Enhanced Fan Experiences: The Sports Strategy of the Second Screen

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The Second Screen

Where will the second screen take sports fans in 2014? It’s imperative fans find value, whether they’re watching online, on their couches or in the bleachers.

The second screen. It’s an overused buzz term for the exploding use of mobile devices during television broadcasts. Tired or not, use of tablets and smart phones is big business and a big deal for today’s connected sports fans.

Consider this: 83% of fans say they use social media during games. Sixty-nine percent prefer phones as second-screen alternatives; 48 percent check scores and 20 percent watch highlights via mobile, according to data from March 2013.

Social media has been and still is the virtual hangout, digital man cave or online neighborhood bar we visit to talk about what’s happening with our favorite teams, even more so during epic, live events (like the NFL playoffs, Super Bowl, Olympics, March Madness, etc.). 

Live sports is Twitter. And Twitter is live sports.

“Sports events comprise somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of TV programming in any given month but generate close to 50 percent of the Twitter activity [on TV],” Sean Casey, a senior vice president at Nielsen, told The New York Times in October 2013.

As leagues and teams jostle for this real estate, they must keep fans in mind. (Remember, it should be about them, not you.) Here are four ways I’d like to see sports approach the second screen.

Make engagement lightweight and simple. 
Hashtags are one of the most effective methods for driving social conversations. They’re portable (across platforms and other fan-facing media/creative) and can be measured. They provide fans with few barriers to join larger discussions about players, teams or leagues — and the games they’re playing.

The Missouri Valley Conference will incorporate fan tweets into basketball broadcasts around the #MVCHoops hashtag.

The Missouri Valley Conference will incorporate fan tweets into basketball broadcasts around the #MVCHoops hashtag.

Take the Missouri Valley Conference. Ahead of selected basketball telecasts this January and February, fans can tweet questions and comments with selected tweets featured during the broadcasts. Before the featured games, @ValleyHoops will tweet questions and comments from fans about the game or a specific topic. The league will feature select tweets on mvc-sports.com during it broadcasts.

Using #MVCHoops is an easy way for fans to participate and can be executed quickly and efficiently by the league. It can enhance online conversations and on-air broadcasts.

Drive deeper connections with fans.
Not enough is said or written about the engagement teams are having with fans in social. I feel conversations are not genuine enough and too many teams and leagues have built a barrier, not engaging fully with those who appreciate them most.

Some are getting there. Take the Boston Bruins. The team uses replies to many fan tweets, even personalizing each response with the initials of those behind the scenes.

Game time is go time in social media, and it can be chaotic. But teams should dedicate resources to connect one-to-one with fans more. Share their content. Have conversations. Build stronger bonds. This will only drive further engagement during the off-season and help fulfill social media’s true value — breaking down barriers and connecting people in authentic ways.  

Make off-platform activity worthwhile. 
Fans have lots of choices, especially during games. If they have to leave the platforms they love — whether it’s Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or others — it must be an amazing experience.

Off-social tools like Tagboard, Wayin and others are getting there, using new technology and creative display to collect conversations and drive deeper engagement. But there must be extreme value in moving away from in-the-moment conversations happening on native platforms.

Desmond Trufant draft hub info

The NFL’s Atlanta Falcons used a social media hub during the 2013 NFL Draft broadcast to add value to the existing online conversations.

Take the Atlanta Falcons NFL Draft hub. The team created real-time content during the 2013 draft broadcast, collecting stats and other info about each draft pick — on the fly, as they were shared in social — and aggregated it for fans to see in an interactive hub on the team’s website.

“As a high-profile, emotional brand, the Falcons are always looking for ways to harness the torrent of conversation surrounding major events and present it to our fans in meaningful, digestible ways,” says Dan Levak, Falcons director of digital media.

The team partnered with Wayin to provide fans something they wouldn’t find elsewhere — on Twitter or other native platforms. This week, the Denver-based social media start-up bought Comenta TV, presumably to strengthen its second-screen efforts.

