SBJ/June 30-July 6, 2014/Opinion

What’s the hangup? How teams can put social in social media

Social media in sports is hardly new anymore. These days, every team, venue, athlete and your mother has embraced social media and its explosive power to connect and promote.

Digital sports content abounds and has gotten much better, more “likeable” and “shareable.” Fans are eating it up in greater servings than ever before. Sports continues to fuel the explosion of social TV as well, connecting fans far beyond our in-venue audiences. In fact, sports events account for only 1.2 percent of all TV programs, but 49.7 percent of all Twitter chatter about TV, according to a recent Nielsen study.

However, despite all of the progress that has been made in social sports marketing, old habits continue to die hard. The vast majority of team and executive social accounts are still mired in the traditional mold of controlled (aka safe and stale) one-way communications. Everyone has jumped on board the media part of social media, but most still completely miss the social part of the equation.

I reached out to Mark Cuban, one of the most opinionated and socially savvy owners in all of sports, on Twitter (@mcuban) recently with a request to direct message him a quick question related to sports and social media. Given his high profile and 2 million-plus followers, I wasn’t really expecting a response, so I was surprised when he followed back within 12 minutes. A pro team owner (or someone actively monitoring his account) responded in 12 minutes. Impressive.

Several days later, we engaged in a brief chat via Cuban’s new Snapchat-like app, CyberDust. I asked him why he thought it was that teams and their C-suite do not seem to get the social aspect of social media.

“I think they get it,” Cuban pinged back. “Social media is pretty easy.”

When pressed again on why so few teams or executives actually engage in two-way fan communications like he does, Cuban responded, “All do.”

What? All do?!

The next morning, I reached out to Cuban’s own NBA team via Twitter (@DallasMavs) with a request to direct message about a ticket-related question. I did not receive a response in 12 minutes, or even 12 days. No follow-back. No response. No engagement of any kind.

If I had dialed the Mavs’ front office, I assume someone would have answered the phone and directed me to the appropriate person. But fans no longer call in to compliment, complain, inquire or purchase. Facebook, Twitter and Google are the new phones, and too few teams are manning the digital reception desk.

The problem is not the new idea or the new social platform, it’s about doing more to escape old mindsets and traditional ways of doing business. Senior executives still seem more focused on what’s on the front page of the sports section than they do the real-time fan conversations about their brand on social channels.

Many appear clinging to the previous era of sports marketing, when they could tightly control the PR messages, run hard-sell ads across mainstream media, encourage fans to call 1-800-TEAM-XYZ to buy tickets, hire larger inside sales teams, make more outbound phone calls and blast out more emails.

However, we’re in the era of “inbound sports marketing,” where those old tactics are less and less effective …

Where the new dynamic requires faster adaptation to emerging platforms and ideas.

Where fans have more control, a louder voice, and demand to feel more connected.

Where unlocking the true power of social media requires actually being social.

Where it is no longer acceptable to have 25-plus sales execs calling during dinnertime to fill those 18,000 seats, while a meager 1.5 staffers attempt to grow, promote, engage, sell and respond to your social audience of 3 million fans.

The proactive Seahawks answered a fan’s digital call for help. Not all teams are as nimble.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

But what’s the ROI of a follow-back, retweet, @response, digital handshake or social high-five? In the case of my personal social experience with the Seattle Seahawks, the answer was $335.84.

I may now live 3,000 miles away from my favorite team, but the Seahawks were incredibly proactive in engaging with their fans on social channels during the team’s Super Bowl run. During the playoffs, I was tweeting to a friend at the Seattle Mariners, inquiring where I might find a No. 12 banner to proudly wave in my small corner of Patriots Nation.

My tweet was not directed to the Seahawks, but the team’s social media hawks were listening nonetheless. A direct message soon appeared from @Seahawks, asking for my address, and the next week a huge No. 12 banner arrived at my home to shrieks from my three children. Wow … surprise and delight. Delivered. The following week, I went online and ordered three new youth jerseys to keep pace with my family’s deepening brand loyalty.

The final score of the Super Bowl may have been 42-8, but the Seahawks outscored the Broncos 3,177-8 in the number of @replies to fans on Twitter. The team notched a whopping 167,500 proactive engagements (retweets, favorites, @replies).

If just 5 percent of the Seahawks’ social audience of 2.6 million could be swayed to spend half of what I did on a new jersey or tickets, that’s nearly $20 million in revenue.

Your digital phones are ringing off the hook. Are you prepared to answer the call?

Jim Delaney (jdelaney@activatesports.com) is president of Boston-based Activate Sports & Entertainment. Engage with him on Twitter @activate.

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