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Volume 23 No. 13
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Placing values on social media engagement

LeBron James has 28 million followers on Twitter. And the company that makes his sneakers and apparel, Nike, has 5.8 million.

For that reason, and many more, social media continues to preoccupy marketing and advertising executives in sports, from leagues and teams to athletes and agencies. They want to transfer the power of popular players and teams to their products — and vice versa. Nothing new there. What is new is the emphasis on digging into who is being reached on social media, how effectively and, of course, what that’s worth. The days of listing the number of followers a team or athlete has and judging success that way are all but gone.

The reason is simple: Decision-makers on all sides want more precise analysis of what’s working and what’s not on social media and why. And their demand for more sophisticated information is being answered.

MVPindex found that in 2015 Dale Earnhardt Jr. delivered $2.5 million of social media value to car sponsor Nationwide. That was the most of any NASCAR driver for a sponsor.
“Brands are saying, ‘Should I be in this sport? What did I get from that team? How much did I promote versus what they did?’” said Kyle Nelson, co-founder and chief marketing officer at MVPindex, a Dallas company started two years ago to rank and measure social media content in sports and entertainment. “They’re wanting to know: ‘How well did I perform? What was it worth? Am I overspending?’”

MVPindex tracks 27,000 athletes, 1,000 teams and 42 sports, constantly cataloging mentions, references, comments and other relevant data. And the data is weighted depending on the sport — Facebook is dominant among NFL fans so it would be most valuable in the index — and the type of interaction.

A “like” is worth less than something that is shared or draws comments, for example.

Clients spend between $50,000 and $100,000 per year for up-to-the-minute custom dashboard analysis of their social media measurements, from how they’re being mentioned, to who is mentioning them, to the extent of their reach. They can compare within categories such as a particular sport or city, specific business categories (fast-food restaurants, athletic gear, etc.) and among teams and athletes.

Gauging social media value has become a larger concern across the industry. WME-IMG’s partnerships group recently measured the value for soccer club FC Barcelona’s jerseys to see how exposure in social channels compares with TV and other media. Over the course of two match weekends last season, WME-IMG, with an assist from an outside agency, counted and analyzed what went out on social media and tracked the audience as well as the impact of the messages and images. Their conclusion: Exposure for the main jersey sponsor compares favorably with the value from having logos and images on TV.

“It’s the fastest-growing medium,” said Rob Mason, senior vice president of global partnerships for WME-IMG.

“There was no standard methodology for evaluating brand impacts on social, so we had to create one. Social media impacts can be tracked and measured more accurately than TV.”

TV and more established media are unlikely to cede the point so readily, but the number and intensity of social media proponents are on the rise. Among the key selling points: instant feedback. When a social campaign starts, industry analysts said, the response is clear for all to see. Either people embrace it or ignore it. Often, they respond with critiques, too. That this happens automatically, without requiring formal surveys or focus groups, provides crucial information for gauging effectiveness.

“When you can take comments and see how people feel, you can create more personal content,” said Jurgen Castro, director of media and analytics at IMRE, a Baltimore-based digital, social and advertising agency. “When you’re able to tap into that personal and emotional side, it brings out your best.”

For client AAA of the Mid-Atlantic, a sponsor of the Philadelphia Flyers, IMRE created a campaign called #ShareYourJourney on Facebook and other social media to generate interest and entries for the NHL team’s “Mites on Ice” youth exhibitions staged between periods at Flyers games. Users can post without needing to supply personal data; the goal is user-generated content and engagement.

Prodding fans to share their feelings about the sport and how it connects to their lives and families fits well with social media, Castro said. And those kinds of anecdotes and insights are invaluable for launching follow-up campaigns.

The Chicago Blackhawks have drilled deep into valuing their social media activity.
MVPindex used its algorithms and analysis to determine the value of social media last season for the Chicago Blackhawks: $5.7 million for team-owned properties. The company ranked the Blackhawks first in the entire NHL for social media and second among all sports teams in the franchise’s hometown of Chicago. According to MVPindex, 16 percent of all engagement — sharing, comments, etc. — involved one or more corporate sponsors.

The company uses industry standards for cost-per-thousands and cost-per-clicks to calculate the value of text, display and video ads as it determines the comparative value of free social media. Those values are part of a formula that includes social media penetration — who sees the post and how far it spreads — as well as the weighted factors such as platform (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Google Plus) and the interaction (share, comment and so on).

For another client, Hendrick Motorsports, the indexing firm reviewed the social media aspect of Nationwide Insurance’s sponsorship of driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. In 2015, Earnhardt delivered $2.5 million of social media value to Nationwide. According to MVPindex, that was the most of any NASCAR driver for a sponsor.

Tallying up and analyzing where brands are seen as part of their sponsorships can help put into context incremental value. Nelson of MVPindex uses the example of a Dodgers fan living in Dallas. This displaced fan is unlikely to see many games at Dodger Stadium (for obvious reasons) and may watch less on TV than those in Southern California.
Social media and online coverage is likely to be a main source of information for this Dodgers fan. More generally, no matter where a fan is or what the sport is, in almost every case, “There are more people talking about [an athlete or team] than attending [games or watching them],” Nelson said.

Translation: Social media, if it’s not already, will become one of the most important ways to speak to sports fans.

At MLB Advanced Media, executives take a bullish perspective on not just the improved measurements of social media, but also the collaboration with the companies that own the platforms.

“They’re worried about being relevant, too,” said Bob Bowman, MLB president of business and media. “They know ultimately if it doesn’t engage with people who like baseball and all the other leagues and all the other forms of content, [interest] may start to level off.”

A major shift Bowman noted is the emphasis on getting people to spend more time with an app or social media content. In years past, many companies, including sports leagues, wanted page views and gauged their success on that basis.

As an example, he cited the average user’s seven-minute visit to MLB’s mobile app.

“We like that,” Bowman said. “We think seven minutes is immersive. We think they get engaged, they get information — but it isn’t greedy. We’re not trying to take them for 45 minutes. And so we have to like the fact that there’s a seven-minute experience. You’d like them to come back several times a day.”

MLB, like other leagues and brands, tailors content based on platforms. Each of the major players — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. — is important for different reasons, Bowman said. Sponsors have gotten smarter about understanding that more subtle, immersive experiences on social media get better results. As examples, he cited an important highlight or moment presented by Budweiser or Pepsi rather than more straightforward ads that may be less enticing to fans.

Bowman points to Twitter as a hub for mass appeal instant news, ideal for news blurbs, trades and highlights.
Facebook is where MLB wants its best content and where it hopes to get the biggest viral push. It has the largest reach, but is less instant than Twitter.

As an example, Bowman mentioned José Bautista’s tie-breaking three-run homer in Game 5 of the American League division series last fall, punctuated by a celebratory bat flip, that went viral. It started on Twitter and the MLB site, then went on Facebook and Instagram and continued from there.

During the season, MLB produces an average of 1,500 daily posts, with 1,000 of those on Twitter and the rest distributed through Facebook and other platforms.

“We’re pretty focused on making sure people engage with it,” Bowman said. “If we see certain things or certain teams or certain players or certain events and people just aren’t interested, we give them less than that. We all know what does well: attitude, personality, emotions do well. A gigantic home run, that’ll do OK, but the fan who catches the ball in his or her beer while holding on to his or her child, that will kill it.”

Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.