In the summer of 2015, a string of emojis tweeted out by various NBA players sparked the rise of NBA Twitter as a staple of the league’s cultural footprint.  Free agent Deandre Jordan had agreed to a deal with the Dallas Mavericks.  However, he soon became uncertain about his decision to leave the Los Angeles Clippers.  As the marquee center flip-flopped, players across the league reacted to the intriguing situation with emojis on Twitter, causing an explosion in engagement with the NBA Twitter community.  Thousands of users offered their takes on the Deandre Jordan drama with emojis of their own, sparking a string of interactions between NBA fans and their favorite players that has since become a daily occurrence.

Previously just a small group of writers, insiders, and super-fans, the online community soon became a hub for NBA related news, highlights, jokes, and analyses.  Now, the NBA is the most tweeted about sports league, as there were 100 million NBA-related tweets heading into last year’s finals and over 76 million during last year’s offseason.  From live-commenting games to dissecting pre-game wardrobes, NBA twitter has become a tight-knit community active year-round.  Twitter’s head of sports league partnerships TJ Adeshola reflects, “NBA Twitter just has this really special connectivity to it that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

The NBA doesn’t just dominate Twitter.  A new study by Sports Business Journal concluded that the NBA ranks first among all leagues globally in social media engagement.  The NBA has more than 82 million followers across its official league social media accounts globally and that number jumps to 1.2 billion when including team and player feeds.  Over 14.7 million of those followers were added in the last twelve months, representing a 21 percent year-over-year increase.  Of the four major American sports, Reddit’s NBA message board is now the only one with more than a million subscribers.  The NBA’s rule over social media is no coincidence.  According to the NBA’s chief marketing officer Pam El, “it’s certainly not by accident that [the NBA is] the number one league across all social platforms.  That is completely by design.  We know that’s where those younger fans are getting their information.”

Young sports fans are consuming sports content through social media and streaming services far more than fans in previous generations.  According to a recent Mckinsey report, 56 percent of Millennial sports fans report using streaming website and apps compared to just 29 percent of Generation X fans.  Millennials also check scores and game clips on social media far more often than Generation X fans (60 percent versus 40 percent).  Just last year, YouTube saw an 80 percent increase in time spent watching sports clips on its site, and highlight-focused social media accounts such as Bleacher Report’s “House of Highlights” have millions of followers.  With highlights and game summaries at their fingertips, there’s no need for young fans to sit through entire games and commercial breaks.

The McKinsey report also concluded that Millennial fans are watching fewer and shorter sessions of live sports on TV as a result, which has led to declining ratings for almost all major professional sports. ­­The NFL suffered a 9.7 percent dip in ratings during the 2017 regular season, marking a 17 percent drop since 2015.  NHL games also saw a 20 percent decline in their national broadcast on NBC.  MLB ratings stagnated on average, and even soccer, one of the fastest growing sports in the U.S, struggled to grow their audience in 2017.

As consumption of sports through social media has grown, leagues have had to decide how to protect their content, particularly the highlights and video that networks paid millions of dollars to broadcast exclusively.  While the NFL and MLB have gone after sites and social media users who posted video without permission, the NBA took the opposite approach and has allowed the free distribution of its content.  Commissioner Adam Silver considers online videos to be a form of marketing, likening them to “snacks” that might stimulate fans’ consumption of league content.  Silver recently told Strategy+Business magazine, “If we provide those snacks to our fans on a free basis, they’re still going to want to eat meals – which are our games.  There is no substitute for the live game experience.”

Adam Silver was right.  Though sports viewership in general has gone down, the league’s average TV viewers increased by 17 percent during the 2016-2017 compared to the previous year according to Nielsen Holdings.  Growth is particularly strong among Millennials, as viewership of NBA TV programming rose 21 percent among the 18-34 age group.  The NBA continues to leverage social media to increase engagement, as commissioner Silver notes, “we look at social media data every day to see how many people are following the league, our teams, and individual players. And we have various measures for whether the commentary is positive or negative.”  The NBA has only a dozen staffers devoted to managing social media activities. However, their operations are intertwined with sales, marketing, and other core league departments as engaging fans online has become an integral strategy.

Despite recent success, the NBA still has a long way to go before overtaking the incumbent American sports powerhouse. Although the NFL’s viewership has steadily declined over the past three years, they still have ten times the number of viewers on average as the NBA for their prime-time games.  The NFL also has significant more revenue compared to the NBA.  In the 2017-2018 season, the NFL made $14 billion in total revenue, nearly double the NBA’s $7.4 billion.  Overall popularity lies with the NFL too, as a Gallup poll released last year found that 37 percent of Americans consider football to be their favorite sport compared to just 11 percent who responded basketball.

