Fourth and 140 Signs Media Partnership for Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference

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Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference logo

Join today’s sports and social media leaders at the Q1 Productions Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference March 3-4, 2014, in Dallas.

It’s about time.

We finally have a blockbuster sports and social media conference for the ages. Some big names highlight the Q1 Productions Digital Sports Fan Engagement Conference, coming to Dallas March 3-4, 2014.

And, I’m excited to report, FourthAnd140 is officially on board as a media partner with Q1 Productions for this event.

Leaders from sports organizations, major brands and facilities will discuss the growing opportunities digital and social media provide for connecting teams, leagues and players with fans. It’s a who’s who of #SMsports, so check out the agenda today.

FourthAnd140 readers can receive a $100 discount on registration. For more information, email sports@q1productions.com and mention the discount code F140.

“Q1 is thrilled to partner with such industry leaders as FourthAnd140.com, for its innovative coverage of sports and social media,” says Kate Jeter, Production Director. “We value the strategic focus of this leading blog source to help our conference attendees get the most out of their time together.”

For more information regarding the Q1 Digital Sports Fan Engagement conference, visit the Q1 website at www.q1productions.com/sportsfanengagement, and follow them on Twitter at @Q1Sports.

As we draw closer to the conference, I’ll share some insights from a few of the speakers, giving FourthAnd140 readers a preview of what to expect March 3-4 in Dallas.

Thanks for being a fan.

About FourthAnd140.com:
FourthAnd140.com gives readers a strategic view of how players, teams and leagues – professional and amateur – use social media to connect with today’s sports fans. Editor and publisher Tom Buchheim was one of the first bloggers covering the curious intersection of sports and social media, using his experience as a social media leader for a Fortune 300 brand (and a sports fan) to examine the trends – and characters behind them – in this rapidly-changing space.

About Q1 Productions:
Q1 Productions designs and develops webinars, training courses, conference programs and forums aimed at specifically targeted audiences, including the life science and sports industries. Through a highly structured production process focused on research calls with end-users and key stakeholders in the industry, our team is able to understand the immediate business concerns of today’s leading executives. Whether focusing on new or pending legislative and health policy issues for the life science industry or upcoming marketing trends in the digital and mobile space for sports organizations, our programs provide solutions to the urgent educational and information needs of our attendees.

CONTACT:
Nathalie Davis
Production Manager
Q1 Productions
312-822-8100
sports@q1productions.com

Power to the #: Tagboard and the Sports Strategy of Hashtags

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Tagboard's logo

Tagboard helps some of the biggest brands in the world play a more active role in the social conversation by encouraging their audiences to share their experiences on a branded, moderated platform.

User-generated content is the gold mine inside social media. Across its varied platforms, one of the simplest but most effective ways for sports brands to mine that gold is with hashtags.

Take a look around. They’re everywhere. More brands — of all kinds — are developing hashtag strategies to capitalize on the conversations in social media. It’s the new, or at least next, call to action in marketing.

“There is a lot of buzz about the hashtag being the next URL,” says Dan Redwine, director of community outreach at Tagboard. “It’s the new way for people to connect, share information and engage around any subject.”

You’ve heard about hashtags, but if Tagboard doesn’t ring a bell, I suspect it will soon — especially if you follow college or pro sports (or attend their games), enjoy brand journalism, or just like the latest social media trends.

With roots in tech-savvy Seattle, Tagboard expanded its niche social media service outside of Washington, where a year ago it was a fledgling start-up. Fast-forward 12 months, and Tagboard is cashing in on the hashtag craze, providing content-hungry consumers — especially sports fans — with a new fix.

Following a recent $2 million funding injection, it seems Tagboard provides content-hungry brands with a valuable service, too.

Tagboard is basically a collection point for hashtags or similar social media-driven topics. For consumers, it is aggregated content on steroids — pulling data from across myriad social media sources, while its paying customers — companies, brands, teams, etc. — customize the look-and-feel of their respective pages, displaying them to various audiences.

But this tool is more than a flash in the pan. Yes, it’s a start-up, but it’s gaining traction — and paying clients — in established sports markets like Major League Baseball and NCAA football. Why? Tagboard is built for sports — or any brand producing highly engaging, exceptionally visual, event-driven content.

“We never planned on having such a strong sports focus,” Redwine told Fourth and 140 recently. “However, the sports community is full of ideal Tagboard users, because they’re so passionate about their teams. That being said, we also focus on a lot of different verticals, but for the sports teams, I think mainly it’s our ability to leverage the game-time setting with our live-event mode.”

