Baylor Athletics Takes Bold Step to Reward Social Media Engagement

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Baylor Athletics goes bold with a new, innovative way to reward fan engagement across multiple social networks.

The social media marketing game is pretty straightforward. It’s even more so in sports, where “fans” are actually fans.

Make it easy for people to connect with you, and reward them for doing so with engaging and relevant content, a welcoming “voice” and user-friendly technology. Throw in some free stuff, and you have a winning combination.

If I had to write a mission statement for how to win the social media marketing game, I would start and finish with “Make it easy for people to connect”. The payoff for cracking this code? Greater share of voice among your competitors, higher engagement in the wacky, EdgeRank-driven game of social media, and top-of-mind consideration in the purchase funnel. In other words, Marketing Gold.

Baylor University Athletics may have struck that gold with a new social media rewards program. Arguably enjoying one of its most successful and exciting college football seasons in recent memory, Baylor launched an innovative – and brilliantly easy – way to reward fans who connect with its sports teams through social media.

The Baylor Bold Rewards Program – a social media venture between the school’s athletic department and row27 Studios – rewards fans for creating social media stories around Baylor Athletics, including:

  • Sharing and liking Baylor Athletics Facebook posts, images and videos (250 points)
  • Re-tweeting Baylor Athletics tweets (500 points)
  • Tweeting with certain hash tags (100 points)
  • Uploading images (250 points)
  • Checking into Baylor athletic facilities through Foursquare (250 points)
  • (Students only) Attending Baylor home games in all ticketed sporting events (2,000 points)

Fans redeem points for prizes that are worth winning. No badges here, folks. Actual team gear. The top three point earners (decided at the end of June 2012) win more substantial prizes, including (third) seasons tickets to a sport of choice plus $200 in bookstore credit; (second) lunch with a Baylor coach of choice plus a flat screen TV; (grand) the chance to lead the Baylor football team out of the tunnel at the 2012 season opener plus an iPad2.

The Baylor Bold Rewards Program isn’t innovative because it’s an “outside-the-box” or transformational idea. It’s using available and adaptable technology (social network APIs), combined with a simple sign-up form and easy-to-understand rules. It’s innovative because of its simplicity, and because Baylor is the first sports franchise at any level to do this across multiple social networks and multiple teams.

The Baylor Rewards Program is easy as 1, 2, 3. That's the way sports fans like it.

Sports fans are already gathering on Facebook and Twitter to connect with each other and talk about their teams. The smart sports marketer fishes in the ocean, not the small ponds. And marketers who can get those fish to talk to other fish about their stuff are even smarter.

“With so much of our communication moving to social media, we felt this rewards program would be the way to get beyond our ‘friends’ to our friends’ friends,” says John Garrison, associate athletic director for marketing at Baylor. “We have some fans who are being rewarded for doing what they’ve always done, some who are being somewhat more active and some who are going wild with spreading the word. It’s fun to watch, and I think it will only increase as we begin to advertise it at our venues.”

For Baylor Athletics, the rewards program is part of a larger campaign whose success will ultimately be measured in ticket sales, not likes and re-tweets. But social media engagement is the most efficient path to get there. And, just a week-and-a-half into the program, who can argue with more than 1 million social media impressions for the Baylor Athletics Facebook page?

“We’re encouraging our fans to be more fanatical about Baylor Athletics – to come to more games, to cheer louder, to fly a Baylor flag at their business, to spread the word of Baylor,” says Garrison. “We believe it will help put more fans and students in the stands at all our games. And make them more informed, passionate fans as well.”

If I had to write a mission statement for how to win the social media marketing game, I would start and finish with ‘Make it easy for people to connect’.

Sports marketing firm row27 Studios powers the technology behind the Baylor Bold Rewards Program. It also created FanMaker, an application plugged into Baylor’s Facebook page that allows additional fan interaction through photo uploads, trivia, events – even ticket purchases. A staff of five sports marketers at Baylor does the rest – administering the program and managing the Twitter and Facebook communities.

