p/BhAJcnzB8h0/

TweetDeck crashing was just the start for the MLS content team. As the clock ticked and the numbers piled up, Lalas knew they had captured lightning in a bottle.

“That goal was our best performing post on Twitter and Instagram of all time and the numbers around Zlatan are kind of staggering just in general,” said Lalas. “This year for example, if you look at all of the Instagram posts from the league, the top 57 posts either feature or are about Zlatan. The week he debuted with the Galaxy, their Instagram following grew by 21%.”

As the initial reaction from the moment settled down, the content team at MLS got to work trying to extend the moment, something that Lalas sees as vital when it comes to making sure you get the most out of an opportunity like this.

“There is no such thing as too much Zlatan just because he has that type of personality that wants to break through. It’s infectious.” – Greg Lalas, VP of Content at MLS

“Any time you have a moment like this, we try to extend the story as much as possible,” added Lalas. “We did capture lightning in a bottle, and we recognized that it had a longer tail and that we needed to use that to our best advantage.”

Lalas continued saying, “Some of the things we did is recognize that not everybody in the soccer world knew that it had happened in the moment. That day, you are doing whatever you can to put it front and center of your audience and your fans and trying to cultivate conversation around what this moment means.”

So, what do the numbers around Zlatan actually look like? Buckle up.


Clubs:

#1 performing tweet (based on Interactions) across all clubs for the season

#2 performing tweet across all clubs

– This season, the top 57 posts (based on actions) from club Instagram accounts are about or feature Zlatan (all @LAGalaxy).

– The Galaxy have more followers than most other clubs. So if we do it by “overperforming” posts, the top 16 Instagram posts this season are all from LA Galaxy about Zlatan.

– The week Ibra made his debut, @LAGalaxy IG grew 21.08%.

– Facebook – top 2 posts across all clubs this season are LA Galaxy about Zlatan.

League:

– Top 6 tweets of the season (based on interactions) have been related to Zlatan

– 2 of the rest of the top 10 are from his debut game (but not about him)

– Saw 4.28% IG follower growth the week of Zlatan’s debut

– The highlight of his first goal is MLS’ best-performing post of all-time on TW and IG and second-best on FB (after Women’s World Cup).

– Zlatan-related content makes up MLS’ top three TW posts and top 10 IG posts of all-time.


Outside of Zlatan, MLS has turned to a community-first approach driven by staff that are fans of the game, who understand the nuances behind it and the community that surrounds it to drive their social strategy.

“I think it starts with recognizing that everyone on our staff are fans first,” said Lalas “We recognize that our community is unique. We want to make sure that we are a part of that community and respectful of what that community is on its own.”

“We don’t just want to be a corporate voice. We want to let people know that we are empathetic and sympathetic to what is happening.” – Greg Lalas, VP of Content at MLS

In planning for the new year, Lalas and his team laid out a few goals. Most notably, being as visual as possible and beefing up their video capabilities.

“One of the things we have done this year is to be as visual as possible. I think we have made some really great strides forward in terms of the custom animation we are doing, our graphics have really improved, and we have embraced being visual storytellers.”

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Having a studio dedicated to producing video content has helped as well, especially when it comes to content leading into and out of matches.

“From a strategy standpoint, we have beefed up our video capabilities. We launched a studio the end of last year and have been hammering home video content, especially on match night.”

But, at the end of the day, what is a good social strategy without a good distribution strategy?

“We are expanding our abilities and our content for distribution. We are looking into more and more channels,” added Lalas. “From the content side, I’m looking at how we are optimizing everything for distribution.”

When it comes to weaving corporate partners into their content, Lalas is proud of the fact that they have been able to do it organically, thanks in part to the understanding and support of the partners they work with.  

https://www.instagram.com/p/BhMf_y7BTE9/

“We want to deliver for our partners, but we also want to stay true to the story that is actually in the content itself. We are extremely lucky that our partners are cognizant that authenticity is super important. They are certainly interested in social and digital, but they want to ensure it is authentic and credible. When that happens, you will achieve the engagement you are seeking.”

“Our social strategy is just part of our content strategy overall. What we are doing on those channels has to mesh with what we are doing across all of our channels in terms of tone, voice, and sense of respect.” – Greg Lalas, VP of Content at MLS

Off the pitch, the content team at MLS likes to focus on the culture around the game and highlighting moments that will stick with fans longer than who won and lost.

Doing this naturally takes a group of individuals not only producing and amplifying good content, but realizing what it means to be a fan of an MLS team.

“The culture of our game is so unique. We try to reflect it and be a part of it as much as possible,” added Lalas. “From a content standpoint, we are always trying to make sure that those rituals are showcased and celebrated.”

It’s not the worst job in the world when a player like Zlatan lands on your feeds, but it takes more than one player to drive interest in a league. Thanks to Lalas and his team, @MLS handles are in good hands.