In recent years, social media has allowed me to connect as a fan to my favorite teams, athletes and leagues in new and innovative ways. Back in 2009, I took note that a few NASCAR teams had expanded their social media presence beyond Facebook and had entered the real-time world of Twitter.
The new channels available to me via social media have increased my enthusiasm for my favorite sports by providing me with more options for updates, information and interactions with the teams and my fellow fans. It has also helped rekindle my interest in some sports I had pushed to the sidelines of my personal interests.
My enthusiasm for combining sports fandom with social media is not unique and has not gone unnoticed in the business offices of teams and leagues. Teams, leagues and individual athletes have come to realize they are also in the publishing business now. They must compete for customer attention and gain their loyalty in an unprecedented era of consumer choice.
If you’ve noticed that sports teams and athletes seem to have more than their fair share of high-profile mistakes in social media, it is because this group also represents some of the leading edge innovators in the medium. They are going to make mistakes as they carve a path for other businesses.
And, while your business can certainly learn from those mistakes, I want to also draw your attention to how your business (and industry) can learn from the successes found in how sports teams and athletes are using social media.
1. Honor Your MVPs
All of your fans/customers are valuable to you, but you know that some have extra value. These fans are your biggest word-of-mouth supporters and cheerleaders. They don’t just buy the product, they evangelize to others on behalf of you.
Pro teams make an effort to single out some of these fans for extra attention by actively monitoring social media channels to find the fans who not only share their thoughts about the team, but who have the ability to engage their personal network in that conversation. It isn’t enough to find someone shouting, “Go team!” The savvy teams are looking for the fans that can also draw their friends and connections into the conversation.
These superfans are rewarded in a variety of ways. Some receive access to special “members only” sections of a team website. Others are recognized on a team’s Twitter list. In Google+, these fans can be placed in their own Circle for sharing limited or exclusive information.
2. Make Your Fans a Part of the Action
Giving special attention to your superfans is good, but don’t overlook your everyday fan, too. The teams with the best success online are the ones who are developing content beyond announcements of ticket sales, promotions and merchandise.
On Google+, for instance, the Dallas Cowboys do a fantastic job of making their fans feel like a part of the team. Content on the Dallas Cowboys G+ page includes honest assessments of the team’s performance in previous games, behind the scenes glimpses into the team’s daily activities and more. In the off-season, the Cowboys are even soliciting fan opinions about filling vacancies on certain team positions. It makes for good conversation and builds a sense of emotional ownership in the team (luxury skybox not included).
3. Help Fans Connect to Each Other
Social media provides a virtual sports bar, or a virtual tailgating parking lot, where fans can connect to other fans. Social media can also provide an opportunity to organize real life gatherings.
One NASCAR team sends out a tweet on the morning of a race with a secret word. Fans at the track who gather at the announced location and give the password gain access to a behind the scenes get-together.
Other teams in other sports promote Twitter chats and hashtags where fans can meet and share conversation.
Hockey’s New Jersey Devils have established a Mission Control communications center in their arena where fans can use available computers or their own devices to share information online via their blogs and social media channels.
And, of course, Meetup.com provides an opportunity to organize fans into real life meetings in the community.
In these connections, the winning teams realize the value is in helping establish the connection and in getting out of the way so that fans can network with each other.
4. Make Social Media a Team Sport
Internally, many sports organizations are now actively encouraging their teams and athletes to adopt the use of social media. Fans want to interact with more than the head office. They love to hear from members of the pit crew, the star quarterback or even the groundskeeper.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is one of the fastest growing sports in popularity. One factor in that popularity is the encouragement the league gives its fighters to engage with fans online. Fighters actually receive financial rewards based on the amount of followers they gain and on the popularity of the content they share. UFC’s team approach to social media has helped it build its brand and grow its customer base.
Don’t be afraid to expand your horizons of your social media team. Is there specialized information your fans would value that you could be offering through an unexpected or overlooked online team member?
5. Expand the Playbook
The winning teams tend to be the ones who figure out how to adapt to new opportunities and technology first. While it may be safer to keep playing the game the traditional way, the teams that develop new offensive schemes, make use of new wind tunnel information and physical training tools are the ones everyone else is trying to catch in the standings.
As an example, while other teams are taking a “wait and see” approach to a new platform like Google+, the Roush Fenway Racing Team in NASCAR is boldly jumping in to the network. Tonight (February 22), the NASCAR team is hosting a live Hangout (Google+’s live video conferencing tool) between the team’s five drivers and selected fans in advance of the Daytona 500. (I’m honored to be included among the group of fans selected to participate in tonight’s live Q&A session. I’ll post a link tonight on my news feed to where you can tune in.)
Thousands of other fans will have the ability to watch the Hangout live and even submit additional questions through the comments section of the video channel.
Even if other teams eventually jump on board, Roush now has the tactical advantage of being first on the track. In the race for expanding a fan base, that gets Roush one step closer to the checkered flag.
What other uses of social media are you seeing from sports teams that would translate well for your business?