Sports and Social – 3 things marketers can learn from this year’s football season

The kickoff of the football season got me thinking about a simple question – is there a more passionate audience for any “brand” than that of a sports team? Maybe some customers of brands like Apple, Disney or BMW can claim a pretty avid customer base, but do they really compare to the crazy fans that paint their faces and tailgate every weekend for their favorite football team?

We all know that football fans are an extremely passionate group. Every fan has an opinion and they seek out ways to have their voice heard – which has been made easy with the rise of social technologies. A few college and NFL organizations are taking advantage of the convergence of sports and social, and are utilizing social media technologies to involve their fans to drive ticket sales, viewership, and powerful word of mouth marketing. These social pioneers are capitalizing on the following opportunities in social media to heighten fan engagement – and other sports teams and marketers should follow suit.

#1: Fans as Content Creators

Nearly every marketing leader wants to find ways to create and publish content that inspires their customers. “Brand as media” and “brand as content” are new themes for marketers that want to raise the bar beyond selling products and services. To create a rich, vibrant community of fans, brands have to find ways to allow them to directly participate in the brand. Enter the concept of the Social Hub – one central place where fans can engage with the brand and with one another – all in real time.  These hubs live online, on mobile devices, and anywhere a brand wants to bring it to life. And they will soon replace basic online forums as the next true community platform.

A great example of this coming to life in sports is the recent launch of Big Ten Network's social hub, Big Ten Connect. Connect integrates social media content to offer fans new ways to interact with and gain information about the schools, sports, and athletes they love. Fans can show their team spirit through team hashtag battles, ask questions that will be answered live or on air, and filter conversations to see the latest buzz on specific topics  –  all from a single destination. Instead of The Big Ten Network simply broadcasting their message, they’ve leveraged passionate fans to create content for them, thus providing relevant information to their broader fan base via the voice of the audience.

#2: Highlight your Advocates

Advocacy has always been a social activity - when key advocates talk, brands grow. The average network of an individual on Twitter is now 190 followers. Thus igniting 1,000 advocates means a brand can reach on average 190,000 people through their advocates’ network.

Advocates are highly engaged online. Yahoo and Comscore reported that 40% of advocates answer, comment or give opinions online several times each week. Sports teams and programs have the opportunity to empower, encourage, and inspire advocacy by giving fans the opportunity to be highlighted during the game or interact directly with sports teams or players.

This year, the Cleveland Browns are highlighting their fans by featuring them on air through broadcast integration. This simple integration triggers other fans to participate for their chance at 15 seconds of fame and ultimately leads to compounding awareness.

#3: Focus on the Participatory Experience

We’ve established that fans want to participate with their favorite teams. So now those teams need to create experiences that encourage that participation. If you give fans (or customers) ways to participate, they will not only opt-in, they will share their experiences through their social networks.

Recently, Pac 12 launched a hashtag battle on their website that they aggressively promoted for the University of California at Berkeley vs. University of Southern California game. Fans battled out #GoBears vs. #FightOn – and while Southern California dominated the social battle, Pac 12 benefited as a whole receiving a national mention on Fox, and realizing an increase in followers and recognition for the Pac 12 brand.

These football and sports institutions have discovered the benefit of social integration this season. These same strategies can work for marketers of brands and entertainment companies.

Let us know if you’d like to discuss how you can integrate similar experiences into your next campaign.

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