ESPN used similar tactics during the 2013 NFL draft to enhance its broadcast. And look for NBC Universal to do the same in 2014 (especially the Olympics), after it recently partnered with Comcast and Twitter to create a second-screen experience.

Remember the in-game experience.
When fans attend events, they want second-screen engagement opportunities. Live action and in-stadium display (closed-circuit TV, JumboTron, etc.) are the first screens for fans here, but they’re also hungry to connect through mobile and social.

That starts with connectivity. Many fans (yours truly included) struggle with in-stadium service. Teams should boost cell service or provide WiFi to fans (at minimal cost or through sponsorships).

Then it’s about content. What will get fans in the stands to engage?

The Los Angeles Dodgers used #SocialSept to drive deeper engagement with fans in the stadium, while also connecting with them during road trips.

In 2011, the Los Angeles Dodgers used #SocialSept to drive deeper engagement with fans in the stadium.

Take the Los Angeles Dodgers. While it’s from 2011 (a generation ago in social media terms), the team’s #SocialSept campaign is a simple blueprint for keeping fans engaged via a second screen that’s relevant in 2014.

The Dodgers answered Twitter questions on its TV broadcast, featured tweets with the #SocialSept hashtag on Dodger Stadium screens. And the team awarded prizes for social engagement, including on-field introductions before games.

“The goal,” Dodgers assistant director of public relations Joe Jareck told Lost Remote, “was really was to just give our fans more voice … another way to follow the Dodgers closely and be rewarded for it.”

The NFL is also emphasizing in-stadium experiences around the second screen, thanks in part to declining attendance (only accentuated by blackout threats during the 2013 NFL playoffs).

A sports fan’s second-screen options are endless. So are the ways teams and leagues can reach them during live events. It’s imperative fans find value in these experiences, whether they’re watching online, on their couches or in the bleachers. As it becomes ingrained into the sports experience, the second screen must be about the fan, providing deeper engagement, better access and increasing value.

Thanks for being a fan.

You’re Doing it Wrong: Pro Sports Teams Miss The Mark on Twitter’s Expanded Images

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It’s only been more than a month, but I’m surprised to find professional sports teams are not adapting well — or at all, in some cases — to Twitter’s recent timeline changes.

The blue bird announced Oct. 30 dramatic changes to how it displays timeline images across web and mobile platforms. Immediately, folks like me who do social media for a living began researching what Twitter’s new expanded images meant for our brand, the platform and its millions of users — who do not always embrace change.

Not surprisingly, we created crude pixel measurements predicting the optimized Twitter image — all within minutes of noticing the change. A follow-up email to a Twitter sales rep answered my questions — and got me a handy cheat-sheet. You can download it here, by the way.

What has been surprising in the month or so since this change is the inconsistency and lack of adaptation among pro sports teams. For whatever reason, I’m seeing mismatched and poorly executed expanded images more than I’m seeing well-designed and optimized pictures. More on that in a moment.

Why is this important?

There are strategic reasons teams and leagues should pay attention to the size of Twitter’s images. They matter. Social media scientist Dan Zarrella’s research (which came out before this recent change) found Tweets using pic.twitter.com links (the native photo upload feature in Twitter) were 94% more likely to be re-tweeted. And tweets with image links get two times more engagement than those without, according to Buffer.

Put in simpler terms: Fans are drawn to images on Twitter. And whether you like the change or not, you can’t help but notice tweets with expanded images stand out from normal, text-only tweets.

Large, non-sports brands are jumping on board, adding expanded images to their Twitter creative. But pro sports teams are slower to adapt. It didn’t take long to find some pretty glaring examples. For the most part, all are well-designed, on-brand and slick-looking images. However, executed in Twitter’s new expanded images format, they miss the mark. Sometimes badly.

