Unique Strategies For Using Social Media in Sports Marketing

networking on social media using linkedin
Social Media has altered the relationship between teams and their fans - and smart brands are making it a part of their overall marketing strategy
Social media has paved the way for businesses, media outlets, and a host of other organizations to have direct conversations with their customers, allowing for a truly unparalleled level of audience engagement.

Sports franchises and clubs have also found ways to leverage this incredible new marketing tool, working to realize the dream of any sports executive: to create a passionate, invested fan base.

As Dr. Alyssa Tavormina, a faculty member at the University of Florida's online Master of Science in Sport Management program describes, “Through social media, fans not only connect with sport teams and leagues, but the athletes themselves have accounts which allow potentially millions of fans to connect personally to the athletes and their teams. This direct connection has allowed fans to now be a part of the sport organization’s story."

The Florida Gators have their own experience making full use of social media, launching their “#GatorAlways” campaign last fall and integrating the fans into the campaign by having them share their own personal story about becoming a Gator via social media. The responses of the fans displayed the true passion and investment of the fans into the Florida Gators.

Dr. Tavormina went on to say that, "Unfortunately, many sport organizations lack a complete understanding of the social media users’ motivations and needs. As a result, they have not realized the full potential of social media as a marketing tool."

Some organizations, however, have proven that they can use the medium very effectively.

Live-tweeting, fan giveaways, posting highlight reels – there are many unique strategies that sports teams have successfully used to create an active community following their franchise on social media platforms. The most effective strategies capture the natural fervor of sports fans and give them a place to amplify their passion for the home team, creating a thousand brand advocates that are more valuable than any ad placement.

sports marketing through social media
The University of Florida is one example of a school that has aggressively marketed their athletic department through social media
Rallying cries become hashtags, like the New Orleans Saints’ #whodat, which makes it possible for teams to capture an even greater potential market and get more people on their ever-growing hype train.

"Gone are the days of one way communications between sports entities and their fans," says Chad Barr, associate professor of sports management at Lynn University and online MBA program instructor. "From Twitter treasure hunts at tennis tournaments, to dynamic ticket prices for likes and followers, sports organizations are beginning to demonstrate the true power of social media.”

From a financial perspective, it’s hard to argue against social media as an investment.

For the cost of a talented, savvy social media manager, a team can be an even greater part of their fans’ lives and promote constant engagement with the franchise’s activities. An efficient, powerful social media strategy, along with other community-based efforts, can elevate your team’s fan base into something that’s more than just a guaranteed market of potential ticket holders, but an impassioned, daunting home field advantage.

With that in mind, here are some ways to successfully enhance your organization's reach through social media.

Prioritize the Right Social Network for Your Audience

While it's tempting to try and maintain a strong audience on all social networks simultaneously, it's not always the most efficient use of your time. The demographics that use each social tool, whether it's Facebook, Pinterest, or Snapchat, vary widely, which is important to account for when designing your overall strategy. Otherwise, you could invest significant resources in developing a presence on a site that doesn't create any tangible value or reach your desired audience.

Pinterest, for example, with a user base made up predominantly of women, might provide an excellent platform to engage with your female fan base – or even catch the interest of new fans – by creating a visually engaging, image-driven strategy.

That said, making Pinterest a prominent part of your social media plan when that demographic isn't your target audience might be a poor allocation of resources, offering very little value in exchange for a fairly substantial amount of work. Understanding your audience and what you want to gain from engaging with them on social media can help you target the social networks that support those goals.

Creating a Distinct Story and Voice
Success in creating a prominent sports brand is largely a result of good storytelling.

In fact, much of what makes sports as a whole so compelling is the narrative behind each game and series. Rivalries compel us, success stories inspire us, and underdogs make us cheer louder than we knew we could. Beyond that, prominent teams stand as a representative of their hometown, which makes it essential for them to create a voice that fills their fans with pride, not just for the team, but for where they come from.

Social media is an excellent way of conveying this franchise "story" and creating a unique way of interacting with your fans.

The constant engagement that social media allows makes it possible for sports teams to create excitement and enthusiasm by highlighting the personal elements of each victory by spreading original content.

  • Do a showcase on a high-profile player

  • Break down the history of the rivalry between your organization and another

  • Shine a spotlight on the fans and find a true die-hard to interview.

Social media can help you foster the pride and connection that makes lifetime fan-hood possible.

Leverage Your Players

Sports franchises have one massive, unique advantage over brands in other industries looking to create a powerful social media strategy: their players.

Star athletes are the greatest brand advocates any business could ask for, with identifiable names and their own devoted set of followers. Putting your players front-and-center on social media can help fans connect to their favorite team members and set the stage for exciting, shareable content, which can help enhance your brand's profile without significant monetary or time investment.

In tandem with this, don't overlook the value of training your players, administrators, and managers to effectively engage with their own social media presence(s) and feed them back to the central team page.

If nothing else, make sure they're familiar with the no-no's of social media use, ensuring that they act as a positive representative of the team at all times. Tweets and other public message made in poor taste, even to a personal contact, can utterly level the good faith built up by any franchise's community-based efforts.

It's important for players and other team members to interact with fans and media outlets according to guidelines developed by your organization (which means it's critical to have these well-established before executing a social media strategy).

Collect and Use Feedback

Social media allows for an incredibly close, immediate connection to your fans, which means that popular tools like facebook and twitter can be a valuable gathering point for feedback from followers.

Immediacy, in particular, can be immensely valuable if applied creatively. The Boston Red Sox have used this to notable effect, in the past, using twitter polls and even allowing fans to request music during rain delays through this fast-paced medium. This makes for a truly engaged fan, one that feels like they’re a part of the game day experience and that their home team is listening.

Sports are a collective, community-based exercise. With social media being one of the most powerful forces of human connection the world has ever seen, it’s no surprise that franchises, clubs, and other organizations would put these new tools to work.

The key is to provide a valuable connection to your team for fans through social tools and listen closely to how they respond. Doing this can help you build a brand that ignites genuine passion among its followers.
By Brian Clapp | January 31, 2017
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