Still, the trend in sports media consumption towards social media and streaming bodes well for the NBA’s prospects of someday overtaking the NFL.  As young viewers stray from conventional live TV viewership, the future of rights deals appears to be in jeopardy, and the NBA is positioned better than any other league to adjust to subscription-based streaming services. Commissioner Silver envisions that one day streaming services will bid for contracts the way television services do now.  Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban agrees, stating that the competition between subscription services will be “greater than the competition between networks on TV ever was” and that “…our revenue could grow significantly if the landscape then is similar to today.”  Traditional media companies like CBS, Fox, ESPN, NBC and Turner currently have the rights to the big four U.S. sports league locked up until for multi-year deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars each.  Beginning in 2021, however, the rights go up for bidding again and tech companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google are poised to enter the competition.  The NBA has already entered partnership with Hulu and YouTube and experimented with streaming games on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The McKinsey study on Millennial sports media consumption also concluded that the distribution of online highlights is the gateway to obtaining subscriptions.  Fans who consume 30 minutes per day of sports highlights were shown to be three times as likely to subscribe to sports streaming services compared to the average fan.  Since the NBA already dominates the online sports content space, the league is set up well for a lucrative streaming deal once its TV rights contract expires in 2025.  If Cuban’s vision comes to fruition, it is not too far-fetched to say that the NBA could soon overtake the NFL in terms of both viewership and revenue, especially as Millennial audiences age and Generation X viewers phase out.

Instagram has been gaining massive popularity in the past decade, especially when it comes to food blogging. As of June 2018, 1 billion people use Instagram and according to The Washington Post, a Maru/Matchbox study found that 69 percent of millennials take a picture or a video of their food before eating. As the trend for food blogging on Instagram has skyrocketed, millennial food culture has undergone major changes.

 

Instagram has been discriminatory with certain foods, particularly colorfully saturated snacks. Users can choose to follow channels like @foodys and @foodporndaily1 to get their dose of saturated, sinful bites that might look too good to be true. Despite these irresistible-looking treats, a subgroup of food lovers has become increasingly dissatisfied with the quality and taste of these items. A glittery, pink and purple Starbucks drink labeled the “Unicorn Frappuccino” went viral on Instagram during its limited period in April of 2017. Despite the drink’s aesthetic appeal, Chris Riotta, a reviewer at Newsweek wrote, “To be clear, this is the worst drink I have ever purchased in my life.” In 2014, New York Times food critic Pete Wells coined the term “camera cuisine,” referring to expensive restaurants drawing customers from their picturesque dishes. Wells noted that the rise in plating aesthetics appeared to be intrinsically connected with a decline in taste, finding that camera cuisine’s “purest form…is both exquisitely photogenic and peculiarly bland and lifeless.”

 

On the other end of the spectrum, healthy eating has made a huge wave in the online social media community. According to The Guardian, chia seeds, grains, cactus water and more all emerged as top food trends of 2016. Interestingly, social media has also helped eaters be accountable for their diets. Interviewees who kept track of what they ate for a University of Washington research paper found that Instagram helped them stick to their own tracking and healthy eating goals, made them more honest about their eating habits and allowed followers to show support.

 

Restaurants recognizing the potential nascent advertising benefits of Instagram have gone to great lengths to keep up with the social buzz. The owner of Grind, a London café-bar chain, has spent the last five years trying to make his entire company more “Instagrammable” and as culture savvy as possible. In 2016, Grind replaced every table in the company with white marble to improve customers’ Instagram pictures.

 

Restaurant tactics appear to run the gamut in order to please their photography-oriented customers, and there is evidence of their financial success. The one-day Square Shake campaign by Sonic increased their follower base by 11,000 users. Starbucks, a marketing giant on Instagram, has averages over 200,000 likes on each post according to a study conducted by JMIR Public Health and Surveillance. With the release of the Unicorn Frappuccino, global same-store sales increased by three percent for the second quarter.

 

Other businesses, however, dislike the idea of catering to Instagramming millennials. James Lowe, head chef and owner of Lyle’s in London has noted that this photogenic food culture has led to chefs “cooking for pictures”–putting a dish together without concern for taste and focusing exclusively on aesthetic. Japanese deli Auradaz in Leamington Spa has banned diners from using their mobile phones in his restaurant, citing that eating is a social experience and not one to be saturated with social media.

