Katie Gillen, Atlanta United FC: The Competitive World of Sports Social Media

Careers in sports social media require skills outside of content creation, it takes strategic thinking, research, planning and more. Katie Gillen, Atlanta United FC's Manager of Social Media and Analytics joins us on the podcast to explain.  

Hi everybody, I’m Brian Clapp Director of Content for WorkinSports.com and this is the Work in Sports podcast.

There tends to be very blurry lines in the sports industry.atlanta united fc katie gillen

In some industries jobs are like silo’s – you work in a very specific function doing a very specific thing… do not venture over here, that is not your world. Stay in your lane, enjoy your silo. You push the paper from point A to point B…don’t even make eye contact with point C.

Of course I’m being a little dramatic but, I know people who have this existence…it usually requires a cubicle, just to remind you that you have to stay in your space, and not play elsewhere.

In sports, the lines are a little blurrier.

Sports sales is a whole lot of marketing. Marketing involves a lot of social media. Social Media involves a lot of content creation. Content creation includes a lot of graphic design.

We can play this game all day long.

One of my early career bosses, Sandy Malcolm, used to tell me all the time, you have to be versatile. You can’t just be a good writer, you have to know how to run a camera, edit video, ask good questions and more and more and more.

This formula is constantly changing.

To be a scout, well now you have to know analytics… that wasn’t the case 10 years ago.

To be a storyteller you have to know Instagram, also not the case a decade ago.

As they say, the goal posts keep moving.

Careers in sports are blended….and often require both right and left brain.

Take sports social media for example. You think it’s a right brain career choice, all creative and abstract, spontaneous and artistic. Sure, that’s part of it. But not all of it.

A huge component of successful social media is in the left brain activities… like setting strategy, planning, data mining, analytics and projections.

This weeks guest, Katie Gillen from Atlanta United FC – she’s the manager of social media AND analytics…which to many of you may sound like an impossible combination of left and right brain, but for her, is the perfect mix of both.

And Katie's daily reality points out a truth you should write on your wall or inscribe in your notebook – don’t pigeonhole yourself.

You can’t be just one thing, you can’t be just a creative type…you have to be tactical and able to get things done. You can’t be just a data person, you have to be able to translate that into action and into a format your audience, whether that’s a fan base or a sponsor or a group sales target…is ready and excited to consume.

This interview ahead isn’t just a “let’s talk about how fun it is to work in social media!” Sure that’s part of it, but there are challenges ahead, challenges that you need to face if you want to work with a major professional sports team in any role.

In social media you must be able to complete the cycle --  from over-arching strategy, to concept, to planning, to execution, to evaluation, to adjustments, to data collection, to learning and applying, to next challenge.

Any part of this cycle that you avoid, or can’t complete, means you have a weakness that can be or must be filled by someone else.   Wouldn’t you rather be able to contribute to the whole process?

Today’s guest Katie Gillen sure can. As the Manager of Social Media and Analytics for Atlanta United FC, the University of Florida grad has been up to the challenge of the whole cycle, and that’s one of the many reasons she’s a rock star…listen in, and you’ll find out the rest of the reasons real soon.


Sports Social Media Questions for Katie Gillen, Atlanta United FC Manager of Social Media and Analytics


1: Going through your background, before you became the social media maven with Atlanta FC, your previous roles were all connected to content and storytelling in sports… when did it become clear to you that your career calling was on the content side of sports?

2: While in college at the University of Florida you were focused in front of the camera as a reporter and also behind it as editor for GatorVision… At such a large SEC school, the athletic department is a huge operation, this isn’t like working at some small network station in Pocatello, Idaho covering the rodeo… what was that experience like for you and how did it form you as a storyteller?

3: You went from big, to even bigger, jumping from UFlorida to ESPN as a content associate, in my career I started at CNN/Sports Illustrated and I loved being at a huge operation because I feel I learned the right way of doing things – what did you learn about yourself as you started to carve out a persona at a huge operation like ESPN?

4: You spent nearly three years at ESPN – what were some of the biggest challenges of being part of the mothership, and on the flip side, some of the great advantages?

5: After ESPN you start to form your professional niche on the sports social media side, jumping to the PGA Tour Superstore as Digital Marketing and Social Media Manager and then on to Manager of Social Media and Analytics at Atlanta United FC… why was social media the direction you wanted to head with your career path?

6: I think many have a superficial view of social media, it seems easy and fun and something that would be 100% creative, in the moment and spontaneous. Time for some real talk here. How much planning and strategizing and tracking and data collection is involved in your role?

6b: How did you learn the tracking and data side… and is that side just as interesting to you now as the creative side?h tools

6c: I know no two days are the same… but do you have certain baseline expectations of what you need to socially communicate on any given day, or is it organized differently than that?

6d: What about game day… is that a totally different experience?

7: I saw a job posting you have for a Digital Media Coordinator at Atlanta United and there were certain aspects that stood out… namely, knowledge of photoshop and adobe premiere to create videos, graphics and GIFs – how necessary is it for someone who desires a role in social media to be able to create content from beginning concept to end product?

8: What about the pressure of social media to represent the brand properly? You see this all the time, 5,000 great social media posts… 1 bad one… headlines everywhere, people fired. How much do you worry about having you or someone on your team craft a message that could be misinterpreted or possibly making an emotional choice that ends poorly?

9: I interviewed the Digital Platforms Manager for the Philadelphia Eagles Samantha Wood a few months back and she remarked that over half of the social media mangers in the NFL are women and she was very proud of this positive movement for women in sports, as she should be. Why do you think more and more women are gaining leadership roles in sports social media?

10: We’ll finish with this -- you are in a very competitive market in Atlanta, 7 professional sports teams, massive college athletic programs – tons of competition. Then on a national scale, the MLS lags behind the other major sports… and yet, Atlanta United is on fire, huge attendance records, tons of buzz, a growing community… how has the social media approach of you and your team helped amplify the brand to these heights? What is the secret?

For the answers to these sports social media questions and more, listen in to the work in sports podcast episode 128 with Katie Gillen, Atlanta United FC Manager of Social Media and Analytics 

By Brian Clapp | October 29, 2018
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