What You Can Learn From ESPN In Order to Win Social Media

January 3, 2020 | 3 minute read
Text Size 100%:

If you watched this season’s Monday Night Football thriller involving the Houston Texas and the New Orleans Saints on ESPN, you might have been so caught up in the drama that you didn’t notice something remarkable that happened in the early minutes of the game. Based on immediate fan feedback on Twitter about ESPN’s new down and distance graphic, ESPN’s production team went into overdrive and cleaned up what fans perceived to be a confusing graphic. ESPN then relayed its response back to the Twitterverse, letting them know that they took fan comments seriously and were working to fix things. ESPN’s on-the-fly move shows what’s possible when brands are actively listening to sentiment on social media.

The controversy behind the #MNF graphic

The problem, quite simply, is that ESPN screwed up with its new down and distance graphic for Monday Night Football, and fans let them know about it. The production team used yellow to showcase this graphic (sort of like using a yellow highlight function), but this had the unfortunate effect of making it appear as if a referee had called a penalty on each and every play. For football fans, yellow is synonymous with yellow penalty flags, so by highlighting the down and distance in yellow on every play, it caused a lot of confusion.

And, as might be expected, the place that people go to vent these days (especially after a few beers while watching a game) is Twitter. Fans were killing ESPN for the graphic, and using the #MNF hashtag to make sure that everyone watching the game also saw their tweets. But that ended being a good thing, because the ESPN production crew was also seeing all those tweets on Twitter and could make changes before things escalated even further. Mid-way through the game, the annoying yellow graphic had been transformed into a much more aesthetically pleasing black-and-white graphic.

Real-time social media response

This example involving ESPN and its #MNF graphic illustrates what’s possible on social media these days for brands that are actively listening to their audiences – and not just inundating them with promotions and traditional marketing content. Part of “winning” Twitter is being able to track what fans and followers are saying about you in real time, and then having the ability to respond immediately without going through multiple levels of approvals. Imagine if ESPN had waited hours for approval to make changes to their graphic – by that time, the game would have been over. ESPN needed to act immediately – and did.

While it might be unrealistic for all brands to have someone monitoring their social media presence on a 24/7 basis, it is realistic to assume that during “mission critical” moments – such as during a new product launch presentation, or during a big industry conference where the CEO is showing up on stage – there will be someone monitoring the company’s social media accounts with the ability to make changes on the fly. That is perhaps the single best way to let fans and followers know that you are thinking about them and doing everything possible to create a real-time feedback mechanism between them and your brand.


Social media is but one of your most important channels. Successful marketers link the customer experience across multiple channels for a more consistent and connected experience. Find out how to get started with “Cross-Channel Orchestration Fundamentals.”

Check out the guide.


Chris Zilles

As the Founder and CEO of Social Media Headquarters (HQ), Chris manages an online community of marketers, students, entrepreneurs and digital enthusiasts. One of his goals is to help others grow professionally with the help of the latest tips and trends in social and digital marketing. You can follow up on Twitter @SocialMediaHQ.

Previous Post

A Decade of Leadership: OCE Maintains its Position as a Leader in Gartner’s 2019 WCM MQ

April Thomas | 2 min read

Next Post

Why Customer Personas Need to Die: Moving Beyond Segmentation to Personalize at the Individual Level

James Glover | 4 min read