Here are just a few — shown as they’re displayed in Twitter’s timeline — and as fans would see them in news feeds from desktop or mobile experiences. (You can click through each to see the full image and tweet.)

Atlanta Hawks tweetThe NBA’s Atlanta Hawks misfired with this deal on Twitter. A quick re-size of this image would’ve made for much easier fan consumption.

Colorado Avalanche tweet

#NHLTrophyNight gets cut off — literally — in this example from the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche.

Arizona Diamondbacks tweet

No need to click EXPAND — if Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks had optimized this image for Twitter’s new settings.

Vikings tweet

You can get to know Jeff Locke, but wouldn’t it be better if we could see Jeff’s face? Like a shanked punt, the Minnesota Vikings misfired with this image. 

There are hundreds more just like these — every day — filling fans’ Twitter feeds. Check out my Twitter Custom Timeline for more examples of pro teams doing Twitter expanded images poorly.

So why the inconsistency? Posting images in social media is no longer a one-size-fits-all process. Different platforms mean different dimensions, and until this change, everyone — people, brands, sports teams — could get away with using essentially the same image across multiple platforms.

For better or worse, Twitter’s move means more legwork and a different design approach than images for Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest, which generally display best in a square shape, or at least can be cropped using the platform’s native tools.

It’s a new set of parameters and requires extra work, something time-strapped digital/social teams don’t have. In pro sports, they’re busy covering games, player movements and managing promotional content. Designing a whole new set of images for one platform is not an easy sell. (Trust me, I’m dealing with the same issues in my day job leading social media content strategy for a Fortune 300 brand.)

Who’s coping well with change? The reviews aren’t all bad. Here are some examples of sports teams hitting the mark with Twitter’s new expanded images. 

Golden State Warriors tweet

The NBA’s Golden State Warriors are early leaders in the use of Twitter’s new expanded image feature, using it to promote an upcoming game time and viewing/listening options. Trailblazers tweet

Here’s outstanding use of an visually impactful tweet from the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, optimized fully for Twitter’s new expanded image feature. It showcases the team’s #RipCity hashtag. The only feedback here would be to bump up the size of the score so it’s even easier for fans to read (and RT) as they scroll through Twitter.

Ravens tweet

The Ravens have mastered the size of Twitter’s new expanded image size, too, but could better use the space available to add more impact to this visual.

The lessons here are pretty simple, I think. First, I get it. It’s early and we’re all still getting used to this change (especially social media pros). But it’s time to take advantage of the tools available. Create a template. Use it. Rinse and repeat.

Social media platform changes, redesigns and updates are inevitable. Those who embrace — and take advantage of — these enhancements have a better chance reaching consumers in new and innovative ways. Your content will stand out, get noticed, be shared more. Give the fans the best experience possible on Twitter, and that starts with using the platform correctly.

Thanks for being a fan.

Editor’s note: Subscribe to my pro sports teams Twitter lists to keep tabs on how they’re using Twitter’s expanded image feature. 

Twitter list of NBA teams
Twitter list of NFL teams
Twitter list of NHL teams
Twitter list of MLB teams

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.

#JetsHunt Takes Fans on a Tour of New York Jets’ Social Media Channels

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The New York Jets executed a rather underwhelming social media scavenger hunt with #JetsHunt.

How do you get more fans to connect with you on all your social media channels? Try a social media scavenger hunt.

The New York Jets partnered with JetBlue to launch #JetsHunt this week. The team posted five questions on some of its social media channels, including Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest and Tumblr. One lucky winner was promised “2 VIP tickets to a NYC event” on Saturday, April 28. The catch? Follow clues posted on the various social sites, tweet your guess to the Jets and you’re qualified to win.

The concept is brilliant, especially as college and professional teams in all sports look to connect with fans across emerging social media channels like Pinterest. It could also drive renewed interest into fledgling sites like Google Plus, where teams – and many brands – have had difficulty building communities.

