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Josh Hershman

Managing Director, Ten Toes Media

We caught up with digital content specialist Josh Hershman to discuss what makes good content, and how it pays to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to innovation

With the Champions League final bringing the 2019/20 football season to a belated close, players, clubs, managers and fans are already well into their preparations for the new campaign.

And they’re not alone.

Ten Toes Media excels when it comes to helping footballers and other athletes communicate with their fans and grow their online presence, and brands connect with their intended audience. From players at the start of their careers, such as Phil Foden and Fabio Silva, to working alongside PLG Group on Liverpool duo Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold, and others like Patrice Evra looking to find opportunities after their careers, Ten Toes are considered the Rolls Royce of agencies when it comes to helping talent maximise potential on their social, commercial, digital and PR channels.

But what exactly makes good content?

“Content must have good storytelling which conveys emotion, whether it’s a player or club,” explains Ten Toes MD Josh Hershman. "If you can convey the emotions of what people are watching, then that’s always going to cut through."

“Content should resonate with the audience, too. The more engagement stuff gets the more people see it, and the more people might start following you. On Instagram, for example, you can see the number of people who have engaged with your post that didn’t already follow you, which is a great tell at whether or not your content has merely served your existing audience or has cut through and got loads of people who don’t already follow you to do so.

“Sometimes content doesn’t have to be polished or about credible storytelling, it could just be a tweet without a photo or video but which is very amusing. Sometimes it could just be something topical and relevant, but authentic."

“It doesn’t always need to be well produced either,” continues Hershman. “This might be slightly different for athletes compared to clubs and broadcasters, but one of Trent [Alexander-Arnold’s] most popular posts when Liverpool won the league was a selfie of him with his sunglasses on. That wasn’t taken by a professional photographer or with proper lighting or edited in photoshop; it was simply taken by a guy who played a major part in Liverpool winning the league and wanted to show he was enjoying himself. Stuff like that flies much quicker than a professional photo… because it’s real.”

One thing’s for sure, there are so many outlets across multiple platforms that it’s hard for athletes to stand out from the crowd, which is where Ten Toes comes in.

“They’re not just competing against their clubs and other players on social media, they’re up against posts from their followers’ mates, sports journalists, media outlets and clubs. People see hundreds of posts when they scroll through their feeds, and they’ll only engage with a few. And if you were to ask Liverpool’s social media team what makes their content stand out, their answer would be different from mine when it comes to what I think helps players’ content stand out. And again, if you were to ask Sky Sports what they do to make their content appeal to specific club fans, their answer would be different too.”

Luckily, Hershman and the rest of the team are experienced when it comes to knowing what works and what doesn’t, and data is absolutely critical.

“At the moment, we’re working on a variety of projects with a variety of players. From fashion to FIFA 21, and even players on holiday before they go back into pre-season, we’re always planning ways in which our clients can engage with their audience in an authentic way."

“So, whether we’re with a player at the beginning of their journey and creating cool content to showcase a different side to them than what people see on the pitch, or planning ahead with someone who has been with us for a while, every bit of content we produce is bespoke, meticulously planned, created with authenticity in mind, and comes with its own strategy."

“As an example of a client who’s on the beginning of their journey… we represent Fabio Silva who plays for FC Porto and who won the league last season. He’s 18 and faces a big season ahead of him. He’s a young champion, and he’s also very well known as an elite forward to the Championship Manager community. Our job is to try and capitalise on all of that and grow his international presence among football fans and gamers. Our job is to broaden his appeal internationally."

“Similarly, with some of our more established players who won the league with Liverpool, we spent a lot of time planning for all the different scenarios in which they would end up eventually being crowned champions. Beforehand, we didn’t know if they were going to win the league by winning a match themselves, or by Manchester City losing… all we knew was that, barring a catastrophe, they were going to win it at some point!"

“After that, we had a second bite in terms of the actual trophy lift too, which came after their last home game against Chelsea. All of that required careful thinking about tone and sentiment, and the use of data was really important when it came to analysing the success of the content used. One of our players, for example, had over a million likes compared to one of his other teammates, who on the same day got around 100,000 likes. We’re able to educate and support our clients and sometimes they’re the ones able to get the best content [rather than us produce it ourselves]."

