By: Adam White, @FOSAdam
Front Office Sports is proud to have sat down with Nilay Shah, Director of Digital and Social Media for the New York Football Giants. A former fan, Nilay's journey to sports business success is one of the most unique ever to be featured on FOS. After starting his career outside of sports, Nilay has found himself running the Giants award winning social and digital media for the past 8 years. He was gracious enough to offer up his time and insight into ins and outs of his current role, the biggest challenges he faces and what mediums rising professionals should keep a close eye on.
You graduated in 2006 from the New Jersey Institute of Technology [NJIT]. Could you have imagined then that you would be where you are today? What has that journey been like for you?
I went to NJIT with the thoughts and intentions of getting into the web space in some capacity. It didn’t hurt that my position with the Giants was able to allow me to marry the passion of what I studied in college and my love for the Giants themselves. It was dream come true for me, and one many professionals don’t get to experience.
You were an analyst at DoubleClick before making the switch to the Giants. What drew you to the position with the Giants and what has made you stay for this long?
I grew up a diehard Giants fan, but I didn’t know anyone there at the time to get my feet wet. Luckily for me in what could almost account as a fairytale, I was able to land the position.
It all started when I attended a Giants summit that the team hosted in which they brought in ten of their websites most loyal visitors to meet and critique things about the site to try and get a better holistic view on how the site was performing from a fans perspective. At that time I was a freshman in college, so I found the guy who was in charge of the Giants site and basically stayed with him throughout the night asking him questions about how I could help them and try to prove to him why it was worth it to bring me on. I told him that I would do anything from clerical work to whatever they needed me to do.
Luckily enough, he told me to come back on game days to help them out in that department. Keep in mind that this occurred in 2002 when social media and the internet were in their early stages. Because of this, at that time, one guy handled the digital media and site so they could use any help possible. It was an unpaid internship, but it was great and it allowed me to keep my foot in the door throughout the year.
I had another full time job, but my boss at the Giants decided to move on and when he did, because I had been there for the last three years, he recommended me for his position and I was fortunate to get it and I have been here ever since.
I had to pay my dues for three years to get to that point. I remember completely adjusting my school schedule to fit in the games, missing going out with my friends on the weekend and at night and a myriad of other things, but if I hadn’t done all of what I did, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today.
What does your current role entail?
A lot of it is finding ways to have the people who follow us engage with our sponsors as well as finding and setting up new and fresh content. Most of my day is spent strategizing content and figuring out ways to integrate the new content and the new mediums into our message on a consistent basis.
Another aspect that people tend to forget about is fan engagement on the customer service side and being there with answers and solutions for fans who may pose questions over Twitter or Facebook.
For ideas such as the OBJ Longform Interactive Timeline, Augmented Reality Super Bowl Rings and having Twitter integrated into a game broadcast how did those come about and how long did they take to implement? What is the process behind campaigns and groundbreaking things such as that?
The idea behind integrating Twitter into the broadcast came from when I was watching the Voice with my wife and I saw them doing it on the show. We thought that if they could do it for the voice, why not do it for our games. It is never a bad thing to see things used by other organizations on other platforms and se if you can take what they did and possibly do it for your fans or viewers on a similar or different platform. None of this matters though if you don’t have buy in from the entire organization. Everyone can have an idea but without the support of the organization or company for which they work for, the idea will go nowhere.
For the Super Bowl Rings, I saw the technology in Esquire Magazine and I loved it and I wanted to try and find a way to incorporate that into what we were doing with the team and the fans. It just so happened we won a super bowl that year and we implemented the process after that and saw over 50,000 images uploaded of people wearing the virtual rings.
A lot of things are trial and error. You have to have conviction and you have to do your due diligence and if you mix that with the buy in from the organization, you take your idea and just do it and hope that it works like you planned for it to. If it is successful you repeat it, if it isn’t, you learn from it.
This is uncharted territory. There are no experts.
Digital media has seen a meteoric rise the last eight years. What has been the biggest challenge for you? What has been the most fun aspect?
The biggest challenge is finding out what to do with the seemingly endless amounts of platforms that come about on a daily basis. We really have to find the time to go through the platforms and vet out the ones we don’t need and keep the ones we think could enhance our brand.
What is really fun for me is that here at the Giants, we are fortunate to not have a ticket issue, so for us our social media is really about finding ways to engage and interact with the fan base. When you have the ‘engage first’ mentality, your message is able to shift. For us, our message online is really about promoting the players and the team and giving the fans an experience they can’t get anywhere else.
In your mind what are some ways teams can make their social media great? Why do you believe this as such?
The most important thing is staying true to the brand. You are the voice of the team. You have to find ways to innovate not only with social media outside the stadium, but with it during the game as well. One of the things we do is that you have the ability to send in your photos to get on the jumbotron and if your photo gets selected to be on the jumbotron, we send you an automatic reply tweet so you don’t miss it being up there.
In social media, there is no perfect road map to success. On many occasions, you try something and go with it. What I preach to our staff is consistency whether it is in the message or the graphics, we want to be as consistent as possible.
If you had to impart words of advice or wisdom to aspiring digital media pros, what would they be and why?
You have to get your foot in the door and when you do you have to realize that digital and social isn’t just the internet. We work with every department throughout the team because that is where we get a lot of our content.
Make sure that once your foot is in the door you make your presence know throughout the company and that you are going above and beyond. Make sure you can show that you can be trusted. Trust is huge in social media and digital media as one small misstep could cost you your job.
This isn’t a job where you clock out at 5pm. You have to be ready to go and available all the time. You are going to have to be able to sacrifice some parts of your outside life.
If you could pick one medium to watch closely going forward, what would it be and why?
I would have to say Snapchat and Instagram. One thing that Facebook has is the reach and the size, but teams are going to start re evaluating their campaigns on there.
Snapchat and Instagram are where the millennials are, but they are also a difficult place to activate the partnerships you have with your sponsors. It will be interesting to see what happens.
I am also intrigued to see where the live video streaming sites end up and how teams and leagues plan to utilize them.
In this industry, it is all about trust. As someone who is doing the social and digital media for a team, you are the voice of that team. It is extremely crucial to remember that.
A lot of working in sports is based on who you know, but if you don’t know anyone like I did when I first applied, you need a break to fall your way. My break came by way of my work ethic and the fact that I busted my butt and grinded it out for three years.
We would like to thank Nilay for offering up his advice and wisdom and we wish him all the best in his future endeavors!
You can connect with him on LinkedIn here!