The Jets kicked off #JetsHunt on Twitter, engaging its 366,000+ followers with the first of five clues. The results were … underwhelming by most standards. The tweet, sent April 23, yielded just seven retweets and four favorites.

The Jets posted a second clue on Tumblr the following day. The results were equally unimpressive, where one fan commented and no one shared it or liked it. Yikes!

The Jets took #JetsHunt to Pinterest the same day with this pin. It was re-pinned just once. And folks, the Jets have some work to do on Pinterest with just 52 followers (yours truly included).

The fourth clue showed up on Google Plus April 25 where around 2,000 fans have “circled” the Jets. The post received just six comments, four +1s and two shares.

The #JetsHunt map shows fans where to find clues on the team's social media channels.

The Jets mercifully wrapped up #JetsHunt later that day with a fifth and final clue. It was retweeted just three times. At press time, the #JetsHunt hashtag reached approximately 375,000 Twitter accounts, according to TweetReach. Remember, 366,000 of those are already followers of @NYJets. (And 1,200 of those impressions came from a tweet I sent during the hunt.) Only 45 unique Twitter users actually posted the #JetsHunt hashtag over four days.

Was #JetsHunt a failure? I can’t rightfully answer that because I don’t know what the Jets were looking to accomplish. I can say that if I’d been running this contest, I wouldn’t be happy with the results. I believe there’s merit in the idea – connecting a brand’s different social media channels through one common activity (and rewarding fans for doing so). And I like this tactic for brands of all kinds, especially if it’s delivered with more enthusiasm and cross-promotion. (A search for #JetsHunt on NewYorkJets.com yielded no results.)

Should the Jets be concerned? Again, without knowing the back story, it’s hard to judge. But there’s room for improvement in the team’s Pinterest, Google Plus and Tumblr sites, and I appreciate the effort to help fans connect the dots (pun intended). However, if you’re going to spend the time developing a fan-friendly contest, put your best foot forward. Your fans will appreciate it, and so will the people writing the checks.

Thanks for being a fan.

Twitter Is For Everyone – Even Crazy Sports Executives

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Colts owners and CEO Jim Irsay

Indianapolis Colts' owner and CEO Jim Irsay has taken heat for tweeting some pretty wacky stuff. But that doesn't mean he and other sports executives should abandon Twitter.

Sports executives say some weird stuff on Twitter.

With 150,000 followers and an active Twitter account, Indianapolis Colts  owner and CEO Jim Irsay is one of the more colorful professional sports executives on Twitter today. He’s tweeted some wacky stuff.

New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson is pretty new to Twitter, but he’s already using it to joke about financial problems facing his franchise. OK.

Their behavior, and that of other sports execs, is risky business, according to some so-called pundits. Using Twitter is risky business for anyone, but executives have more to lose. Could Irsay and Alderson exercise more caution? Of course.

Let’s not blame the venue, though. While 140 characters limits what we share, it’s not an excuse to make this fast-moving, highly watched communications channel off-limits to executives – from any industry – especially one as highly charged as sports.

As Bleacher Report puts it: “What was once a place where things had to be ‘confirmed,’ Twitter has become a platform for announcing breaking news for writers, athletes, politicians, business owners, fans and everyone else you can think of.”

Twitter is relevant. Smart executives know this. As a social media administrator for a Fortune 300 brand, I work with leaders daily on what and how to share information on Twitter. It’s an approach I believe any executive could take – no matter the industry. Do execs tweet things that make you scratch your head? Yes. Does it show they’re more human? Absolutely. Is it risky? Getting out of bed is risky.

I believe Twitter can help sports execs – and their organization. But like any communication channel, there should be a strategy powering each tweet. These five principles guide my consultations with executives about Twitter. I think they could work for the Jim Irsays of the world looking for ways to effectively use Twitter.

