Play Ball! How Marketers Can Apply the Principles of Spring Training and Experimentation

April 1, 2018

Spring Training

The sounds of cracking wooden bats and popping leather mitts. The smells of hot dogs and fresh-cut grass. The feeling of emptied sunflower seeds crunching beneath your shoes or cleats.

These are all sensory hallmarks of the baseball season — now officially upon us as MLB’s ceremonious Opening Day arrived this week.

Over the past six weeks, teams have been toiling away at spring training camps in Florida and Arizona, preparing themselves for the games that really matter. This presents a model worth following for marketers who want to validate and optimize ad campaigns before raising the stakes.

Polishing Your Game Before the Pressure Is On

As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. So it is in the pursuit of perfection that ball clubs spend each day from mid-February until the end of March refining their skills and sharpening their fundamentals. The spring training grind includes plenty of drills, practices, and repetitive training exercises.

But players are also able to get up-to-speed in game situations, through a schedule of about 30 exhibition contests against other teams. The outcomes of these games are essentially meaningless, and the slate is wiped clean once the regular season commences.

As such, coaches and players will often use spring training games as grounds for experimentation. The low-stakes setting provides an ideal opportunity to test out new methods or techniques in order to assess their viability for real game action.

Hurlers will work on solidifying a fourth pitch and see how it fares against hitters; if you hang that rarely-used changeup over the plate and it gets hammered beyond the wall, it’s simply a learning moment. Hitters will toy with altered swing mechanics, knowing they can scrap whatever doesn’t work by the time April rolls around. Managers will try implementing creative defensive shifts and various lineup configurations.

The juxtaposition of baseball’s spring training and regular season is tantamount, in many ways, to organic versus paid posts in the world of social media marketing.

While organic social media posts aren’t inconsequential in the same way as spring exhibitions, they do provide a lower-leverage opportunity to test different approaches in order to get a read on what resonates most with your audience before promoting your campaigns to the big leagues with native advertising.

Using Organic Social Posts as Your Spring Training

When a baseball manager’s new strategy crashes and burns in the regular season, costing the team precious games in the standings, he can end up on the hot seat quickly. Similarly, a marketer will need to answer for paid social campaigns that fail to deliver results, and might be at risk of diminishing budget for the next round.

On some social media networks, organic reach has nearly evaporated for brands. On others, including LinkedIn, it can still be a valuable way to connect with your followers, but obviously won’t provide the same kind of tightly targeted exposure to fresh audiences as posts with paid amplification.

We’ve seen some of the most savvy LinkedIn marketers set themselves up for success with their Sponsored Content by first gauging the efficacy of their messaging and imagery through organic posts.

As Alexandra Zamfir wrote on the blog last year: “For a performance-driven marketing department, there is no such thing as paid versus organic. A mindful social media manager understands that getting it right the first time is a lucky strike; and that testing your campaigns and posts is the proper way to create a scalable strategy.”

Even if you’re working with a smaller sample because your LinkedIn Company Page doesn’t have a ton of followers, you can still draw meaningful conclusions by consulting analytics and assessing which types of content draw more engagement on your page. This can be an inexpensive way to help answer questions such as:

  • Are people more likely to interact with thought-provoking stories, or stats and business insights?
  • What kind of teaser copy compels more clicks on your blog posts? (Tracking codes will help you measure and compare.)
  • Which times of day and posting cadences are most conducive to engagement?
  • What types of visual elements tend to catch more attention on feeds?

In addition to these basic determinations, you can use organic posts to test out any off-the-wall idea you might have on a low-leverage stage. If it finds traction, then you have the concrete basis to give it a go in a paid campaign.

Numbers Don’t Lie

There is certainly something to be said for trusting your gut. Many creative marketing pros are able to innovate specifically because they let their intuitions guide them. But mixing in the right amount of data and evidence will help cover your bases and reduce the chances of swing-and-miss with your next LinkedIn ad campaign.

Those familiar with Moneyball, either the book or the movie, know it chronicles the emergence of a new style of team-building in Major League Baseball, wherein front office decision-makers increasingly started leaning on advanced statistical analysis rather than myopically focusing on subjective scouting reports in player evaluation.

Today, the game’s most successful franchises are blending data with the human element to gain competitive advantage. Your company can similarly find a social media sweet spot by using organic posts — or even lower-budget paid campaigns, if you want to gauge resonance with newer and more specific audiences — to substantiate your marketing instincts.

Step on up to the plate and give it a try.

At LinkedIn, we’ve run our own extensive A/B tests to get a better idea of which content performs best on the platform. To see the real results, and gather ideas for your own experimentation, download Secret Sauce: How LinkedIn Uses LinkedIn for Marketing.

Photo: Pexels