Straight Talk on Social Marketing

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I’ve got to say this – I’ve seen way too much fluffy language on social marketing for way too long.

Statements from very well known professionals that just ring empty for me, like the requirement for brands to “create value” through social marketing.

Other over zealous statements purporting that your “social score” (don’t get me started on Klout) is the “new credit score” are well, lets say debatable at best. I’ll take my credit score any day – which is based on real dollars, not the return on my “influence”.

What does it mean to”create value”, anyway? Just how are you supposed to do that? Well, that’s the tricky part… I used to provide sales training sessions back in the day and I’ve told countless sales people to “sell the value” of their product. This only goes so far… I approach sales in a completely different way now.

Don’t take these kinds of statements as “advice” – make your own logic. Determine your own goals. People (like me and others) can help you focus those goals and draw tools and platforms to help meet them. Taking a tactical approach is crucial here – How you get there depends on your business, your people, your market.

What I’m essentially saying here is to just keep it real. Don’t accept luke-warm ideals. Don’t set out to “create value”. Set out to achieve X. Set out to make Y. Set out to promote or build. Be specific.

You are in business. Businesses sell products or services. If you do that well enough, you’ll be able to establish a decent credit score. Take that to the bank.

Breaking Down #London2012

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With #London2012 behind us, I thought it would be a good time to talk about social media and the Olympic Games.

Twitter Wins Gold

First off, for all the talk of “social media”, the only platform that anybody was talking about or using was Twitter. There are, of course, Facebook Pages (London 2012 and the Official Olympics Facebook Page) with millions of followers, and apparently decent levels of engagement. But it was Twitter that made “the news” – there are a couple of reasons for this as I see it.

  • Facebook engagement is structured on “Post and Comment/Like”, where the brand initiates most of the dialogue. Twitter is far more democratic in its structure and “initiation” is not as important as inclusion via hashtags.
  • Twitter is much better at mobile than Facebook. Facebook’s mobile app is weak making it less useful to consume and also share content as it happens. Twitter is excellent for handling real-time events and information. And to be clear – when I say “mobile” I don’t mean that people are out on the go (though many are) or attending the Games in person, but that users are watching the events on TV, and then tweeting about it in real-time. Mobile is really a handheld, portable device, like a smart phone or tablet.
  • Athletes themselves took to Twitter, tweeting about their experience

This should be a clear warning sign for Facebook. The world largest collective event just took place in the Olympics, and the world’s largest social network did not make the podium.

#NBCFail

The topic of mobile and real-time also came to a head on the issue of “tape delay” of broadcasting the events on NBC. Since Twitter is completely plugged into real-time, many fans in the USA were dismayed to see the results of events long before they were broadcast on TV. This resulted in a huge uproar on Twitter encompassed in the hashtag, #NBCFail.

There are some interesting points of convergence here. First off, there was an Olympic Partnership with NBC and Twitter going into the Games. A British reporter, Guy Adams, who was frustrated with the NBC tape delay of the Games, tweeted the email address of the head of NBC Olympics, Gary Zenkel. Strangely enough, when NBC was notified by Twitter about the tweet – which allegedly violated its guidelines and best practices – Twitter employees recommended to NBC to report this violation against their own company. A hot mess, to be sure.

Huge volumes of tweets emerged from #NBCFail, with users complaining about not being able to see the Games in real-time and being beset by spoilers across Twitter before getting the chance to see the events on TV. NBC countered by stating that the Games coverage was receiving extremely strong ratings; that it didn’t matter. I see two take aways from this:

  1. The Games reaches an audience far beyond Twitter, and the typical sports fan in the USA. Viewers watch not only to see their athletes compete, but it’s also the story lines and national pride that draws them. The ratings proved this.
  2. Tape delay just doesn’t work anymore. It’s an older model that doesn’t fit with the current reality. The world is completely plugged in now. Real time coverage, with prime time recaps/highlights is the only way to go.

More Followers = Better Endorsements

Gabby Douglas was not a household name going into the Games ,but she held a very respectable Twitter following of 37,000+. Not long after her Gold medal performances, she reached 600,000+ followers. Usain Bolt, already an international superstar, entered the Games with 600,000+ followers and left with over 1 million.