Redwine says Tagboard works with teams on a variety of engagement strategies — like displaying user-generated content on the big screen at Safeco Field for the Seattle Mariners (see video below), or on Stanford’s ribbon board display and web site.

“Our main objective is to make sure every fan is heard and that we are engaging in that conversation with them,” Mariners director of marketing Kevin Martinez says in an interview on Tagboard’s blog. “We really pride ourselves on being responsive to our fans. Without Tagboard, we would not be able to have such a high presence of social media in our game presentation. We have seen the amount of posts spike 10-fold.”

Despite hashtag success stories like the Mariners are seeing, traditional marketers are skeptical. I’ve heard them, too. From lack of value, to too risky, to off brand.

Tagboard provides a tool to mitigate those risks and deliver more value to marketers — in just about any industry.

First, let’s address the risks. Calls to action (CTAs) in traditional, paid media generally drive to owned (and therefore controlled) properties, not the Wild West of Twitter or Instagram. Using paid media to direct consumers to a hashtag instead of a website is difficult to quantify in traditional, “buy my stuff” advertising terms. And it can distract from those more established CTAs — like “visit our website” or even more recently, “Find us on Facebook.”

Execution is also risky, especially given Twitter’s snarky and skeptical nature, which can ruin even the most perfectly planned hashtag implementation. And there’s no ownership or copyright of hashtags — especially across different networks, not to mention the purported uselessness of Facebook hashtags.

Tagboard tackles both concerns, offering more control in a moderated environment, where board owners can choose to display the best-of-the-best content. It’s also promising improved analytics features.

The lesson here is that hashtags aren’t going away. It’s why a hashtag strategy should be discussed at the upper levels of an organization, whether it’s football or financial services. These are more than mere words or catch phrases. They enhance a brand’s existence, tell your story, connect you to a larger audience — in paid, owned and earned settings.

Hashtags should be treated (and chosen) with respect, and not delegated to a game-day intern or disengaged agency. And, as Tagboard proves, hashtags should be taken seriously, even if it’s a little silly giving so much power to the # sign.

Thanks for being a fan.

The Sports Strategy of Social Media Influencers: The Miami Hurricanes #USocial Suite

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#USocial Suite logo

Whether it’s space or sports, the strategy of social influence remains the same. Put your strongest advocates in places few others will see, give them unprecedented access, and the value of your brand increases exponentially through positive word of mouth.

It’s time for college football, and who better to tell the season’s story than fans. Really, really dedicated and passionate fans.

So it’s refreshing (and about time, frankly) that college football realizes the value of fanvocates — those extremely invested followers of their team.

The groundbreaking honors go to the Miami Hurricanes, who will host “fan reporters” and select bloggers for three football games during the 2013 season inside the team’s #USocial Suite, a spot set aside in the Sun Life Stadium press box.

The athletic department hand-picked some #USocial participants, but also held a casting call (via social media) for superfans seeking spots in the suite as #CanesReporters. All will be expected to share their experiences across social media during Hurricane home games vs. Florida, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

“Social media is a part of our culture,” Hurricanes’ Assistant Athletic Director/Communications Chris Yandle tells FourthAnd140. “Research suggests social media users are most active during sporting events. It’s a great combination. These are the people that – over time – will be the ones fighting for us online. Thanks to the TMZ culture and camera phones, everyone is a reporter.”

#USocial – and other on-site, in-game social media experiences (like the Cleveland Indians Social Suite) – help teams build stronger relationships with fans and their sports brands. Adopting a social media influencer strategy is becoming more mainstream among sports brands – at the professional (and now collegiate) level. A social suite is a smart, low-cost tactic.

“Everyone wants to share their experience. Everyone’s experience is content,” Yandle says. “Sharing fans’ experiences makes our jobs better. We want to be able to adapt and provide the best social, digital and entertainment experience possible for fans. [#USocial] could be the start of that.”

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During summer, Miami’s athletic department solicited fan tweet and video submissions to earn #USocial Suite access. Yandle says athletics staff members and fans alike recommended participants.  Some came from blogs or websites the university doesn’t credential as media for games.

“This will serve as a ‘test drive’ for them,” he says. “It’s as much as an interview process for us as it is them.”

