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How ESPN Creates Shareable Content
Featuring an interview with Moh Kloub, Senior Social Media Specialist at ESPN.
Before we jump into today’s newsletter I want to call out two very exciting things!
First, I am hosting the first ever Link in Bio meetup in Austin next weekend! Come hang out at Cosmic Coffee + Beer Garden on Sunday March 12th at 3 p.m.! This will be a laid back, chill, not-too-networky event to meet other subscribers and talk about finicky algorithms, best breakfast tacos, and whatever else is on your mind. Please RSVP here so I can get an idea of how many people to expect!
Second, I am hosting a panel at SXSW on Saturday March 11th at 11:30 a.m.! I will be chatting with Zaria Parvez (Global Social Media Manager at Duolingo) and Julian Gamboa (Social Media Director at Maximum Effort) about navigating calculated risk on social. You can get more details here!
Okay, let’s get into today’s interview!
When I got on Zoom to interview Moh Kloub, Senior Social Media Specialist at ESPN, it was his day off but news was breaking. Kyrie Irving had just delivered his trade request to the Nets and they had to get something up on social. Fast. What went up was a very high performing post that was optimized for shareability: it had a clear headline, indicated breaking news, and used a photo of Kyrie.
When I think about accounts like ESPN (and all the accounts under their umbrella like @sportscenter and @nbaonespn), they all do one thing really well: create content that makes you want to add it to your story or DM it to a friend. Whether it’s photoshopping stats over photos or making smart creative connections or grabbing a Reel on the court after a game—the team is always thinking about how to make sure they are posting something that not only resonates but feels worthy of sharing.
For this newsletter I asked Moh to break down a handful of his favorite posts on the accounts he helps oversee at ESPN. How did the idea come about? Why did it perform well? What made it shareable? We talk through the iconic That’s So Raven season opener trailer, a very good Messi meme, and more.
My takeaway from our conversation was a very simple but effective formula for creating shareable posts:
Take something that’s already gaining traction or going viral (news, a pop culture moment, etc)
Ask yourself “What’s our spin or addition to this?”
Make that key creative connection that no other account or site is doing (think: Messi taunting the Instagram egg or pairing basketball with That’s So Raven)
You’ll see this formula is a theme throughout Moh’s work and I hope it inspires you in whatever industry you work in.
Rachel Karten: Can you talk about your current social job and any other jobs (social or not!) you've had?
Moh Kloub: I’m currently a Senior Social Media Specialist at ESPN. Besides the main ESPN social accounts I also work on accounts like @sportscenter and @nbaonespn. Before this I worked in news—I was a breaking news intern at the Chicago Tribune, an engagement editor at The Seattle Times, and an audience engagement editor at Crosscut.
RK: I’d love for you to choose a few posts that you worked on last year and talk me through them. How did they come about? Any interesting strategy or takeaway from them?
That’s So Raven Opening Night
We like to brainstorm ahead of time for big events—this one specifically was for the NBA's opening night. It’s not uncommon to use show intros to welcome back the season (Bleacher Report did a great one the other year with Succession) and we were just throwing around different ideas. I threw out That’s So Raven because I just love that show and I figured we could tap into the nostalgia factor of it. I also liked that we could play up more humorous moments from previous seasons—like when LeBron picked up a pair of someone’s glasses and tried them on or when Giannis stares down the camera similar to how Raven does in the actual intro. Ultimately it felt like a really fun way to not only speak to die-hard NBA fans but also maybe introduce it or get new viewers to see how fun watching basketball can be. In terms of the intro theme song, I believe we were able to use that because ESPN is owned by Disney, the channel That’s So Raven aired on.
This was so fun to make with my other coworkers, one who also happens to be an amazing video editor. We’d just dig for and send clips back and forth all day when editing it. I think it also helped that we all just have such an encyclopedic knowledge of the game that we could recall perfect scenes for the video. No clip in there was an accident. The best part about it was comments like “I don’t even watch basketball, but now I want to.”
This one is super cool because it’s LeBron reposting something that I made. Because of the nature of how quickly we need to post things, we have lots of templates. If a certain milestone is hit or something happens during a game, it’s an easy way for me to just slot in whatever happened. Really nice to see how a simple, night-to-night post like this could get picked up and appreciated by LeBron himself. If this was just a photo of him without the particular stat embedded within the post, it’s unlikely he would have re-shared.
Post-Game on the Court
This moment in particular was during the NBA Finals. Usually when the final buzzer sounds we try to get on the court with our phones to see if we can capture anything good. Usually we see things like players embracing or celebrity interactions. This clip is of Jayson Tatum and Nelly interacting after the game. It’s just a nice wholesome moment that we had access to and it was easy to just turn it into a quick Reel and tweet. I took the video then sent it back to my team to post. That’s usually how the process goes when I’m actually at a game.
Serena and Tiger
This was another night-to-night type of post that we can’t exactly plan for. But this one, like a lot of our posts, requires us to make creative connections in real time. With this one we saw Tiger did his famous fist pump in the crowd. Then we saw Serena also did a fist pump. I usually have Getty Images open in situations like this when we aren’t physically there or we know a photographer might have a better angle—so I looked to see if the fist pumps were there. We decided to stitch them together and it performed really well.
Stats on a Photo
I’m really proud of this one because it was actually the first Instagram post of mine to hit one million likes. It’s a really simple style of content—our stats team is just always tweeting out various interesting numbers and facts. So I took it out and put it on this awesome image from Getty that I found. The tweet layered with the amazing photo just did super well.
Messi Egg Taunt
There are times when we know something might happen and we can plan a little. Here we knew that Messi was probably going to break the record for most-liked photo on Instagram. So we decided to take this iconic photo of Messi taunting a coach and photoshop the previous most-liked record holder on Instagram—the egg. This was an example of really great collaboration between myself and a social designer.
This was a great example of taking something that everyone was talking about and putting our own spin on it. There was this clip going around of LeBron whispering in this younger player’s ear. So when LeBron wrote this caption, other outlets just put the screenshot over a photo of him. But we knew this quote was from a specific scene in Spiderman so we actually went and pulled a screenshot to show them side by side. It just adds a cool IYKYK element and personalizes the post beyond what every other outlet is sharing.
RK: These are all so great. It seems like a common thread from these is really creating and optimizing for shareability—how does that specific metric play a role in your strategy?
MK: Obviously we want our posts to resonate and be shared. And a big part of that for us is finding unique or interesting angles into news or live sports. How can we approach something differently than everyone else?
An example of this was a moment that happened in a recent game where Steph Curry was just laying on the ground staring up at the sky. Most sports accounts just posted the photo and then a swipe to the clip of it happening. But we wanted to come at it from a different angle. We noticed a colleague of mine had posted a tweet with it, comparing the shot to a scene in Toy Story where Woody is posed really similarly. We thought it was funny so we posted it to one of our accounts.
Finding creative connections like that to layer over something that’s already performing well on other accounts is a really key tactic to increase shareability.