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.

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.

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.

Stephen Cleary Takes His Case for a Sports Management Internship to Twitter

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Stephen Cleary

University of Ulster Masters student Stephen Cleary wants your help getting an internship in the sports industry.

Sometimes all it takes is a little push.

I needed an outlet to write about two topics that factor into almost every aspect of my life: Sports. And social media. So, Fourth And 140 was born in January 2011. Since then, I’ve tried to bring interesting stories to you about the characters who fill this medium, and the trends affecting the ever-changing fan experience in social media.

Stephen Cleary felt that push, too. Fresh off graduation from Northern Ireland’s University of Ulster, Stephen saw potential in the sports industry – specifically this collision of sports and social media. He also needed an internship by summer 2012 to complement his Masters course in Sports Management.

“In a fiercely competitive industry, I needed to stand out from the crowd,” Stephen told me recently. “Building websites is something I will always be glad to have in my skill set, but I decided it wasn’t what I wanted to do for a career.”

Push led to shove when Stephen – already blogging about sports and social media – tweeted a recent post to the web content manager of his beloved Liverpool FC, an English Premier soccer team. He added a second request.

“I took a chance by asking for an internship,” says Stephen, whose post was re-tweeted. “Then I thought, if someone was able to share my desire for an internship, I could get others to do the same.”

The wheels were quickly turning, and Stephen embarked on a social media-based campaign to land that coveted sports management internship. His resume includes a website, a YouTube channel, an active presence on Twitter, and, of course, his very own hash tag – #StevesJob. It’s a creative, innovative campaign that’s garnered attention in the small, but growing, world of sports and social media.

“Steve Jobs had recently passed away. The name must have been on my mind, and the campaign name #StevesJob was born,” says Stephen, who believes social media, design and communication skills are valuable assets for a position in this industry.

“Using Twitter, I aim to get as many people as possible to tweet, ‘I back the #StevesJob campaign’,” Stephen says. “I record a weekly YouTube video, bringing the latest sports/social media news, as well as my views on the topics.” He’s also an active blogger in sports and social media, contributing to a site he shares with three friends.

Stephen definitely has the drive, determination and creativity to make it in digital marketing, but that push keeps him reaching for something higher.

“I would love to work on projects for a professional sports team, giving them a competitive advantage over their rivals, and, most of all, enhancing the sports fan experience,” he says. “With soccer being my favorite sport, I would love to work in the MLS, and my absolute dream would be to work for Liverpool FC.”

Drive and determination will take you a long way. This is still a niche area of social media that has plenty of room for growth – and new faces. I like Stephen’s chances, which is why I decided to feature him here on Fourth And 140. Something tells me I might be hitting him up someday.

“The sports community on social networks has been really welcoming,” he says. “I would recommend all aspiring sports industry professionals to start networking now.”

In the meantime, Stephen continues to feel that push to keep his Twitter campaign going. Maybe you can help with a tweet of confidence? Just remember to post, ‘I back #StevesJob campaign’.

Thanks for being a fan.

Taking the #StevesJob campaign to YouTube

Stephen Cleary’s campaign is on YouTube, too, and has included some sports and social media news, commentary and even a little dancing.

Five Offseason Twitter Activities for Major League Baseball Players

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Keep On Tweeting t-shirt design

Twitter doesn't take a break in the offseason, and neither should Major League Baseball's top tweeting players.

As early as tonight, the 2011 Major League Baseball season will be in the books. And as you read earlier this month on Fourth and 140, it was an extraordinary year for social media growth. But that doesn’t mean athletes, teams and fans have to stop connecting with each other in the offseason.

Klout recently published its list of most influential baseball players, and it’s a good reminder that the beginning of a long offseason – no matter the sport – does not have to be the end of social media activity, especially on a high-volume channel like Twitter.

So, I have five suggestions to keep Major League Baseball players tweeting – and their fans happy – during the long winter months ahead.