It goes without saying that stronger follower counts will only improve endorsement opportunities. But I’m going to tie this back to Twitter as the preferred platform of engagement. Why are athletes taking to Twitter and not Facebook?

  1. Ease of use/interface with a mobile or handheld device.
  2. Capping tweets at 140 characters keeps it short and sweet
  3. Facebook imposes a 5000 friend limit (well there are subscribers, but that’s a different story), and Twitter has no such cap

London 2012 was billed as the first “truly social” Olympics. I think that’s a bit much, but it is true that social media is well-integrated into the day-to-day of many, many people today and that will only increase.

For me, the real story behind the headlines was Twitter’s place as a platform, beyond boarders and broadcast – and beyond Facebook as well.

Your Brand Should Follow Everyone

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Give me one good reason why your brand shouldn’t follow back ALL your followers on Twitter.

I don’t mean to be confrontational – really, can you give me a reason?

There are many brands out there that have several times more followers than those that they follow, and in the case of sports brands for example, they follow media personalities, celebrities and specific individuals. But are these people more important than your customers or the rest of your potential market?

Many digital marketers will counter with statements along the lines of “If there are too many followers, I can’t make anything out of it – the stream is too busy to manage.” This kind of defense doesn’t wash for me – most any fan/customer to brand communication takes place via # these days anyways. And if you are successful with Twitter, having a lot of followers is a pretty good problem to have.

It’s really about optics. In a time when a RT carries the same weight as an autograph, and followers continually ask for RTs on their birthday or other personal events – do your audience a simple favor and follow back. Does this mean that you owe each and every one personal engagement? No – and with 6 figure followers accounts, this is pretty impossible.

Is it too much to ask to follow your customers? Don’t assign status to who your brand follows – and if you do, your customers should come first.

The Social Media Honeymoon is Over

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I’ve been wanting to write this post for some time now. So here goes…

Like you, I’ve seen a number of blogs and article criticizing social media “experts”, “gurus” and the like – and they are well deserved. Social is hardly new – and though it is still new to some, that’s ok. Some people are new to driving, oysters or gardening. This hardly makes these practices and interests unimportant. We’re simply seeing the demise of the 1st wave of social media as the answer, and all the excitement and opportunity within the social space that must inevitably stare ROI right back in the eye (pun completely intended).

Some humorous examples of these criticisms here, here and here.

It didn’t help that (some of) this 1st wave of social media types took to calling themselves rock stars. It made some sense at the time – remember when Facebook had “Fans”? And with the dizzying rates of new users, various social start-ups and “game changing” events – who can blame them.

But this time is long gone now. Trending is great. Lots of Followers and Likes are fantastic. But it’s hardly enough to be remotely noteworthy any longer. Social media is a marketing channel – like any other. Its digital. It can be really cool. But it needs to factor in some ROI. Big time.

Those of you who’ve read me for a while know this – I’ve spoken on my position previously, once or twice.

I’m a little weary of brands that position social so close to the core of their digital assets – I’ve seen a number of TV ads that give a Facebook page as the digital destination. There are an increasing amount of articles featuring stories of Facebook plateaus and user rates that are dropping.

Social is hardly “done for” – but the role it plays and the impact it has, is having and can have is changing. Social is what we make it, every post, tweet or status update.

Social is a place – a dynamic place. But it’s not the only place. Use it wisely…

What’s The Deal with Facebook Deals?

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Yesterday, Facebook announced the launch of Deals. So what is this and why does it matter?

Facebook Deals is focused on mobile and location based social media. You will recall a while back when Facebook announced it’s Places feature – now Deals layers on the ability for Places users to see what kinds of offers are around them as they check in on their mobile device. So for example – on your next trip downtown, you check in at a Starbucks and can see that there is a deal nearby you right now – perhaps a sale on team jerseys at the team store. In you go, and pick a couple jerseys up for holiday gifts.

The value is clear – but consider that a mere 1% of mobile users use any kind of check-in technology right now. So, what’s the big deal?