#USocial Suite digs are more about function than luxury, but I doubt you’ll hear too many complaints. Participants will make their home in a suite on the second floor of the main press box at Sun Life. While Yandle says they won’t have post-game interview access, #USocial Suite will offer media materials, food and stats.

What more could a superfan need?

When it comes to college football, the amount of content available is overwhelming. Fans sites and home-grown blogs are plentiful, and Twitter streams clog on Saturday afternoons with play-by-play and fan commentary. Imagine having the opportunity to showcase your blog, website or fan forum by earning a spot at the big show. For influential fans, #CanesReporters provides a chance to set yourself apart even more, and up your street cred with other fans (not to mention grow your following).

It’s also just plain cool to see and report a major sporting event from a vantage point few ever see. (Trust me, it’s a blast.) Access is part of the deal, according to Yandle, who says several university leaders, including the school’s athletic director, will visit the suite, chat with participants and host Q & A sessions.

The lessons of brand advocacy and influence aren’t new to social media. Surprisingly, sports is playing catch-up. NASA has hosted tweetups for years. (I was fortunate to attend the NASA tweetup for Space Shuttle Endeavour’s final mission.) But, whether it’s space or sports, the strategy remains the same. Put your strongest advocates in places few others will see, give them unprecedented access, and the value of your brand increases exponentially through positive word of mouth and authentic buzz.

“Social media is vital,” says Yandle. “It’s free. No one can tell our story as best as we can. We want to take advantage of social media, while remaining as one of the trendsetters in social media among college athletics.”

The Hurricanes are leaders in social, and part of leading the way is taking risks and trying new things. Being first is OK, but doing it right is strategic (and smart). Yandle and his team nailed all three.

“My goal is to create a  great experience for this group, while building these relationships that can help us in our social brand moving forward,” says Yandle.

Social media is about relationships. It’s about connections. It’s about conversations. It’s today’s digital handshake, and in sports – especially college athletics – it can’t be ignored, vilified or downplayed. Through leadership and calculated risk, the Hurricanes will reap the benefits. But more importantly, so will their fans.

Thanks for being a fan.

Student-Athletes and Social Media Monitoring: A Conversation With Varsity Monitor

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Varsity Monitor is one of several new services available to colleges and universities looking to track the social media activities of their student-athletes.

Social media monitoring of student-athletes is quickly becoming a hot potato among the NCAA, college coaches, administrators, lawyers and legislators.

Despite a recent NCAA ruling some believe puts this matter to rest, more questions remain. Who governs this space? Where does the law stand on privacy and litigation around potential negligent social media monitoring?

I won’t deny these are all major concerns, and I’ll be covering them in an upcoming piece on FourthAnd140.com. But I thought it was a good time to hear from one of the pioneers in this space, so you can understand what we mean by social media monitoring at the university level.

Varsity Monitor was one of the first to provide this kind of service at all levels.  Here’s a brief conversation the fine folks at Varsity Monitor had recently with FourthAnd140.com about the services they provide – and the issues they face.

F140: What does Varsity Monitor do?

VM: Varsity Monitor provides social media monitoring of athletes’ social media activities, both within their personal accounts as well as what other people are saying about them online. We have proprietary technology to scan and filter for specific content, and everything we do is within the framework of the social media TOS [terms of service] and is permission-based. We take the privacy of the athletes we work with very seriously.

F140: Who uses your service?

VM: Athletic departments, compliance and coaches. Our clients include Oklahoma University, University of Texas football, University of North Carolina, University of Nebraska and Villanova University.

F140: Why is there a need for social media monitoring of NCAA athletes?

VM: Social media introduces new challenges for athletic departments. For example, every athletic department has a code of conduct, what do they do about social media? Does it make sense to have a code of conduct with no plan to make it a reality? A way to confirm the rules are being followed? That’s where Varsity Monitor comes in. We provide them with tools to address this new challenge.

F140: How so?

VM: For college athletic departments, it’s about preparing the SA [student-athlete] for life after college/sports, while protecting their institution’s brand. The misuse of social media by athletes can negatively affect the brand of the school, in the process harming the athletes’ post-athlete employment opportunities. On the flip side, proper use of social media cannot only enhance the school’s brand profile but also make the athlete more marketable after graduation.

F140: What technology powers Varsity Monitor?

VM: We have developed proprietary technology that is able to scan, aggregate and filter social media content created about and by the athletes.

F140: Wouldn’t banning the use of social media by student-athletes just solve these issues?