Break team news. Top-down communication is valuable for any organization. Place your leader in the position to share important – and breaking – info via social media. It shows he or she is leading the decision-making process. It lends credibility to the individual and your organization. Should executives take the lead on sharing all breaking news via Twitter? No. But you can pick and choose what makes the most sense and position them favorably with followers.

Be a thought leader. Highlight issues facing the league and offer your stance. Authenticity is extremely important – and valuable – on Twitter. Talking about the challenges and issues facing your organization displays courage. You’ll likely get negative feedback, but the conversation and honest engagement create instant credibility for execs.

Promote charitable causes your organization supports. Social media’s sharing principle makes talking about your organization’s non-profit work a no-brainer. You’re already supporting a variety of worthy causes. Use Twitter to preach the gospel according to those charities. Earn good will, but do good things in the process by putting your followers behind you on a cause. You’ll bring new people into the fold – those who follow because of your good deeds.

Engage with fans, players and staff. Here’s another way to highlight those in your organization who are doing good things. Get everyone on Twitter and be sure to use the proper Twitter handles when calling them out for excellence. And when fans interact with you, answer their questions, address issues and talk to them by name. They’re people, too, and will appreciate your willingness to engage one-on-one.

Be real. You’re a human being. Use Twitter to prove it. Your life isn’t all about being an executive. You have family, friends, hobbies and more to talk about. Include them in your day-to-day tweets. Share pictures, stories and more about your personal life, so your followers understand you better. Keep everyone at a safe distance – but let them see a side most others won’t. They’ll appreciate you – and your organization – even more.

What can you add to the list? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Thanks for being a fan.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Bill Voth for sparking the ideas behind this post. Bill is one of many smart and talented people I’ve “met” on Twitter who is also interested in this curious intersection of sports and social media. I’m fortunate to have connected with Bill and others like him, and continually learn from them.

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.

Four Fan-Friendly Ideas for Making the Super Bowl More Social (and Fun)

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Super Bowl XLVI logo

If you can't watch the Super Bowl with the people you want, social media can help.

Super Bowl. The game doesn’t need an introduction or added fanfare. It’s called “The Big Game” for a reason.

We eat more food watching it than any other time – except Thanksgiving. That includes 14,500 tons of chips. It’s the only time advertising is part of the experience (and why 30 seconds of airtime costs $3.5 million this year). Heck, the average Super Bowl party has a whopping 17 attendees. But why stop there? The Super Bowl can be better, if you’re willing to share the experience with others on Twitter and Facebook. Talk about a party.

By no means am I suggesting you get lost in your phone or iPad during the game. I will argue, however,  social media can enrich the experience – if you’re willing to learn some technology, spend a little time and break out of your shell.

How? Start with these four fan-friendly ideas for making the Super Bowl more social (and fun):

1. Connect with  your favorite players and teams
Better than a static team website, social media offers a chance to join a conversation, to interact directly with teams, players and those who cover them in the media. Getting started is pretty easy. Use the search features on Facebook and Twitter and connect with them. (If you can’t do that, the rest of this post might not be worth your time.)

Pro tip: Start with your team’s list of who it follows on Twitter and other pages it “likes” on Facebook. Many teams, including the New York Giants (see graphic below), have Twitter lists of official player handles and even super-fans.

The New York Giants Twitter lists

The New York Giants have customized lists of official player Twitter handles. The team even includes a directory of its most die-hard fans.

2. Follow Twitter search terms and hash tags
Use a social media dashboard to follow trends, news and activity on Twitter. Tools like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck help isolate topics and people associated with your team. For example, you can use Hootsuite to track just the tweets from your favorite team or player. Another column (or two) could have your team’s most-used hash tags. Hootsuite offers simple how-to information to get you started. So does Tweetdeck.

Pro tip: Not sure what terms to follow? Do a little digging on Twitter. It won’t take long, especially if you start by following your team, its players and a few die-hard fans.

