ESPN Social Media Director Speaks at Marist

Jillian McCarthy

POUGHKEEPSIE- “Whether you want to be in television or social media the key is to be an efficient communicator and for that you must have a strong foundation in writing.”  On Thursday, November 30th the Marist Sports Communication program had the pleasure of welcoming speaker Mike Foss, the social media director of ESPN.  


Foss brought a passionate wave of energy with him on Thursday evening through his discussion of use of social media, branding, and the best way to showcase a broad skillset.Foss is one of nine children and is expecting his fourth child with his wife. He attended George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia where he played soccer and majored in journalism. He was a production assistant for ESPN for two years until moving on to positions at USA Today and then overseeing editorial content at FOX News, where he managed to increase user engagement online by over 130% in just under two years.  Foss is an incredibly motivated individual; he wakes up at 4:30 a.m. every day.


Foss was named one of Forbes’ 30 under 30 in 2015 for his creation of For The Win, a sports vertical for USA TODAY.  The site aims to produce stories across all types of sports to appeal to a wider, more general audience. Foss commented that the previous method in which ESPN used to spread content was inefficient and a jumble of sports reporter’s notes posted into individual blogs for each sport. Now, they have reinvented the manner in which they appeal to their audience by engaging users through mixed media and gifs.


Foss touched upon his love/hate relationship with Twitter for allowing content to be spread easily and quickly. He said there is a strong possibility of building a network through Twitter because it is a great platform to connect with famous people or celebrities on a more personal level, because they do in fact look at their mentions.


He claimed that his original success on social media came through Yahoo, Buzzfeed, and Upworthy which were the genesis of For The Win.  For The Win was created through engaging visuals you would find on social media and bringing them together for a mobile version. Foss acknowledged that this jumpstart by targeting mobile users helped grow their viewership from six million to 13 million in the first year of the site’s release alone.  


Touching upon the expansion of social media and technology today, Foss talked about the traditional manner of writing stories, posting them to the website, and then distributing them to the relevant audience.  He addressed how this process has changed. Today he noted how his team must anticipate which platforms are the right fit for the content they want to broadcast and be aware of all platform changes and emerging trends.


Most importantly for Marist students, Foss discussed identifying opportunities for talent and utilizing each platform differently. When asked about what he looks for in a resume, Foss commented that the Google search your name produces is more important than the resume sitting in front of him. He was very adamant about a candidate’s ability to demonstrate their passion, creativity, and insight through their use of social media outlets.  If you claim a skillset, he wants to see it carried out on your personal channels. For example, if you claim to have experience in graphic design, he wants to see the cuts, lighting, color correcting, and details carried out on your YouTube channel videos or your sense of humor and intelligence portrayed through tweets. Foss expressed the importance of understanding the platforms one uses and demonstrate the ability to gear your skills towards them


Foss also commented that one of his greatest professional strengths was the diversity of his skill set. "I had a really diverse skill set,” he said.  “I was a really good writer but I also knew how to mic people up and design graphics. Different places need different things out of people." Foss made it a point to highlight over and over again the importance of the ability to write. He made sure to emphasize that strong communication skills begin with writing and diverge from there, similar to the way he began his career by writing his own personal blog and copywriting.


Students in the audience were attentive and impressed by the advice had to offer, and the Q&A segment of the afternoon was bubbling with questions about social media presence and the best way to stand out in the crowd. The invaluable advice Foss offered through building a strong following and creating a personal brand will prove useful to Marist students focusing on their career goals and opportunities.  The audience was left with hopeful messages for the future, and a guide to expressing themselves through social media.