VM: Banning is not the answer. In addition to our monitoring services, [Varsity Monitor] offers advanced administrator and SA education to help everyone use social media in a constructive way. By banning social media, you are limiting the skill set of your athletes for jobs in marketing/sales after sports and also limiting the potential upside of the use of Twitter and Facebook. We understand why people ban, but those who work with Varsity Monitor are able to use education, monitoring and enforcement, thereby managing the social media behavior without the need for bans.

F140: What does VM do when you find questionable information? How do you handle it?

VM: We treat all information observed as confidential. We never publicize it or use if for commercial gain. We attempt to keep negative posts/image-destroying information from reaching a larger audience. Finally, and most importantly, we educate the individual on the positive use of social media, discussing how it can impact one’s personal and professional life.

F140: What other services are provided by Varsity Monitor?

VM: We scan for positive content and examples of highly effective ways to use social media, so administrators can demonstrate to others the best way to take advantage of social media.

F140: What sets Varsity Monitor apart?

VM: First and foremost, we believe monitoring is a tool to be used to educate. That’s our mantra. Second, we treat all information observed as confidential. We have very strict guidelines on how this information is handled and managed. We listen to our customers, providing a flexible service designed to adapt to meet the unique demands of our clients.
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Regardless of your opinion of social media monitoring services like Varsity Monitor, I believe they’re here to stay. Can they improve? Yes. And since they’re moving from an NCAA mandated-driven tool to a service-driven model, the focus should remain on student safety, education and personal branding. As I’ve argued in the past, this is a time of great learning for student-athletes, and their coaches and administrators should take advantage of these teaching moments.

However, college sports is also big business. Athletic departments are wise to manage their online reputations, which includes monitoring social media activities – just like many Fortune 500 brands do today. (This is part of what I do for a living.) You can’t ever control the message, but you can monitor and react to it. And you can teach those in your organization to use social media safely, properly and effectively – to the benefit of everyone.

What do you think of social media monitoring services like Varsity Monitor? Leave your comments here, or hit me up on Twitter. I’ll continue to cover this topic because I’m passionate about it.

Thanks for being a fan.

Turning Casual Sports Fans Into Brand Advocates

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Please Retweet!

Despite their popularity, today's sports teams still need help amplifying their messages.

Can I get a RT?

If you’re on Twitter enough, you’ve seen this slightly annoying request for help spreading the word about a cause, event or other news deemed important by the original sender. It’s annoying because if the original tweet, cause or event was worthy enough, a RT request shouldn’t be necessary.

It’s an example of the struggle we all have to be heard over an ever-growing din of social media noise. As a digital marketer and communicator, I constantly grapple with this, as do most marketers, no matter how sexy, or unsexy, the brand.

Sports marketers have the upper hand, I would argue, because they generally offer a high-demand product that creates a passionate following – both offline and online. (Note team Twitter follower counts and the Trending Topics on any given NFL Sunday.) But they still have to work for your time and money in a down economy, which means adopting aggressive social media tactics like the rest of us.

I’ve already featured Baylor University’s efforts  to reward brand advocates. The Baltimore Ravens partnered with SocialToaster to create a similar program for the 2011-12 season, called RavensReps. It combines a brand advocate program with gamification techniques, allowing fans “to pick which content types to share and earn points for participating in the program.” Fans earn points by signing up for RavensReps and promoting a variety of Ravens content on their personal social networks. The payback? They move up a fan leader board, and earn prizes like memorabilia and other team merchandise.

The best way to reach today’s fans is through their friends, who are likely also fans.

Brand advocates aren’t anything new, but they do provide value to brandsEven before Twitter and Facebook, marketers tried to connect with the most passionate consumers. Harnessing their collective voice was a challenge then, but it becomes somewhat simpler now.

How? First, social media makes it easier to monitor, collect and share conversations of the most engaged users. Second, consumers actually want to connect with the things they like. Forty-two percent of adults online seek a “social application from their favorite brands,” according to Forrester Research.

Using a social application to create and spread positive brand messages makes sense, even for highly engaging sports teams. Another Forrester study put it this way. “Social media has proven an invaluable tool for organizing offline influence events, as well as for amplifying the impact of those events.”

Providing fans with quality content and rewarding them for sharing it are two big pieces of the social media puzzle.

