Industry Leaders Weigh In: Who Was The 2017-18 NBA Social MVP?


Last night, James Harden took home the NBA’s Most Valuable Player trophy just a few short weeks after the Golden State Warriors won the ‘chip, leaving little question about who’s dominating on the court.

But at STN Digital, we wondered: Who was this year’s NBA Social Media MVP, which wasn’t so cut and dry.

At the conclusions of the NFL and MLB season, we asked some of our clients and industry leaders their opinion on who had the best season on social. For the NBA, we wanted to take a different approach…

There’s always some buzz around the annual NBA Twitter Complex rankings, a topic that’s led to some unsettlement within the industry. From our perspective, the rankings read like something that was created by an outsider, not the people that pour blood, sweat, and tears into their team’s social feeds.

With that said, we wanted to give each team an opportunity to have a voice in the matter. We contacted all 30 teams and asked everyone to share who they thought was deserving of the honor: Social Media MVP for the 2017-18 season. Here’s how it worked:

Each team had a chance to vote completely anonymously, behind closed doors. We heard back from about half of the 30 NBA teams, which was enough to find some trends. 

The first section of the survey was subjective: “Who were the top 3 teams on social and why?” In the second section, we asked voters to rate all 30 teams on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = not great, 5 = crushed it).

Once the votes were in, we took the average of each team’s ratings, determining their rank order. In an effort to make the poll as unbiased as possible, we only included one submission per team to count towards the overall average.

Here’s how the chips fell…

#10 Cleveland Cavaliers 

3.62 out of 5 | (⇩3: Complex Rankings #7)

Starting our top 10 countdown, the Cavs worked their way into the #10 spot. Although the Cavs fell short to the Warriors on the court, when it comes to social, they played a winning game. Their #WhateverItTakes campaign was well-executed across all platforms through the use of clean graphics and aesthetically pleasing photography. But with that said, it was “safe” content and lacked a standout factor, which is necessary to make it any higher on the list.

Follow @cavs: Twitter | Instagram

*No comments were submitted for the Cavs


#9 Atlanta Hawks 

3.63 out of 5 | (⇩3: Complex Rankings #6)

Despite being a lottery team on the court, the Hawks came in at #9 amongst their peers. When it comes to “savagery,” ATL is known across the sports world to troll with the best of them. Additionally, they have well-branded content, they spoke to their audience and interacted with fans, generating high engagement. Keep it up Hawks!

Follow @atlhawks: Twitter | Instagram

*No comments were submitted for the Hawks


#8 Minnesota Timberwolves 

3.69 out of 5 |(⇧6Complex Rankings #14)

Here’s what they’re saying:

“Made splashes on social by partaking in conversations they haven’t in the past, understanding internet culture, and showcasing their player personalities in unique ways.”

The Minnesota Timberwolves took a big step forward this season, making them one of the most improved teams in terms of social performance. Some of that may be attributed to new hires on the social team. Big S/O to the Timberwolves making number 8 in the countdown.

Follow @timberwolves: Twitter | Instagram


#7 Milwaukee Bucks 

3.85 out of 5 | (⇩2Complex Rankings #5)


Here’s what they’re saying:

“Very appealing visually. On social, they come across sincere to their brand without trying too hard to be relevant.”

Milwaukee is consistently pushing out high-quality content which is clearly shown as #7 on our social performance countdown. They have a unique ability to make you feel apart of the team through their relatable photography and clever posts that give you an inside look at the lives of the players and team. They have a high visual appeal and a voice to match. Go Bucks!

Follow @bucks: Twitter | Instagram


#6 Toronto Raptors 

3.92 out of 5 (⇩4:Complex Rankings #2)

Here’s what they’re saying:

“Clean graphics, fun GIFs, great YouTube content, fun All-Star campaign.”

The Raptors turned a lot of heads on social this season. When it comes to branding, they kept it clean and fresh while not being afraid to step outside the box. Their pop culture references were timely and witty (for very biased reasons, this House Raptodor was one of our favorites). Their YouTube content was best-in-class, which is a platform that often gets overlooked. With this impressive combination, the Raptors earned a #6 from their peers.

Follow @raptors: Twitter | Instagram


#5 Utah Jazz 

4.08 out of 5 | (⇧15Complex Rankings #20)

Here’s what they’re saying:

“I think they’ve done a great job creating fun content in a tough market and without tons of player access. The tone is consistent and #onbrand and the assets (photo, video) are high quality.”