The timing for the Baylor Bold program comes as its school prepares to wrap up an exciting and successful football season and begin a full slate of winter sports programs. If you’re a Baylor Bears fan, that’s something worth sharing.

Thanks for being a fan.

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Turn Foursquare Check-ins Into Something Tangible for Sports Fans

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Sports teams and stadiums have the power to turn lame Foursquare check-ins into something valuable for fans.

How do you make location-based services (LBS) real for the average sports fan? Free stuff helps. And I’m not talking about any stinkin’ badges either.

What I am talking about is how teams can reward fan attendance, loyalty and engagement via LBS with actual rewards. More in a minute.

First, some background on why check-in services like Foursquare mean more to sports fans than the average person. According to recent research from Tariq Ahmad, checking in at your favorite sports venue is a status symbol fans find valuable, fun and engaging. In the deepest dive of this topic to date, he surveyed 245 active sports fans who use LBS. Ahmad found sports venues and stadiums are the No. 2 most checked-in places on services like Foursquare and Facebook Places (trailing only airports).

“You are at Madison Square Garden to watch the Knicks host Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, and you want everyone to know,”  Ahmad wrote in his white paper, Sports and Location-Based Services: How Sports Fans Use LBS to Connect. “So you check-in and post to various social media sites to let your friends know you are at the game (and they are not).”

Admittedly, it’s cooler to check in at your favorite team’s stadium, because, well, it just is.  I look forward to sharing my visits to Kinnick Stadium this fall with anyone who will listen. Besides the bragging factor of being at the big game, Ahmad says fans are somewhat constrained – unable to leave – another reason for higher rates of game-day check-ins. (What else you gonna do while you wait for the game to start?)

But let’s be real. Today, most Foursquare check-ins yield little. Some businesses offer specials, such as discounts or perks for being the “mayor”. And within Foursquare, you can earn daily points to see where you stack up with friends. For many,  Foursquare is just a competition among friends to see who has the most interesting life. It’s become another social game, like Mafia Wars or Farmville; a time suck that’s watering down our collective social media experience.

However, that’s not always the case for sports fans. Ahmad’s research paints a different picture, which creates an opportunity for teams to reach new fans in this social space. Why would teams do this? A tough economy and dwindling ticket sales are the two easiest answers. Ask the Florida Marlins how ticket sales are going these days? Perhaps a Foursquare strategy is worth a look.

And any successful LBS strategy begins and ends with offering fans tangible, valuable rewards. Ahmad’s findings reinforce this notion. In fact, he found 74 percent “would be more likely to check-in if they receive a tangible reward.”

As a social media marketer, I’d focus an LBS rewards strategy on a select group of super-fans first, perhaps through a Klout perk or some other special offer. Engaged fans are more likely to post updates about the team’s reward program, spreading the word to other fans through social media. Subsequent programs would reach a wider audience, because this should not be a one-time deal. It must have staying power, or it will not reach the more casual fans.

We saw one of the first examples this summer outside the MLB Fan Cave in New York. As part of campaign to promote “The Franchise” on Showtime, fans could check into the show via Foursquare, activating a storefront vending machine which released an official MLB baseball. Not a bad incentive: Gain foot traffic to the MLB fan cave and spread the word about a new show many sports fans would be interested to see anyway.

It’s a start. Fans are craving this kind of social media engagement with their favorite teams. It also makes marketing sense for non-sports brands (like Showtime) to partner with franchises, leagues and stadiums to reach new fans through LBS like Foursquare. It also makes sense for Foursquare to mainstream its service even more.

What’s your favorite team doing to engage you in this new digital space? What should they be doing differently? Leave your ideas in the comment section below.

Thanks for being a fan.

Editor’s note: Like what you saw in Tariq Ahmad’s ground-breaking research on location-based services in sports? Vote for his SXSW panel on this subject here: Sports and LBS: Gotta check-in.