“The best way to grow share of voice is to delight your customers,” says Jay Baer, a social media blogger and content strategist, in an article about share of voice. “Delighted customers create satisfaction-driven content, which reaches other customers and prospective customers of your brand, essentially doing your marketing for you.”

The Ravens – and other sports organizations – realize your time (and money) is finite. The best way to reach you may not always be through traditional methods like advertising, or even team Twitter and Facebook posts. The best way to reach today’s fans is through their friends, who are likely also fans. The result creates a blooming conversation around a fan’s favorite team and ultimately influences their decisions, including purchasing tickets or merchandise.

Brand advocate programs, gamification and increasing share of voice are all traditional marketing methods that more of today’s sports teams – professional and collegiate –  are adopting. The good news is, fans are being rewarded for doing what they like to do – being passionate about their teams. The smart sports marketers will use social media and technology to monitor, capture and share that passion.

Now, can I get a RT of this post?

Thanks for being a fan.

NCAA Fails To Lead (Again) on Social Media Policy

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The NCAA passes the buck on social media policy and monitoring. Again.

Let’s get this out of the way: Social media is here to stay. A recent Nielsen study shows we’re spending a quarter of our online time on social networks.

Will it change shape in the years ahead? Of course.

In society, people connect in new ways here. In business, companies reach new customers here. And in athletics, teams and athletes discover new ways to meet their fans here.

As I’ve noted previously on Fourth and 140, social media is a space ripe for opportunity – and disappointment. It needs leaders who take risks but do things the right way, with honor and authenticity. We’re seeing some professional athletes, teams and leagues exhibit leadership as social media matured in 2011. And I expect more leaders – and posers – to emerge in 2012.

Unfortunately, the NCAA remains behind the times – and continues to pass on the opportunity to make social media a safe, productive and learning place for its student-athletes and their teams.

Earlier this month, the Missoulian reported the NCAA’s plans – or lack of plans – “to pen an official policy that would punish student-athletes for the misuse of social media sites, like Twitter, anytime in the near future.”

Add this to the already growing pile of disappointing decisions and lack of action by the NCAA. The latest news came in the wake Lehigh wide receiver Ryan Spadola’s suspension for re-tweeting a message containing a racial slur.

The Missoulian’s reporting uncovered a two newsworthy items. First, the NCAA does not have the staff or budget to monitor student-athletes’ activities on Twitter, Facebook or other social sites. Second, and more importantly, the NCAA openly passes the buck on creating social media policies to its member institutions and leagues.

Disappointing. Again.

“Schools, institutions and conferences have their own guidelines in place for social media,” Schuh told the Missoulian. “The monitoring of social media is done on an institutional basis, on each campus. Some coaches say do whatever you want and some say don’t use it. That’s a school or a conference’s decision. They are the ones charged with overseeing those outlets.”

I’m OK with putting social media monitoring on schools. That makes sense. What’s irresponsible and a missed opportunity is failing to create guidelines and rules that govern these schools – and their athletes – in social media. I’ve argued before about the NCAA’s need for a social media policy, but it appears now the NCAA has no immediate plans to craft an official one.

The lack of leadership here is stunning, and allows the NCAA to cherry-pick schools and athletes who make very obvious and public missteps. In other words, it’s the easy way out.

What takes more work, courage and leadership would be establishing a committee of leaders – in athletics and in social media – to craft a credible set of guidelines for schools and student-athletes to follow. It would provide an ideal teaching moment for students to learn about social media.

Need a place to start, NCAA? Check out the NHL’s comprehensive social media policy. Read any of the hundreds of corporate social media policies available online. Ask your member colleges and universities or leagues. Start the conversation.

Until then, arbitrary action and lack of leadership will continue to make social media a confusing, dangerous and intimidating space for both NCAA teams and – more importantly – student-athletes.

Thanks for being a fan.

Being A Fan Has Limits

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Marcus Grant

Marcus Grant did not deserve the treatment he received from so-called fans on Twitter following his decision to leave the Iowa Hawkeye football program. (Image credit: The Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Twitter can be a real cesspool. It’s still my go-to social network, but its anonymity churns out vitriol beyond comprehension. Its trending topics lower the site’s collective IQ.

Sports fans contribute to the nonsense. Last night was the most recent example, and I’m sad to say it involved those who claim to support my beloved Iowa Hawkeyes (which is a big reason why I became aware of it).

Marcus Grant, a freshman wide receiver and highly touted athlete from Groton, Mass., announced to his Twitter followers he was leaving the Iowa Hawkeye football program for personal reasons.

