NBA Got Game: How the League's Winning Instagram

The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors aren’t the only ones who have been dominating the playoff season this year. In our latest research, the NBA was the standout sports brand up and down the social media court, but one place they are really heating up is on Instagram. Let's look at some of the plays they’re running that are paying off big time.

By the Numbers

Forget about counting rings to decide who basketball’s G.O.A.T. is.  In this postseason alone, the NBA has racked up over 157 million Likes on Instagram making it the reigning champ on the network, compared to other professional sports leagues. What is driving this monster number? The NBA has over seven and a half million followers on Instagram and as the season approaches its climax, fan interest is at an all-time high.

Whether you are the NBA or not, there are moments in time when your brand is particularly relevant to your audience and they are hungry for more content. Keep reading for pro tips from the NBA on how to strike when the iron is hot.

Taking More Shots

The total number of posts since the all-star break shows a clear upward trend leading up to the finals. Conventional wisdom would suggest that over-saturation should be a concern. Maybe, but for the NBA it doesn’t bear out in the numbers. The increase in content has corresponded with an increase in engagement. Playoff posts have averaged 5% more engagement than their regular season posts. We saw the same trend when NBC dramatically increased post volume during SNL’s 40th Anniversary Special.

So, what kind of content is the NBA sharing?

The Highlight Reel

The NBA has completely upended their content strategy for the playoffs. The table below shows the percentage of video content posted to Instagram from the All-Star Break onward:

Before the playoffs, the NBA was already posting more video content than the other major US sporting leagues. For example, the NHL posts around 10% video content, no matter the stage of the season.

Over half of the NBA’s video content comes in the form of game highlights that are posted as they happen. Another third are pre- and post-game footage. This content mix allows fans to relive the most exciting moments and access exclusive playoff content. The top performing post? This buzzer beater from the eastern semifinals:



Derrick Rose, for the @chicagobulls win! #TacoBellBuzzerBeaters #NBAPlayoffs

A video posted by NBA (@nba) on

Instant Replay

Here are the top three takeaways from the NBA’s standout social strategy:

  • Find Your Playoff Season: Are there times of the year when sales clearly peak? Does your brand sponsor any major events? You can give these big moments longer legs with more social content. When your audience is already tuned in—give them more of what they want.
  • We Talkin’ About Practice: Running the same plays over and over is predictable—not a winning strategy. Switch up your game to figure out which plays score big with your audience.
  • Keep Score: Using a data-driven approach is the best way to improve your game. As you test new content, measure performance to decide which strategies to keep in your playbook.

Data- You da Real MVP

Want more data-driven insights to fuel your social game? Download the Smart Social Report for in-depth analysis of the state of social across eight social networks.

Jason Smith's picture

Jason Smith

Jason Smith is a Senior Analyst at Spredfast and works to find the underlying story the data is trying to tell. When he isn’t breaking API’s and making charts he can be found playing music around Austin. Follow @jasonsmithtx for general nonsense and various complaints.