The Green Bay Packers official mobile app

The Green Bay Packers are one of many NFL teams offering a mobile app. The Packers' selling point for theirs? "Use it to find official Packers bars on your iPhone or Android device." Only in Wisconsin.

3. Download team or league apps
Check your team’s website or social profiles for downloadable apps. Most provide cool stuff you can access anytime, like photos, videos and breaking news. It’s a sweet time killer during that endless pregame show. The NFL and its teams have made great strides this season with mobile. This is something every good fan with a smart phone can do.

Pro tip: If you like email, sign up for a team newsletter. Get news delivered to your inbox directly from your team. Or import a team blog via RSS and catch up at your own leisure.

4. Engage
It’s a social network, folks. Don’t be shy about replying to tweets or adding your voice to a Facebook conversation – event to complete strangers. These communities are filled with good stuff that will get you excited about the game. You might even learn something new about your team and its players. The followers and friends you gain will be there through the NFL draft, the off-season and next fall – ready to talk football whenever you are.

Pro tip: Not all communities are friendly 100 percent of the time. You will encounter spammers, trolls, haters and bullies, so be prepared to unfollow, disconnect or block using tools available on each social network. Get a handle on your privacy settings first. Then know how to deal with social bullies. Here’s what Twitter has to say on the topic. Here are Facebook’s suggestions. There’s also the “ignore” feature, which is not anything you’ll click but can be the most powerful device in your social media toolbox.

Who’s got more ideas? Share them in the comments below.

Thanks for being a fan.

Twitter Battles Between Athletes Only Push Fans Further Away

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Using Twitter and other social channels to battle is the ultimate #FAIL for athletes.

We really need the NFL lockout to end this weekend.

Football fans are looking at their calendars and counting the days left until the Hall of Fame Game. The gnashing of teeth has fans on edge, and they’re showing it in their News Feeds and Twitter Timelines.

Everyone is to blame from the owners to the players.

Oh, the players. Yeah, they’re doing all sorts of stupid stuff, and social media is only making it worse.

There’s the James Harrison-Ben Rothlisberger tiff that’s been played out on the internet for the past week. Did he really mean what he said about Ben? Was that a sincere apology? As a Steelers fan, it’s turned into Team Ben vs. Team James.

If they were playing football, we’d likely not be hearing about it. This fill-the-time-until-the-agreement-is-signed creates more opportunities for talk that has little to do with football and turns fans off to the game.

Worse than the Steelers infighting was Seattle receiver GoldenTate’s Twitter attack on NASCAR racers. Tate was apparently miffed at Jimmie Johnson’s ESPY nod for best male athlete. The offending tweet:

Jimmy Johnson up for best athlete???? Um nooo .. Driving a car does not show  athleticism.

And the quick back pedal:

I’m not arguing that the sport isn’t hard … If it was easy everyone would  do it, I’m Just saying he is not the most athletic.

Admittedly, it’s a valid question, but that’s not how Tate posed it. He poked the bear – a term my colleagues and I use when we post something aimed at an individual or group that might be considered controversial.

Tate could have posed the question to his (modest) 20,000 Twitter followers. An even better idea would have been to talk about football and not poke the NASCAR bear and, as a result, their vocal fans who have substantial influence on Twitter, Facebook and beyond.

I don’t agree with Donovan McNabb that athletes should stay away from Twitter. Like playing their sport, they simply need some coaching. As I’ve argued previously, social sites like Twitter and Facebook provide fans with unfettered access to athletes without the polish of agents, marketing departments or news releases.

That’s why athletes need to treat social media with respect. Tweet away. Engage with fans. Tell us about your charity, your kids, your workout. Let us in a little more than we get by just watching you on the playing field. But do so with care.

It’s a learning process, and athletes are beginning to better understand the power of social media. What you say carries weight, and it can quickly get you in trouble. That goes for football players who run fast, and racecar drivers who drive fast.

Thanks for being a fan.