Twitter insanity ensued. Below are just a couple of examples of the hate directed at Marcus, who was merely sharing his reasoning behind a no doubt difficult decision.

One example of the hate thrown at Marcus Grant immediately following his announcement to leave the Iowa Hawkeye football program.

This tweet has since been deleted by the user.

Let’s just get this out of the way now. Student-athletes are off limits when it comes to this type of reaction. So-called fans can hide behind anonymous Twitter handles and spew snark 24×7, but they aren’t allowed to personally attack a young person who’s putting himself or herself out there for fans.

It’s simply unacceptable.

For #HawkeyeNation and most other fan bases, Twitter creates unique communities where news about teams and players breaks faster than anywhere else. Many join Twitter just to connect with like-minded fans.

So, first and foremost, let’s agree fans should not engage in the type of behavior exhibited during the Marcus Grant affair – or in other situations when a student athlete has, for instance, had a bad game, dropped a pass, fumbled a punt return, or any number of things.

So-called fans can hide behind anonymous Twitter handles and spew snark 24×7, but they aren’t allowed to personally attack a young person who’s putting himself or herself out there for fans.

Let’s go a few steps further, though, shall we? It’s time for the grownups in the room to come together. Here are some things we all can do to prevent this type of behavior from happening again, or at least minimize its effects:

  • Tweet your support to student-athletes. Often. These are young kids, and at stressful times, they could use all the encouragement you can provide. It’s 140 characters, folks. One tweet. Think what good you could do.
  • Let’s not feed the trolls. It’s a worn-out statement, but attacking the attackers doesn’t usually advance the conversation and could potentially put you at risk.
  • Instead, rally your fellow fans to report those who attack student-athletes. How? Get them banned from Twitter – even if it’s just for a brief time. Learn more about the safe ways to report haters at Twitter’s Help Center.
  • Coaches and administrators: Make Twitter safe for your athletes. Teach them how to use social media, and provide them with the tools to keep the haters at bay.
  • NCAA officials: Create a real social media policy. Provide basic ground rules and training for your member schools and their student-athletes. Understand the medium and how it’s changing sports – hopefully for the better.

What else can we do? Add your ideas to the comments below.

Thanks for being a fan.

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.

The NCAA Needs Social Media Guidelines

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NCAA's logo

The NCAA needs to be clearer with its member schools on how to monitor social media activity of student-athletes.

How can you punish someone for doing something that’s not against the rules?

Just ask Dick Baddour. He’s the athletic director at the University of North Carolina.

This week, Baddour released the university’s response to a long list of NCAA violations that have ensnared the Tarheel football program for more than a year. In its self-imposed sanctions, UNC voluntarily vacated 16 wins and gave up nine scholarships during a three-year period. The university will also fork over $50,000 in fines and spend two years on probation.

It’s all deserved. Well, almost all of it.

In its report, the NCAA dinged the university’s football program for failure to “adequately and consistently monitor social networking activity that visibly illustrated potential amateurism violations within the football program” that delayed the discovery of the improper benefits received by players, according to the FayObserver.

Small problem. The NCAA doesn’t have member guidelines for monitoring “social networking activity.” It does vaguely cover the topic of social networking as it relates to recruiting, but is silent on how schools should keep tabs on NCAA student-athletes who choose to use Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

Silent. Zip. Nothing.

I don’t get it. Like I said, how can you get in trouble for something that’s not against the rules? Baddour agrees, and rightfully disputed that charge in UNC’s response.

“We accept responsibility for what we have done,” Baddour told the news media. “But we debated that, and decided we had done what was expected of us, or what could be expected of us. We didn’t feel like we could give in on that point.”

Good for him. And good for the university.

It’s time for the NCAA to bring to light not just what’s expected – but what’s required – of its member schools and their athletes as it relates to social media. It’s time for a real social media policy.

I argued this point recently as it relates to colleges and universities. The schools should be training their student-athletes on how to use social media properly. But it’s hard to do so when the NCAA has not weighed in on the subject fully.

It’s time. Heck, it’s past due. The NCAA needs well-defined social guidelines. Only then will student-athletes understand what’s expected of them, and only then will colleges and universities be able to properly monitor those student-athletes.

What social media guidelines do you think the NCAA should adopt? Leave a comment below. I’ll include them in a future blog post here at FourthAnd140.com.

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