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

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.

Let’s Focus on the Conversation


Help FourthAnd140.com find the characters who make the intersection of sports and social media more interesting.

When you’re at a party, who gets your attention? I look for good conversation. I look for people who want to talk with me, are interested in what I’m saying, and who say interesting things.

The same is true in social media – and even more so when you toss sports into the equation. But the louder voices tend to drown out the smaller ones, and it becomes a numbers game. When people stop engaging, the conversation becomes less interesting.

I’ve been absent from this blog for a few months now. Why? So many others began covering this space – the intersection of sports and social media – and I couldn’t keep up. I lacked the vital resources to do so: time (I do social media full time for a Fortune 300 brand) and energy (I have two kids who keep me going from dawn to dusk).

I can’t compete with so many others out there who are now covering this space for a living. I can’t keep up with the Mashables and ESPNs of the world – and I never will.

When people stop listening, the conversation becomes less interesting.

However, I can still share a perspective they don’t offer – one part fan, one part social media/PR/communications professional. I can (and occasionally will) write about the latest and greatest happenings hitting sports and social media. Mostly, I want to focus on the conversation.

That’s the essence of social media + sports for me. It works best when everyone’s involved and engaged. The channel shouldn’t matter, though I’ll keep tabs on Twitter and Facebook, the two loudest parties. But we’re starting to hear music coming from other places – like Tumblr and Pinterest – and my new favorite, Instagram. And conversations worth joining. And people worth meeting.

So FourthAnd140 is back, but our focus turns to the people making this intersection of sports and social media interesting: The characters behind the 140 characters.

We’ve met a few in doing this for nearly two years, but there are many more we want to meet. And we want to share their stories here. If you know someone who lights up your sports + social media feeds – who understands the conversation – tell us. Send us a tweet, post on our Facebook page, or leave a comment. We want to invite them to the party and introduce them to our friends.

Let’s make this conversation even better.

Thanks for being a fan.

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


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.