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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Social Media in Sports needs a Kick

The past 2-3 years has seen the world develop a Social media fixation.  Lady Gaga now has more Twitter followers than the great city of London has inhabitants, whilst news media are struggling to find ways to compete with the power and immediacy of the revolution. Hell - even my last two blogs have focused on it - (#weareallfixated)
In reality for the business world there is a whole lot to get excited about - and for the sports industry where the ‘product’ has an inherent interest to its fans - social media should be a tool to get super-excited about.  And for clubs - whose existence increasingly depends on generating awareness / interest and attendance (providing they all lead to cash!) - social media should be really driving their businesses. 
Sadly the majority of clubs have failed to ‘grasp the nettle’ and certainly I am not ‘excited’ with the way in which many sports clubs are going about their Social Media strategies.  (and certainly not when compared to how other industries have caught on).

In the interests of doing my own best to help the marketplace, here are my own Top 8 (#whyeight?) thoughts about what sports clubs (with emphasis on clubs - individuals will have their own agendas) should be doing - 
1 - Know what you are doing
As is the same with anything - you need to understand what you are getting into, and what you want to achieve through your actions.  Social media is a fast moving creature - and will easily stay ahead of traditionally slow moving sports clubs.  It can also generate a negative impact very quickly if you get it wrong (#thecustomerspowerisgrowing).  So be armed with good knowledge and access to expert advice.
2 - Have a plan
“Everyone is doing it”, “Heh, let’s get 10,000 Facebook followers” - etc etc. Far too many set-ups are ‘doing it’ for the sake of it. Make sure you understand it’s powers, make sure you agree on how these powers can benefit your sports club (and not just create unnecessary work for already stretched resources), and come up with a plan that maximizes results (ideally that will have long term benefits for your club).
3 - Make it relevant / meaningful
The old days of establishing your Marketing strategies months (or more) in advance and sending out snail mail promotional days are over (certainly in isolation).  The world is moving at a different pace now.  Your (club’s) action need to be smart, needs to be current and (#mostofall) relevant.  The consumer has so many choices now (including one to ignore you).  The flip side of this is that you have so many ways to make it relevant and to really inspire your support base.  Now you can interact with a support hundreds of times a day (#reallyNic?? - you don’t believe me? - You have 20 players (minimum) on your roster - they can all tweet 10 (or more) times a day - do the maths!!) - so if you are doing a good job - you will get quick results.  
4 - Give the Customer what they want
Your communications need to be relevant to what the customer wants - not what you want.  Culture is excited by Social Media because it brings down the Corporate/Media culture of old - and allows folk real insights into our heroes / clubs - the interactions are meaningful to the consumer.  For sure you will need to be clever to ensure that Corporate/Media messages/targets are met whilst you do this (a clever wordsmith is probably all you need) - but nothing will lose you supporter interest than banal endless Club promotions. (#besmartasstillneedtomake$$$$$)
5 - The Player is King
Here are some Stats for you.  
  • Miami Heat (currently taking part in NBA finals) - twitter followers - 217k, Lebron James (Heat player - see earlier blog) - 2,018k.
  • Cincinnatti Bengals (traditionally under-performing NFL team) - 40k, Chad Ochocinco (potentially over-exposed NFL wide receiver) - 2,080k 
  • Northampton Saints (English Rugby team - just lost in Heineken Cup - world’s largest Club rugby competition) - 7k, Ben Foden (high-ish profile Rugby player for Saints) - 25k
  • Leinster Rugby (just beat the Saints in great final in above comp) - 15k, Brian O’Driscoll (one of Rugby’s greats) - 62k
  • Arsenal Soccer Club - 707k, Cesc Fabregas (much coveted Arsenal skipper) - 950k
See any trends??  Yep - the players all have far higher online profiles.  Yet there are minimal examples of players being used to push the Club’s messages (even in the more advanced American marketplace).  
Twitter seems to be something that players use to update on their personal lives and chat to their mates/followers, and Clubs use to post links to pages on their websites.  Without going overboard here are a couple of ideas that I would find more useful as a Club manager - 
  • Rather than stale (probably season long - #seepointaboutspeedofsocialmediaabove) ‘Social Media rules’ issued to players to control them - let’s introduce regular briefing instructions on key club (and sponsor) messages that need to be conveyed (in a player’s own inimitable style to avoid corporate speak of course) to the player’s (and likely club’s) fans.
  • The Heineken Cup draw for the new season just happened with Rugby Clubs dishing out the draw live to their fans.  Interesting enough on it’s own but more interesting if (pre promoted) a select group of players were to comment along the way (as Twitter allows).  Clubs are posting what their coaches think (with link to Club website) - stop that and get the Coach ‘actually’ posting what he thinks - more believable, and more impactful.
  • Video continues to grow (and many sports are using it) - there are loads of opportunities here to get ahead of the game using your players.
6 - Make sure there is a return
Sports Clubs need interest, they need an audience, but most of all they need revenue.  Social Media will help you generate interest of course, but make sure that you turn this interest into attendance and/or income.  Loads of clever ways to achieve this (and Social Media will make our jobs a lot more fun in the coming years - but examples include links to your sponsors/partners (to give everybody some benefits), and making sure that your followers/supporters are doing their bit - your customers are increasingly powerful.
7 - Be Careful!!!
Have mentioned this already but worth re-inforcing the message.  The truly large media impact from Twitter has been from actions that would (in any normal world) be seen as a negative impact on player/club.  Ryan Gigg’s online travails and Andrew Weiner’s Twitterissues are only small examples - and you rarely see a Mediastorm generated by a good news Sports story.  There are also wider sponsor and competition issues to be aware of.  So tread carefully - and make sure you are getting results from your efforts (#seeabove)
8 - It is not the Golden Fleece 
Of course remember that Social Media is only one part of your duties when managing your Club (and potentially a small part at times).  Too many believe that if you crack Social Media - the results will follow.  But it’s role is growing, and the marketplace is uncertain so you have a chance to make a BIG impact.  Get tweeting.
Follow me on Twitter - @Carts888

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