  1. Potential – Facebook has over 200 million active mobile users right now. Even 1% of that number is significant and it will likely grow.
  2. Risk – There is an apprehension for a lot of users surrounding the security/privacy issue of check-ins. Will it be widely adopted just as Tweets and Facebook status updates were? Time will tell…
  3. Behaviour – In a previous post, I shared the fact that mobile internet use will outpace desktop use by 2015. The mobile battle is underway, and the race to “own” the location services/market is on.

Current location players such as Foursquare, representing a respectable 7M+ users, offer more of a game element with badges and mayorships in addition to the feature of deals and special offers. It remains to be seen how they will respond to Facebook Deals (apparently, new features will arrive at years’ end/Q1 2011).

Lastly, what should you do about this now? My whole position on location has been a wait and see policy. In the last few months, I’ve been a heavy Foursquare user as the announcement of Places and the growth of the Foursquare platform merritted attention. I cautioned sports marketers to include location opportunities in promotions and social projects, but not to focus on them – and for good reason. This is a constantly evolving space (BTW – if your team still has a myspace page, you can take it down now), and investing too much time, energy and (hopefully) sponsor activation dollars may not add up.

The take away – claim your venue or location properties now – here’s how. Keep watching this space and your physical neighbors for what happens and evolves here. This matters.

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Authenticity Matters in Social Marketing

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One of the most important aspects of social media is authenticity.

Over the course of the 80’s and 90’s, pro athletes became increasingly inaccessible to fans. Skyrocketing salaries, the proliferation of endorsements and merchandise and the high cost of tickets to games worked to separate fans from their teams and players.

In the social space, fans can benefit from a direct connection to players. There is the ability to interact and see players in a different light. Social media is about humanizing a brand – the past 20 years saw the development of athletes into brands… social media can help close that gap.

As there are currently an ever-increasing number of players getting involved in the social space – one thing is clear. Authenticity really matters.

It was a topic I was considering – was the authenticity factor of short-term significance? We are all accustomed to seeing athletes on TV in advertisements and are aware of the construction at hand. Would people come to expect and decode the same construction of social media?

Who knows what the future will bring – but in the present, it is very clear that authenticity does matter. Remember, the social space belongs to the fans. And that is the primary difference between social media and other media (including digital) – it’s not yours. And that’s ok.

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Beyond the Team: Social Media and Sports Management

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The list of benefits for sports teams to be active in social media is clear:

  • Marketing
  • Fan engagement
  • Sponsorship activation
  • Monetization/ROI

Who else in the industry can benefit and how?

The past few years have seen the athletes/players themselves participate in social media on their own accord. Shaq being one of the first and most infamous on Twitter. Dozens of pro athletes have followed and built huge followings along the way.

The key here is “on their own accord”. Athlete as celebrity status provides these players with the opportunity to comment on news and events, or anything else the rest of the Twitterverse chooses to tweet about. In fact, the recent experience surrounding Twitter and NBA free agency really proved the medium had arrived and mattered as traditional media took a back seat to the goings on.

The Next Wave: Sports Management Companies and Player Associations

Now that teams have incorporated the social space as an important part of their marketing mix, sports management companies and player associations would be wise to do the same on behalf of their clients. Online identity and brand are of huge and increasing importance, and there are opportunities for sponsorship, promotion and PR that are largely un-managed and underdeveloped.

I realize that every player out there may not wish to be updating their Facebook profile or tweeting about their pre-game preparations – and this is not really required, but it is savvy, smart and time to develop an online identity and brand strategy… now.

This should be a priority for sports management companies and player associations alike.

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Content Management Strategies and Why You Should Care

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A couple of things you might be thinking…

What is Content Management?

Or, maybe if you know a bit about what content management is all about – Why should Content Management matter to me if I am a sports team?

First off – What is Content Management?

It’s most easily defined as the non-technical management of website and online content and how it is delivered. It’s the stories on your website, the posts on your blog, the status updates on Facebook, the things you tweet about… anything digital that you push out. A lot of people have been talking about content management as the next “big thing” following the rise of social media. You may have also heard the statement that “Content is King”.

