SBJ/April 15-21, 2013/Opinion

We’re engaged: Savvy teams use new tools to connect with fans

There is an untapped opportunity for teams to put additional emphasis on social media to better engage fans, build lifetime value and monetize programs. In cases where teams have invested in technology and dedicated social media staff, they have produced wildly successful, repeatable programs. The proof of these concepts can be illustrated with the results of progressive team initiatives.

Social media is all about engagement. A commonly asked question is: “How can we monetize social media?” My answer is always the same. When teams engage effectively and actively listen on social media, monetization opportunities present themselves either through ticket and merchandise sales or, more importantly, by nurturing lifelong fan relationships.

I firmly believe that much like every team in North America uses an email marketing engine today, each team will graduate to using an enterprise-level social media platform along with dedicated staff. A recent survey performed by Turnkey Intelligence supports this notion. The survey, conducted with college athletics institutions, indicated that half the organizations have one dedicated person for social media, with the other half having two or more employees focused there. Additionally, I’ve seen a significant increase in the use of robust social media applications to publish content, manage conversations and listen to fans.

Photo by: STEVE ZYLIUS / UCI COMMUNICATIONS
Two great examples of social listening come from the University of Oregon and the University of California, Irvine. Inspired by an innovative idea from the New Jersey Devils, Oregon created a command center to listen to its fans and engage them socially. This command center, known as the Quack Cave, is managed by the Oregon athletics department but was designed and is staffed by social media-savvy students. The goal of the Quack Cave is to provide daily monitoring of the 30 to
Social media command centers at UC Irvine (top) and the University of Oregon monitor fan chatter and offer the schools a channel  of communication with fans.
Photo by: GODUCKS.COM
40 Oregon athletics social media accounts and to interact with Ducks fans on game day and throughout the season. It has been a big success, and they are just scratching the surface with engagement and customer-service opportunities.

UC Irvine took notice of the Quack Cave and deployed its version of the social media command center called Zot Com. UC Irvine’s social command center allows staff to engage and communicate with Anteaters fans through a social monitoring station that helps them to track social chatter on the Web, identify brand ambassadors and communicate with fans. This program is also managed by the UC Irvine marketing and media relations departments but staffed by students. As teams become more sophisticated with their CRM and social media systems, they will be able to track customer service opportunities, measure correspondences and analyze value of social media brand ambassadors.

I’m confident that 2013 will be heavily influenced by social platforms that allow teams to maximize efforts to grow their databases and, more importantly, identify the “anonymous” social fan to market to with multichannel marketing programs. A great way to accomplish this is with unique social promotions and sweepstakes. The Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and the University of Michigan executed two perfect examples of this concept, and though they use some Paciolan tools, the innovation with these programs is all theirs.

The Wells Fargo Center created a hugely successful Big Ticket promotion that enabled fans to enter a sweepstakes to win two tickets to every 76ers, Flyers, Wings and Soul game as well as tickets to every concert in the building for an entire year. The campaign grew the number of Facebook likes by 49 percent (more than 22,400) and, more importantly, generated more than 18,000 unique email address entries, which are fed into a lead-nurturing program through a multichannel marketing system to drive sales.

Michigan leveraged a unique promotion to reward fans while achieving a historic Facebook 1-million-fan milestone for their football page. Fans who entered the sweepstakes were eligible to win unique prizes, including premium tickets, merchandise and other experiential rewards. At the conclusion of the campaign, Michigan had gained 17,914 new fans, including 9,512 unique entries during the course of the promotion, and gained more than 4,600 new subscribers who chose to opt-in to receive their Michigan Insider email. Combined correspondence from both social media and email marketing drives significant ticket sales for the football powerhouse.

There is a growing trend of teams looking to unlock additional revenue streams through social media, including driving merchandise sales. Two teams that are leveraging social media to promote merchandise opportunities effectively today are Florida State University and the University of Southern California.

FSU integrated its Facebook page with Pinterest boards to highlight Seminoles athletics images, fan photos and team merchandise. This enables FSU to create product-specific Pinterest boards to drive merchandise sales to their target Pinterest demographic: 25- to 34-year-old female fans. FSU found that Pinterest drove more referral traffic to their Fanatics fan store than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined.

USC integrated social sharing and merchandising opportunities into its YouTube brand channel. USC embedded a carousel of merchandise, such as jerseys, hats and T-shirts, which allows fans to instantly purchase items from the YouTube channel.

The one trend that remains constant during the ongoing evolution of social media is that teams will continue to be aggressive in exploring new opportunities to engage their audience. I believe it is our role to help teams innovate and capitalize on trends that monetize efforts, build their fan base and harness viral marketing efforts.

Dave Butler (DButler@paciolan.com) is CEO of Paciolan.


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