Shahbaz Khan: Minnesota Timberwolves Director of Digital Content – Work In Sports Podcast

Hey everybody, I’m Brian Clapp, VP of Content and engaged Learning at WorkInSports.com and this is the Work in Sports podcast…

I know this may sound trite, but I learn something from every interview I conduct on this show. It’s true – when you keep yourself open to learning and open to your own need for improvement, you start to see the opportunity in everything. 

I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag, but today’s guest Shahbaz Khan director of digital content for the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, really woke me up during this interview with his ideas. 

Now, full disclosure — if someone asked me what my dream job would be right now, it would be leading a digital content group for a pro sports team — so Shahbaz had me piqued from the get-go.

One thing I always listen for in all of my interviews is HOW someone got the gig they currently occupy, or frankly any of their jobs. Did they find out about the job on our site WorkInSports.com — like Dan Kaufmann from the New York Jets? Did they get it by referral and networking like Hannah Huesman from the Philadelphia Phillies? 

How did they get where they are?

Well, Shahbaz shares a story, coming up shortly, about how he got his job with the Twolves that I have now cited in multiple speaking engagements that I have been a part of — it’s a zoom world, and I’ve been doing a lot of career-focused panels. 

I’ll summarize quickly, and then you can listen to him share the details. But essentially he wanted to work for the Twolves as a social media associate, and he figured out a way to make himself come to life. 

He started a new twitter account and started doing the job. Seriously. He started doing the job of a social media associate for the Twolves. He was able to then show the Twolves how he would operate in the position — his tone, his creativity, he created his own proof of concept.

This is what we mean by — what else can you do to stand out? 

He could have submitted his resume and waited – but he went the extra 10%.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — it takes a lot of faith to hire someone, you are banking on their words and the paper they hand you celebrating themselves. You interview them, and you hear theem sell themselves… but you never really know how they will operate until you get them in your building…and that is daunting. 

I have hired people before that were incredible in the interview process, their references were good, their resume was tight — and then in the job itself they failed. 

What Shahbaz did was genius, because it overcame the fear employers have of hiring someone who can’t really perform when the red light goes on. 

If you can figure out this magic for yourself, if you can figure out how to show proof of concept, and show you can do the job and help quell any fears an employer may have on making you their next hire — that is magic. And Shahbaz caputed that in his process.

I’m telling you — there is a lot more than just this story coming up, Shahbaz shares great stuff on creating digital content during this interview, so I’ll shut up and let you listen… here he is Shahbaz Khan, Director of Digital Content for the Timberwolves and Lynx.

Questions for Shahbaz Khan, Minnesota Timberwolves Director of Digital Content

1: I love getting into my guest’s background and seeing something that jumps out – for you this is clear:  you started college studying electronics engineering! Quite the departure from sports social media content. 

What was your plan early on, and how did you eventually change to a sports focused career?

2: You joined the Timberwolves/Lynx in May 2014 as a social media associate – what do you remember most about that first interview process with the Timberwolves?

3: You jump right into working with an NBA and WNBA team on their social channels – obviously they aren’t going to hand over the strategy and execution on day one – what did your role look like in the first few months?

4: I love these stats on your LinkedIn profile from your first year with the Timberwolves —  Increased the Timberwolves’​ following on social platforms by 400k on Facebook, 95k on Twitter and 108k on Instagram

I’m always telling our listeners, add data and metrics to your profiles – it’s proof!   

But let’s get into the how – what was your approach, your style, your angles to growing the audience?

5: Often people have to move on in their career in order to move up in responsibilities – you left the Timberwolves after a little over a year as a social media associate, why the jump?

6: You landed with the Sacramento Kings as a digital producer – how were the roles and expectations different for you?

7: Teams and organizations tend to have different styles, personas and corporate best practices – did the Kings and Timberwolves approach content in different ways?

8: What about the fan bases? As a content provider you have to know and speak to your audience – while both orgs are in the NBA, I imagine the fanbases in Sacramento and Minneapolis were different – was this a challenge?

9: Maybe I’m easily entertained, but I love it when the social media teams of competing organizations have some fun, they are nice to each other, maybe have a little playful trash talking – it just gives the whole situation a little levity and entertainment factor. 

Is that the fun little secret, that the social and digital teams of the NBA have a secret community where you all know and like each other?

10: Almost three years ago you jumped back to the Timberwolves as a senior manager of digital content. Bigger role than just social media – describe to us what this particular role entailed…  

11: The further you get in your career you migrate away from being an individual contributor, focused solely on executing your assignments – to then managing people, setting bigger strategies, looking forward, managing budgets – you name it. 

What was the biggest challenge for you as your focus become more holistic in the organization?

12: With that in mind, when you get into management, you also have to work cross-functionally with multiple groups within the organization. Content touches sales, marketing, sponsorships, promotions, business analysts etc. How important is it to work effectively as a team, and with others? 

13: Over your 6 years in sports digital content – how has the players attitudes towards social media and digital content changed?

14: Trust is a big word when dealing with athletes –How have you gone about establishing trust with the Timberwolves and Lynx athletes so that they open up and show their authentic self?

15: We’ll finish up with this – let’s think about the future a bit. You’ve been in this game for a while and seen approaches and styles and voices change… What excites you about the future of digital content?

About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the sports media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently, Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, do it.

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