But crowing “Content as King” is leaving a lot to be addressed. What good is content (no matter how good it is) unless there is someone out there to see/read/experience it? So, yes, its true that content is critically important, but do not forget the “how” part of this – how the content is distributed and organized.

I do a lot of work with sports teams so the issue of content might seem obvious at first for sports teams. “Content is not a concern for us”, you might be thinking. At first blush, one might consider “the game” to be your content. Sure – but consider that the game, your product, is primarily disseminated on television and across the internet by programing and websites that are not your own. Think of the different layers of media and experience involved here…

At the core is your product – the live game. Depending on your sport, about 20-50,000 people experience it live.

The next layer is broadcast – again depending on your team, sport and specific game, thousands to millions of people experience your product on television. Those not viewing the game will experience the highlights on TV as well… you can also add radio into this mix.

Now, of course, your website and social media platforms will “cover” the game as well – but it’s important to consider product content as only a portion of your content management strategy. No other business outside of professional sports benefits from such widespread coverage on a day-in-day-out manner (unless it is bad news… BP is a timely example). Non sports companies must rely on their own efforts to get their product out there, so content management strategies may seem more “important” or vital to them.

The point I am trying to make here, is that your sports product is being “covered” and disseminated already for you by NBC, CBS, Fox, CBC, TSN ESPN… Therefore, content management strategies in sports are even more critical.

Why? Because you have the opportunity to layer on much more than the product itself – and sometimes the product may not be the greatest thing in the world either. This is where your brand really matters.

What is your brand all about?

What is your team’s place in the community? What place do you want it to occupy?

What is your history/legacy?

What is your vision?

These are the questions you should be asking in regards to content management. Last night’s box score is the easy stuff – this is much deeper.

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Minnesota Wild Corporate Partner Summit

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I was invited to speak at the Wild‘s Corporate Partner Summit this week on the topic of social media. The event was held in the Xcel Energy Center and used the scoreboard as the presentation screen – which was a cool idea.

My topics ranged from:

  • Getting started and setting objectives
  • Customizing platforms for differentiation
  • Monetization and e-commerce integration
  • Trends and forecasts

The attendees were the Wild’s corporate sponsors – which is a great value add that the team provides it’s partners. Other presenters included Tom Reutter of Scarborough Research who presented some great data on Wild fans and social media, and  Dewayne Hankins / Michael Brinkman of the Wild’s internal DIG group (Digital Interactive Group) who presented on the Wild’s social presence, successful promotions and future direction.

Thanks also to Anna Johnson and Kathleen Borschke of the Wild’s Corporate Services team for all their work in preparing for the event.

True to social media form – some attendees were tweeting during my presentation – which I think is an effective way to measure engagement:

A corporate partner summit is a good way to offer value for any team – and it’s great to have the opportunity to see what your audience is picking up on. As I have mentioned many times, along with many other voices in the social space – one of social media’s key benefits is the opportunity to listen.

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Toronto Raptors Changing to Huskies (on Facebook)

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As you may know, earlier this past season the Raptors played a game wearing retro Huskies uniforms. Since then, there have been an increasing amount of fans looking to have the Raptors renamed (back) to the Huskies permanently.

The social space is where these types of movements take place now-a-days. Petitions have been trumped by Facebook Groups, or Fan Pages. Similar to the failed Jim Basillie “Make It Seven” movement from 2009 regarding the movement of the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton, a new group is looking to make a social splash in order to persuade MLSE to rename and rebrand their basketball team.

As it stands, a recent blog post from James Cybulski of TSN.ca kick started this movement, and a new update today provided a response from MLSE on changing the name – click here for that and the following quote from MLSE’s EVP and COO, Tom Anselmi:

“We’re pleased that a lot of our fans like the Huskies third jersey. It’s a great traditonal brand that has ties to Toronto’s strong basketball roots. That said, there have been no discussions about changing the Raptors name permanently. It has been our name since inception and we know our fans love it and identify with it.”

Cybulski counters…

“The numbers will make them think twice.”

What do you think? Will the numbers make them think twice (<500 right now)? Can fans mandate a team to rebrand?

What are the sponsor implications for re-branding or renaming a team that is not relocating?

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