SBJ/November 14-20, 2011/Opinion

Reframing team’s place in a fan’s life

The most important statement of the year about the future of social media was almost an afterthought by Mark Zuckerberg during his keynote address at Facebook’s f8 developer conference in September.

While describing the new features of an application that News Corp. has developed for Facebook, Zuckerberg said, “News Corp. is publishing the Web version of this app only inside Facebook because they believe that eventually everyone is going to discover the news they’re going to read through their friends.”

News Corp., the second largest media conglomerate in the world, is saying that it believes that in the near future people will not find their news via the newspapers, magazines, television channels, and radio stations its empire is built upon. In News Corp.’s vision of the future, people won’t pick up their morning papers and browse the sports section for news on last night’s game, or Yahoo! News for the headlines. Instead, they’ll log into their Facebook accounts to see what stories their friends are talking about.

This is where sports properties, and their sponsors, should take note.

This vision of the future is founded on a few key changes Facebook debuted at f8. The main change, and key driver for the other changes, was a switch from user “profile” to user “timeline.” This essentially takes what was a snapshot in time and turns it into an online scrapbook of a person’s life, making the user’s experience less about what they want to share with friends and more about what they want to remember of their lives. A user can click to a particular time — say, September — and see everything they did within that time period organized neatly for them to review. Posts that got the most comments — say, an experience at an NFL game — or that are starred by the user as important are highlighted; less important updates are collapsed.

To make the content of that timeline more complete, Facebook opened up its open graph to allow for “canvas permissioning,” meaning that a sports fan can opt-in to share the same type of action repeatedly without needing to give their permission every time — for instance, watch a highlight film, post a stat, go to a game, etc.

Fans want to remember a much broader range of actions than just “liking” something, so Facebook also added the ability for teams to create their own custom verbs for sharing. “Watch,” “listen” and “read,” for example, were added at launch, but teams will also have the ability to add a variety of custom verbs such as “want,” “buy,” “join” or any relevant action. For example, a “want” button could indicate a holiday wish list on a team merchandise page; a “buy” button could reference a group offer to purchase tickets; a “join” button could highlight the ability to subscribe to a fan club.

These changes present a remarkable opportunity to collect more information about each fan than has been known before. Where the fan database today is segmented mainly by purchase behavior, a team now has the opportunity to segment by highlight video watched, player stat tracked, or merchandise viewed. This information will allow for a lot more unique fan segments by which to target. From ticket sales to upcoming games to the sale of commemorative videos or throwback jerseys, Facebook will become a sports marketer’s window into fans’ preferences and behaviors.

Even more remarkable is the opportunity to be woven into the fabric of fans’ digital lives. Once a user opts into a team application and gives it permission to share the person’s team-oriented activities through it, the team becomes a sub-timeline within that fan’s Facebook page, organized according to the team’s specifications. It’s a highlight reel of a fan’s life with his or her team, an interactive narrative of all the great memories. It’s less about sharing with friends and more about building a personal story the fan can review after the season is over to remember every moment.

There are tremendous opportunities with this, but it will also necessitate a budgetary shift by team marketing departments over time toward the people and technology needed to take advantage.

If an old media company like News Corp. can do it, teams can too.

Matt Kautz (MKautz@paciolan.com) is social media director for Paciolan.

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