 

The rise in Instagramming food altered business strategy has changed consumer behavior. The Waitrose survey states that nearly 40 percent of consumers worry more about presentation compared to five years ago. According to research by Zizzi, the average 18-35-year-old spends five whole days a year browsing food images on Instagram, and 30 percent would avoid a restaurant if their Instagram presence was weak.

 

In the future, restaurants can expect to see a spike in millennials willing to expand their palate and try more adventurous foods. With the rise of both sugary foods and healthy eats, polarization in diets among the millennial population may be on the horizon. Restaurants who do not take advantage of the growing social media platform may risk a decline in younger customers. Meanwhile, hearty foods with less visual appeal could disappear depending on whether epicures and food critics grow in number. Instagram has undoubtedly revolutionized the types of food we eat, the restaurants and vendors who sell them and food culture as a whole.

 

The 21st century has seen the near disappearance of traditional maps. The booming age of technology brought about GPS systems, which changed travel forever. Companies like Garmin and TomTom dominated the market in the early 2000s. These systems, however, have faltered due to the introduction of GPS into smartphones. Why buy a Garmin when your iPhone has built in map systems and millions of applications at your disposal. Waze, a community based traffic and navigation app, was founded in 2007, and has capitalized on this new age of navigation and mobile apps. Constructed with a straightforward business plan, its success was enough to attract a $1.3 billion buyout from Google in 2013.

Waze has become the most popular community based navigation application because of its social media aspect. In the new sharing economy where social media is paramount, there is a high premium on group connection. Waze brilliantly incorporates this aspect as its whole model relies on users sharing and providing information for other users. The interactive component of the app engages the users while they are driving and allows for up to date and accurate data. This naturally incentivizes others to download and utilize Waze. The app rewards users by participating; a simple but smart idea that has lead to its high download rates.

Here is how the application works; it crowd sources its information from the users, which allows for the most up to date information. The software then automatically factors these updates into its directional advice. Waze gives its users the fastest route available, which is highly appreciated in this day and age.

Apart from providing the most up to date travel information, Waze owes much of its accomplishments to its social media component. The app uniquely connects everyone on the road into one mobile application platform. It is simple yet powerful. When people know that they are contributing to others experience and that others are contributing to theirs, they feel empowered. There are no limitations on this applications’ value, as it becomes more useful with more suppliers. Waze has helped users in disastrous situations like Hurricane Sandy, when Waze was able to alert survivors of open gas stations. This further demonstrates the potential of Waze’s concept.

Waze, while unprofitable for its first few years of existence, has since adopted a location based advertising platform. According to CEO Noam Bardin, within the mobile app’s first years, the key is to expand the user base and prove the concept. Waze successfully implemented that strategy and now is able to profit. The location based advertising platform means that Waze promotes businesses on the app that are within a certain proximity to the user. Waze can recommend gas stations, restaurants and even hotels as the user drives by them. Advertisers and businesses see this is a very economical way to invest their money. With over 50 million users, advertisers can be confident in knowing that their businesses will be promoted. Additionally, Waze does not use banners on their mobile app, which is a huge draw for advertisers. Banners are burdensome for users, and Waze skillfully integrates advertising so that the user is not distracted. While the revenues from advertisements are not high, they will continue to grow as Waze gains more popularity. The genius behind Waze is the technology and the idea, which is something Google obviously values as they spent over $1 billion to acquire the company.

Waze has recently improved the integration of advertisements. Now, businesses such as restaurants and coffee shops pop up at the top of the screen and give the time to that destination as well as an easy reroute option to give directions to the new destination. Waze also now allows for unique ad targeting based on driving conditions such as weather, type of destination or weather. For example, if Waze knows you are headed to beach in a warm climate, it might advertise ice cream shops. Waze has a successful advertising model, however the company must continue to show potential advertisers that Waze will assist their businesses. It can do test studies to see how much more likely Waze users are to frequent a business that is advertised on the app. Additionally, Waze could create a new component to the app to increase advertisements. The idea is that before the course is given, a list of businesses, within a mile of any point of the route, are presented so that the user can select one before he or she even begins the drive. This way, the user isn’t alerted of advertisements just minutes before passing by. This is an easy function to include in the app that would make advertising on Waze more attractive.

Waze is just one of the latest examples of a social media application to gain recognition on a national stage. In the current digital age, innovative companies have the potential to succeed at high levels. Waze is poised to maintain its level of success in the foreseeable future if it sticks to its core ideas of simplicity, efficiency and customer satisfaction.