“They make Utah seem less boring.”

“Always keep it fun and connect well with fans.”

One of the biggest discrepancies from the Complex Rankings is the Utah Jazz. After being buried all the way at #20 by Complex, the Jazz garnered a ton of respect from their peers, climbing 15 spots up to top 5 on our list. Even without a lot of access to their players, the social team in Utah has found a way to create fun and exciting content. Their tone is consistent and #onbrand and the assets (photo, video) are high quality.

Follow @utahjazz: Twitter | Instagram


#4 Sacramento Kings 

4.09 out of 5 | (⇧0Complex Rankings #4)


Here’s what they’re saying:

“The Kings took a lot of risks and were willing to jump in on any and every conversation.”

“Funny, risk-taking, despite their perpetual lottery-dwelling.”

“We enjoy the Kings content because they use new software and try new technology before most teams do. They have good fan interaction and do a good job staying relevant even through some tough seasons. They are not afraid of pushing the envelope to reach a new audience.”

“Make a miserable basketball franchise worth following.”

When it comes to taking risks and trying new things, the Kings lead the charge. They are constantly finding new ways to engage not only their audience, but #NBATwitter in general. The Kings are not afraid to jump on trends, even before they’ve become “trends.” Despite a tough season on the court, their social team pushed the envelope making them one of the top teams to follow on social.

Follow @sacramentokings: Twitter | Instagram


#3 Houston Rockets 

4.23 out of 5 | (⇧6Complex Rankings #9)

Here’s what they’re saying:

“Underrated for going out of their way to do something unique for graphics every single game.”

“The Rockets had an awesome season, and their social team did right along with them. James Harden is one of the NBA’s most interesting characters, and the Rockets lean in to that at every opportunity. They’re super creative, but have the execution to match. Ideas are nothing without the team to carry them out and bring them to life, and Houston did that all season as well as anyone in the league.”

“They do a great job at putting out a good balance of relevant topics, pop culture references, in game content and corporate advertising. They have come up with innovative ways to present corporate sponsors with better social media options such as the Whataburger posts which implement tracking Whataburger products. They also take advantage of their influencers such as Travis Scott and other Houston representatives that support the team. They also focus on creating special graphics and custom videos/hypes before each big game or achievement.”

“A+ video content.”

Earning a spot in the top 3 takes a high level of consistency throughout the entire season. The Rockers had the NBA’s best record on the court, and their social content wasn’t too far behind. Not much else needs to be said here from our end, just read the comments above.

Follow @houstonrockets: Twitter | Instagram


#2 Portland Trail Blazers 

4.31 out of 5 | (⇧1Complex Rankings #3)

Here’s what they’re saying:

“Another team with awesome creative execution and art mixed with a well-curated personality. The Blazers push the envelope sometimes, but it’s part of who they are on social, and it’s entertaining. Still, it all comes down to putting the brand in the best light, and the Blazers’ creative/social team is among the best in the business at doing that. Their look is always crisp and concise, and you know when you’re looking at something from Portland. It’s a good thing.”

“Portland’s always on the cusp of digital innovation & tend to think outside of the box.”

“Clean graphics, high quality & engaging photos, fun personality, consistency across platforms.”

“Artistic, fun, innovative.”

“Strong multimedia content. Good voice.”

Without a doubt, The Blazers’ creative & social team know how to show off their brand, making them among the best in the business (#2).

Follow @trailblazers: Twitter | Instagram

*Again, there was absolutely no input from any STN employees on these rankings. 


#1 Philadelphia 76ers 

4.92 out of 5 | (⇧0Complex Rankings #1)

Here’s what they’re saying:

“Overall, voice is great. Formatting is an underrated skill in disrupting a social timeline, and Philly is the best at it.”

“A lot of teams have quick wits and can make good jokes and fire tweets that win the day, and the Sixers are great in that sense, too. But what makes them the best consistently throughout the season is their big time creative execution. Everything from photography to design concepts across all platforms (the IG stories all season come to mind) is top notch in the league, and that’s what’s most important. They’re fun, but their brand is also unmistakable on every channel. That’s where the real value is, and the Sixers nail it.”

“Kurt and team manage to produce unique content in a copycat league, telling the story of the team and its players by emphasizing quality over quantity and minimizing sponsored/corporate junk. Top-notch photography, distinct voice that is cool but not edgy for the sake of being ‘savage.'”

“Great look and great content across platforms.”

