An increasing number of sports fans are engaging on platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and companies are increasingly relying upon social media to market their products and engage with their clients. Sports organizations and the players of the teams are finding success in interacting with fans and clients, but there are strategies that must be implemented in order for teams to create meaningful relationships with their fans. This list will explore effective tactics and examples to interacting with fans as well as touch on some pitfalls that organizations get into.
In relating to fans, it is critical for teams (particularly from the official accounts) to establish a strong voice and story. In doing so, a team shares a narrative with its fan base. Multiple examples have surfaced recently, perhaps most notably that of the Chicago Cubs and their World Series win in 2016. “Under the ownership of the Ricketts family, the team has been sharing a new narrative, “the Cubs are on the greatest journey in all of sports.” The team was able to share a consistent message and voice to their fan base which was used to describe the entirety of their World Series Journey.
As is with all companies, sports organizations must keep their target audience in mind, while remaining relatable. Sports are a passion for an enormous amount of people all of the world, and a key to engaging on social media is to relate to a wide spread population of fans, ranging of all ages and generations. Clemson University, for example, is known for their social media relations with fans and has won awards such as “Best Twitter in College Football” for the 2015-2016 season. Across all platforms, Clemson University tries to engage fans in understanding what it’s like to be a Clemson Tiger. Jonathan Gantt, the Clemson Athletic Department’s director of new and creative media stated, “Our job is to try to take [the] campus to the recruit through content and through social media,” said Gantt. “It’s really important for us to try to tell the stories of our programs, of our university, sometimes of our individual student athletes, to help explain what it’s like to be a Clemson Tiger.” This is a gold medal example of using social media strategically to relate to your fans and clients.
An extremely successful tactic for teams has been by creating relationships between fans and players. When fans believe they have an authentic, and personal relationship with players, not only do they appreciate it but so do other fans. Social media provides an array of aspects pertinent to engagement previously unavailable to teams and players. A multitude of examples are available from just about every team and every sport when it comes to player appearances and fan interactions. In fact, Major League Baseball rolled out an app in 2017 called Infield Chatter. In April of 2017, over 1,000 MLB players were already signed up for Q&A sessions, contests, etc. Another layer of these relationships is when teams have a strong community relations department and are able to engage in public outings and corporate social responsibility.
Brand recognition, or “brand love” are nothing new to the social media world, but it remains immensely important for sports teams in engaging fans. This proves even truer, as teams can’t rely on specific players to create brand love as they are traded frequently and unexpectedly. Therefore, organizations must create brand recognition in order for fans to remain loyal regardless of the players, scores, and standings. According to the Journal of Strategic Marketing, European Football, or soccer, fan engagement is highly interactive due to brand love and loyalty for different teams around the world.
Timing is everything with social media. For one, messages are disseminated rapidly and therefore everything is occurring in real time. Messages that are delayed will be missed by fans, and big events that aren’t put out on social media with the right timing will cost the organization. An efficacious use of timing was the #934KDay by the University of Georgia, which occurred when head coach Kirby Smart told fans he wanted 93,000 at the spring game. While that number was very high and set an ambitious goal, a well-executed campaign including videos and constant contact throughout the day, resulted in an exceeded goal. The University of Georgia saw a window and ran with it, ending up with great results on social media.
According to Nielsen (as of 2017), 87% of American adults now own a cell phone and social media reached almost 200 million people each week in the final quarter of 2016. Therefore it is increasingly important for organizations to stay current with social media platforms and technology in general. For example, The U.S. Open PGA tour didn’t allow phones until 2015. The PGA’s decision to allow phones exemplifies the need to reach out across multi-generational fans, especially when teens and younger fans aren’t sitting down to watch golf on a Sunday afternoon.
There will always be pitfalls with technology and social media, as it is complex in nature and constantly changing. Organizations have encountered consequences with issues of responding in real time, not being transparent, troubles with authentic messages, and finally with push back from women in an often male-dominated industry.
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