Social media and sports

The Sports industry didn’t invent social media, but it definitely found its soul mate. From individual athletes using twitter to communicate directly with their followers, to teams finding new ways to engage with their fans, to even the World Cup bringing the world closer together throughout the one month tournament. In the coming months, this column is going to take a closer look at Social Media/Digital Marketing trends in sports.

Social media has come a long way since the earlier days of MySpace, when team mascots created pages to link with fans. Now its Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, GoWalla, YouTube and Blogs just to name a few of the social networking tools out there. Teams already have FANS, but now they are connecting with them like never before. The key word is engage. How do you engage with your fans? Let’s take a quick look at what teams are using in the digital space to connect.

Facebook: Almost every team out there has a Facebook Fan page. Teams have used it to connect with fans all over the globe. Although most teams are still focused on their website, they realize Facebook offers them the chance to connect further with fans and share inside info in real time. Facebook just broke the 500 Million user mark with the average user spending almost one hour per day on Facebook. So how are teams utilizing Facebook? They are integrating video content, offering ticket discounts and even selling merchandise DIRECTLY from their Facebook Fan page. Another great benefit is allowing fans to upload their own video, giving them more access than ever to interact with their favorite teams. One of the most important features on Facebook might possibly be the ability for fans to leave comments, which allows teams to receive instant feedback on promotions, events and general sentiment. It’s a 24/7 real-time focus group.

Twitter: LeBron James announced he opened a twitter account the week of his “Decision” and gained over 50,000 fans in the first few hours. Over 480,000 followers as I write this now. What does this mean? Well, Mr. James can communicate directly to his fans, he can promote his new shoe, his appearances, or simply his personality. Shaquille O’Neil, Steve Nash and others have mastered their use of Twitter building their personal brand and connecting with their fans. Teams are also using twitter to listen to their fans, follow trends in their market, link fans with contests, ticket offers and even TweetUps. The San Francisco Giants (full disclosure, I work for the SF Giants) hosted their first Tweetup in April, which attracted almost 700 fans to the Giants vs Rockies Game. The Tweetup consisted of a pregame mixer and panel featuring Twitter founders Jack Dorsey and Biz Stone. It allowed Giants fans to interact with each other, and also the Giants front office. Teams are using Twitter as a broadcast medium, speaking directly to their fans in real time. Answering questions, giving important updates and answering questions of fans, instantly. How powerful is that?

FourSquare/GoWalla: Geo-Loco has burst upon the social media scene allowing consumers to check in to their favorite places, earn points, badges and even a mayor badge. FourSquare just announced they have over 100 million check-ins and are continuing to build steam. Many teams encourage fans to check in at their stadium or arena and some are even offering discounts on tickets or team merchandise just for showing they have checked in. The New Jersey Nets hosted a scavenger hunt using Gowalla. They utilized their sponsor’s retail locations in the New Jersey area as check in spots and allowed fans to win tickets to a Nets game.

We have just scratched the surface with social media. The first question many ask is how to generate revenue with Social Media or what is the ROI? Both are good questions, but Social Media is more than just another sales vehicle. It encompasses your marketing and communication plan. It includes customer service. It grows your brand, it sells tickets and leverages sponsorships. Most importantly, it helps teams, athletes or properties connect with their fans in ways they never have before and LISTEN to what they are saying. Your brand is being discussed in the social world, and teams are now starting to participate in that conversation, understanding what fans are talking about and identifying trends, issues and sentiment. Communicating with your fans has never been easier. In the coming weeks we will take a closer look at some success stories and people who are making a difference in this area while changing the game for the sports industry.

—–Bryan Srabian currently serves as a Digital and Social Media consultant for the San Francisco Giants. Follow Bryan on Twitter at @SRABE. Email Bryan at bsrabian@gmail.com.