How Wimbledon Aced Their Social Media Game in 2016

How did you absorb the glory of Wimbledon this year—maybe with a 360-degree view over Wimbledon’s famous tennis grounds from the comfort of your own home? Perhaps you preferred to Snapchat your courtside action this year, with an exclusive Wimbledon filter to mark the occasion?

Well, it’s thanks to Alexandra Willis’ lead on such proceedings that you could’ve spent the last two weeks doing just that. 2016 brought numerous innovative ways for fans to engage with the U.K.’s top tennis tournament, thanks in large part to Alexandra’s passion to share Wimbledon with the world.

Wimbledon Social in 2016

Wimbledon had a particularly impressive Instagram strategy in 2016, including animated illustrations of some of the most compelling volleys:

But the iconic tournament didn’t stop there, with a presence across all major social networks and a sophisticated strategy to match. For example, on Pinterest, the tournament made nods to Wimbledon-friendly foods—Pimms layer cake, anyone?

In addition, Wimbledon made use of user-generated content (UGC) with a contest in which fans could win Wimbledon goodies, using the hashtag #wimbledonweekend.

Alexandra Willis on Wimbledon’s Digital Presence

Recently, we were fortunate to speak with Alexandra and learn more on what it’s like to manage the digital channels for the world’s oldest tennis championship.

How did you end up overseeing Wimbledon’s digital and social landscape?

My background is in Sports journalism and I started out working in tennis for a variety of places including a tennis magazine, freelancing for various newspapers, then ending up at The Telegraph. It was about the time there was a shift for rights holders wanting to take more control of their own content and I got approached by Wimbledon.

You’ve successfully managed an overhaul of digital, content and e-commerce platforms as well as integration of traditional marketing communications. What key tips can you give for brands figuring out their strategy?

  1. Keep things simple and know who who you are. Stay true to who you are and don’t try to be all things to all people.

  2. Be focused. Concentrate on making small steps rather than doing everything at once. Be sure you have a clear story and focus on execution.

  3. Invest in people. There are lots of fancy tools out there but you’ll go a long way by hiring the right people who understand what you are trying to achieve.

How much of a challenge have you found it to balance the ‘tradition’ of Wimbledon with the innovation of social? How did you refine your strategy?

We certainly had an internal stakeholder job to do, by raising awareness of important areas. We have been fortunate because we’ve had fantastic support and went about things in a focused way, considering what is important and what we wanted to achieve (rather than being on Facebook just because everyone else is on Facebook). We thought about what it was designed to do and how it would help us achieve our broader goal.

When we started taking a closer look at things we already had a website, a Facebook Page and Twitter account, as well as an app. None of them were joined up or aligned, so it was about defining “What is Wimbledon’s digital strategy? What is the next best thing to being at Wimbledon?” Afterwards, everything was scrutinized under the same lens.

Has this strategy been influenced by data that you gained?

The specific uses of data have been around understanding what our audience wants and what has resonated with them. We considered what performed well, when we should be talking to the different audiences around the world (targeting tailored content) and turning the data into content itself. It’s really interesting that more people in India are tweeting about tennis than they ever were before, so we want to understand why and how we can unpick this so we can do more with this information.

What has struck you about how marketing has changed over the years?

Brands are more focused on generating emotion. Social platforms have changed and it’s about getting people to be inspired versus an out-and-out sell. The types of marketing and advertising I’ve seen have become more subtle and consumer-led, rather than product-driven. If you couple that with the ability to target people more effectively, based on what they like and the data you can gain, it’s about fitting into somebody’s life. We are not selling a product, we want to generate passion and enthusiasm for an event. it’s not about buying a Wimbledon towel; it’s about generating a lifelong relationship with this event. Having all these different tools and ways to tell our story available to us enable us to make Wimbledon appeal to a broader audience.

Your 2016 #Wimbledon Champions... @andymurray and @serenawilliams

A photo posted by Wimbledon (@wimbledon) on

You recently attended the infamous Super Bowl over in the US. How do you think America compares to Europe for social content?

It’s fascinating, we pay close attention to what people in tennis do. As Wimbledon now, we want to pay more attention to these big-scale events that have managed to transcend the sport that they operate in. The Superbowl is a great example of that. We wanted to look at what they do from a fan engagement perspective, but also how they have managed the cultural event part of people coming together to celebrate that. One of the things that has been a strength for Wimbledon is our difference in tone and attitude. When you follow Wimbledon on social, it’s not like the NFL or the US Open. We have a recognisable tone-of-voice and we want to educate people more about Wimbledon. Coupled with being much less commercial than a lot of the American sports brands on social makes us stand out a bit. Our philosophy is to build the audience and create more value—that’s how we’ll become more successful. It’s not about matching a content and commercial opportunity straight away. I intensely admire what the American brands do, their resources and the creativity they have access to. We are constantly paying attention to their ideas, but I also celebrate the fact that we’re different, which is healthy.

Do you think there is a challenge in Europe compared to the U.S. with budgets and resources for social execution?

The most common thing we feel passionate about is tailoring what you do on each channel and not just putting the same content out everywhere. I feel bad for organizations that have just one person managing their social (we’ve been in that position too). It’s easy to repeat things on channels because you’re under pressure and have to focus on the next thing. Just try to take time to think of each channel as a completely separate group of people. Talk to them in a slightly different way and you will reap the benefits. You do need time and the right people to do this. If we were to compare ourselves to Adidas, for example, we are a tiny fraction of their size so we cannot compete on output. There is still the opportunity to differentiate yourselves in other ways.

You’ve integrated the use of drones to provide an interactive online experience for fans and experimented with iBeacons. How have these tools helped you build the Wimbledon experience and are there any other digital toys you would like to play with?

We used the drones to provide people with an insight which is not very common and we are always interested to innovate. There can be pressure to try other trends such as the Apple watch and VR, which a lot of people are talking about. We want to explore these but do not want to put content out for the sake of it, especially if it doesn’t add value to our story. We also have limited people and budget so there are only so many things we can do. The increased ability of what you can do now with personalization, tailoring your content to what people want e.g. real-time marketing and the increased success/penetration of location services is really fascinating. The whole AR/VR space that’s expanding is also interesting. We want to use these without making them gimmicky, instead looking to create a bespoke and valuable experience. We’ve done things like “What is it like to receive a serve from Tim Henman?” We want to push the needle in this way. From an on-site perspective, we want to be smarter around connected devices and making someone’s day more interesting by providing information but not forcing people to be buried in their phone screen. We are investing a lot in devices and resources but want people to enjoy the surroundings they are in. There is a balance to maintain.

What is your idea of a digital ‘utopia’? What would it look like for Wimbledon?

We want to truly understand our audience. We have such a diverse audience, in many countries all around the world, accessing us on various channels and it’s up to us to provide them with the correct content and exactly how they want to receive it. That is the ideal. That involves tying up lots of data, analysis and content sources which we cannot currently do. To be able to give somebody their personalized window into Wimbledon, as well as monitoring and understanding it will be pretty fascinating.

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