Josh is well versed when it comes to working with footballers and in football, and what works when it comes to social media.

“I kind of fell into social media in my first role at UEFA, but then I took ownership of it,” he explains. “To begin with, it was simply part of my editorial duties, but from there I was the best qualified person to continue doing it and I just learned with it as I went along in terms of what worked well and what didn’t, and how best to report back on what we were doing not only for us, but brands around our events. By the end [of my time there], 98% of my time was spent on social media.”

The process of learning ‘what worked and what didn’t’ continued at Spurs, and which is what attracted Ten Toes to Josh’s skillset in the first place.

“Spurs had a reputation as a bit of a closed book,” explains Josh, who later met TT founder Ben Weisfeld at Tottenham’s training ground. 

“I wanted to change that, and my biggest achievement with them was adding tone and character to their channels. I’ll always remember in particular the day Spurs signed Toby Alderweireld and announced the new stadium, it was a bumper news day! I’d been in the office for 16 hours and at the end of it I wanted to tweet something lighthearted given the fact that the fans were so onside with the club. Around that same time, it had become folklore in the Spurs online community that the club started posts with: ‘Spurs are delighted to announce…’ So I just said to the team that we should announce that we have nothing else to announce. Spurs had never done anything tongue in cheek like that before."

“The response to that post was amazing. All we did was capture the mood of the emotion on that day and which the fans could relate to. My boss at the time didn’t really understand social media and so I made sure I printed off all the replies to that post when she gave me the inevitable slap of the wrist for doing it without asking. However, she then let me carry on in that vein, and that was a big moment. It was nice to get some good feedback from supporters, but it enabled us to have a bit more fun with the content and make it less corporate.”

These days, now at an agency, Josh and the Ten Toes team have more freedom to come up with the ideas and run with them without some of the red tape that comes with working for a club or governing body. Yet analysing the success of such ideas is just as vital as the posts themselves, which is where data analysis comes in.

“Data is a massive thing for us,” explains Josh. “We monitor every client’s data with a broad suite of different tools. We also have a head of data who works across all of our clients, and together we’ll review every single post internally, detailing which posts perform well. We share our findings with our clients to help them understand what we should do more or less of, getting their buy in and bringing them on the journey with us too.” 

Josh explains that it’s vital not to merely be driven by numbers. “For example, we know a post about charitable work or going to meet kids won’t perform as well as reliving winning a trophy, but there’s a different value added to that,” he explains. “Also, if it’s a branded piece of content, we know that the numbers will very likely be a bit lower than an unbranded piece, but we also know it will be helping a brand or sponsor whilst crafting their own brand image, so there are caveats. So, we’re always analysing engagement rates and follower growth but always mindful that some posts serve a different purpose."

“We strategise on growth too,” he adds. “We’ll always invest in evaluating all of our audiences, not only to understand them as best we can, but to make sure we’re maximising every opportunity. If a player or brand has a 95% UK audience, then that means they have a huge opportunity to tell their story to the other 5% and grow their presence around the rest of the world.”

Then there’s the ability to maximise different platforms. 

“The standout two for us are Instagram and Twitter,” explains Josh. “Certainly, talent seems more comfortable using Instagram and so they probably use that more than anything else. Snapchat and TikTok have also changed things a bit and TikTok in particular is a growing presence. Twitter is the best to have a direct conversation. You don’t need a really nice image with a filter on it for Twitter. Twitter is what you say, Instagram is how you look. We have a bespoke strategy for each player on each platform. I would say Instagram stories is also a channel on its own, too. Too many players merely players dump match or training photos on Insta stories without any kind of narrative.”

Josh and his team not only need to know what platforms to use and how to analyse them, but they also need to be able to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to new developments.

“The ability to keep pace with digital platforms comes with a paranoia of missing the next best thing, the best use of a certain platform or new feature is a big driver” he explains. 

“I guess wanting to have your finger on the pulse is our biggest challenge. We quite often have clients asking us about new developments or features they’ve seen and it’s our job to not only know about it but have a plan for it and the best way to execute it, and suggest it to them before they really know what it is.”

One thing’s for sure, the next time you see an excellently executed piece of digital content, there will have been a team of talented people behind it. 

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