1. Stay active on Twitter
Engage with your followers. Ask and answer questions. Talk baseball in the winter. Even though the season is over, you can still build your personal brand and help your team when Spring Training rolls around. Fans who are with you in January will be with you in April. And August. And October.

2. Adopt a social cause
Most athletes support a non-profit or charity. The offseason is ideal for increased involvement, and Twitter can be a powerful promotional channel. Why? Your fans will support your efforts, which means they’ll tweet about your charity. And donate to it. And suggest their friends and family do the same. Get behind a cause, and bring your fans along via Twitter.

3. Share your workout
Keeping in shape during the offseason is a challenge for every athlete, so why not use Twitter as a motivator to up your game? Get your fans involved, too. You can inspire them to get fit, and they can motivate you to improve for next season.

4. Give stuff away
Got some game-worn gear? Reward your most active – or interesting – or funny – follower with free baseballs, caps or jerseys. Better yet, tie in your giveaway with a charitable activity by asking followers to re-tweet information supporting your cause. It’s a way to show them you’re human, fun and approachable. And you can unload some of that extra stuff just sitting around the clubhouse.

5. Avoid the mundane
This may be the most important suggestion on the list. (Let’s call it a requirement.) If you don’t have anything worthwhile to say, don’t say it. Too many times athletes discover trouble when boredom is expressed in different ways on Twitter. They end up challenging the athleticism of NASCAR drivers, making bizarre statements based on current events, or pissing people off with their politics. (See the previous four suggestions if you want to continue to tweet but aren’t sure what to talk about.)

So sports fans, what else do you want your favorite Major League Baseball athletes to talk about on Twitter during the offseason? Share your suggestions in the comment section below.

Thanks for being a fan.

World Series Caps A Social Year For Major League Baseball

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ML FanCav logo

MLB Fan Cave helped generate new fan engagement in a sport that's seen dwindling attendance the past three seasons.

It seems odd to talk about fan engagement at the end of the sports season. The competition has boiled down to two teams, and, quite frankly, many fans have moved on because their teams are no longer in contention.

Still, Major League Baseball execs can bask in the glow of another Fall Classic knowing the past season was successful on several levels. Most importantly, attendance figures were up in 2011. Major League Baseball’s social media engagement were way up, thanks to some successful social media risk-taking and increased player participation on social networks.

The rising star in social media and sports is arguably Major League Baseball’s Fan Cave, a “first-of-its-kind immersive fan experience” housed in New York City and hosted by two super fans chosen from nearly 10,000 applicants. Talk about dream job!

The winners, Mike O’Hara and Ryan Wagner, were paid to watch all 2,430 MLB regular season games AND every postseason game. They shared the experience with the world on Facebook, Twitter and a blog on MLBFanCave.com.

It was an impressive run, generating more than 100 million social media impressions for Major League Baseball in just six months, according the ESPN.

“[The Fan Cave] accomplished exactly what we set out to accomplish, which was we wanted to become part of the online social conversation this summer,” MLB executive vice president Tim Brosnan told ESPN.

The Fan Cave experiment paid dividends in the traditionally tough and snarky digital realm, bucking a trend of low engagement and negative sentiment. ESPN reports 45 percent of tweets about Fan Cave were positive, compared to 15-20 percent for accounts representing the league and its teams. That just doesn’t happen in one season.

Social engagement is higher for Fan Cave, too, according to ESPN, a full 20-25 percent better than team and league pages. It’s a model other leagues and individual teams are sure to copy. Can you say New York Yankee Fan Cave?

While there’s no way to directly tie attendance to online efforts, Major League Baseball teams overtuned dwindling attendance figures in 2011. For the first time in three seasons, the leauge enjoyed growth in ticket sales.

In today’s economy – and the economy of the future – meeting the customers where they are has to include a social media strategy. For the most part, MLB Fan Cave did it right in 2011. Its success will likely lead to bigger and better things for sports and social media. And that’s a good thing.

Thanks for being a fan.