“Winning or losing they always seem to post creative/unique content.”

“Loved their consistent tone/attitude even when they were a 9 win team.”

“Varied coverage, on top of the news, fun, innovative design and video.”

“We enjoy the Sixers content because it is fresh and relevant. They cover current event topics and take advantage of a young team by integrating them into social posts.”

“Continually finding new ways to engage, be at the forefront of conversations, and to leverage player personalities, the Sixers excelled at showcasing their organization on and off the court.”

“Style and creativity. Quality photography.”

“Visually they have really striking content & do a great job of highlighting their socially active stars.”

“Clean graphics, high quality & engaging photos, fun personality, GIFs.”

We weren’t really sure what to expect when we sent out the survey. As the results came in, it became clear that all the other teams were fighting for 2nd. The Sixers were clearly this year’s NBA Social Media MVP!

Follow @sixers: Twitter | Instagram




The Remaining #11 – #30:

#11 Miami Heat | 3.46 out of 5 (⇧10Complex Rankings #21)

#12 Golden State Warriors | 3.32 out of 5 |(⇧4Complex Rankings #16)

#13 Memphis Grizzlies | 3.31 out of 5 | (⇧2Complex Rankings #15)

#14 Chicago Bulls | 3.25 out of 5 | (⇩3Complex Rankings #11)

#15 Los Angeles Lakers | 3.23 out of 5 | (⇩5Complex Rankings #10)

#16 New Orleans Pelicans | 2.92 out of 5 | (⇧11Complex Rankings #27)

#17 Phoenix Suns | 2.91 out of 5 | (⇩9Complex Rankings #8)

#18 Washington Wizards | 2.90 out of 5 | (⇧1Complex Rankings #19)

#19 Brooklyn Nets | 2.85 out of 5 | (⇧10Complex Rankings #29)

#20 Boston Celtics | 2.77 out of 5 | (⇧4Complex Rankings #24)

#21 Denver Nuggets | 2.76 out of 5 | (⇩8Complex Rankings #13)

#22 Indiana Pacers | 2.67 out of 5 | (⇧0Complex Rankings #22)

#23 Dallas Mavericks | 2.46 out of 5 | (⇩11Complex Rankings #12)

#24 Los Angeles Clippers | 2.45 out of 5 (⇩7Complex Rankings #17)

#25 San Antonio Spurs  | 2.38 out of 5 | (⇩7Complex Rankings #18)

#26 Charlotte Hornets | 2.09 out of 5 | (⇩3Complex Rankings #23)

#27 New York Knicks | 2.08 out of 5 | (⇧3Complex Rankings #30)

#28 Detroit Pistons | 2.02 out of 5 | (⇩3Complex Rankings #25)

#29 Orlando Magic | 2.00 out of 5 | (⇩1Complex Rankings #28)

#30 Oklahoma City Thunder | 1.46 out of 5 | (⇩4Complex Rankings #26)



First off, huge shout out to all 30 NBA social/digital teams that work tirelessly to offer fans relevant, eye-catching content throughout the entire season. Your work rarely gets the recognition it deserves.

There was quite a bit of parity and it was fascinating to see the results and read the comments. As we mentioned, consistency is what lifted teams to the top of the rankings this season. Every social team has the ability to create graphics, produce dope highlight reels, or spit fire tweets. But, to push the envelope 365 days a year… that’s impressive.

Now that we’ve analyzed the past, it’s time to look ahead at the future. Social media doesn’t sleep and for the NBA’s social teams, the 2018-19 season has already begun! Here at STN Digital, we see a few trends taking shape.  On top of producing high-quality content and maintaining consistency, as we saw in the 2018 season, we foresee vertical storytelling as an area for opportunity. With the new release of IGTV, the ability for teams to take advantage of longer form video content inside a new vertical format, could take their social game to the next level.

However, Instagram is gambling that people want to consume long-form content vertically. We don’t argue vertical content has its place among the tech world, but is it right for videos longer than 60 seconds? Do you want to hold your phone for that long? We humans see the world in landscape, so for social teams and content creators to put so many eggs in the vertical basket could be considered risky!

With that said, let’s not forget about YouTube. They often get left out of the conversation when talking about social media — especially when there’s a lot of pressure to get video impressions on team sites. Regardless, whether it’s short or long form, being consumed vertically or horizontally, premium style content is, and will always be, the future. We’re excited to see that battle continue into the 2018-19 season!  


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