This is the third year that I have attended the Australian Open to review the use of social media at the event. I do this every year so that you can learn from the new innovations and trends at this event so that you can incorporate them into any events you may be conducting for your business (as appropriate).
#AusOpen 2015 HashtagI have chosen the Australian Open to do this longitudinal case study as an event such as this, with so many partners and sub-activities, provides a variety of innovative examples of social media in action. Whilst the investment in social media related activities at an event like this is well beyond the budgets of most small businesses, many of the strategies and innovations implemented can be scaled back and adapted as necessary to fit within smaller budgets.
I have also chosen the Australian Open because I love tennis. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it and that someone may as well be me. ūüôā
[Tweet “Case Study: #SocialMeda at the #AusOpen 2015”]

Social Media At The Australian Open 2015

It was less about community building and more about user generated content and social sharing at the Australian Open and in 2015. This is a big shift from previous years.
Social Media At The Australian Open 2015Facebook check-ins and gaining Facebook fans were the “call-to-action” rage in 2013. Hashtags and Facebook like-gated competitions were the focus of 2014¬†and in 2015¬†it was all about getting tennis fans to create and share visual content. With this shift in focus, there was also a much greater emphasis on Instagram, combined with¬†a Hashtag frenzy!
The former emphasis on gaining Facebook Likes seems to have been replaced with a push to gain email subscribers instead.
For a true appreciation of how the use of social media at The Australian Open has evolved over the years, I highly recommend checking out:

Official Hashtag Promotion

Last year I was pretty disappointed by the lack of promotion of the event’s official hashtag (#AusOpen) by the event organisers. Yes, there was a giant 3D hashtag in Garden Square and the sharing of the occasional tweet on some of the big screens around the venue, but not much else to encourage¬†it’s use.
It seems that they actioned my previous advice and stepped it up a notch with their hashtag promotion in 2015, along with a few other innovations.

The giant 3D #AusOpen Hashtag was rolled out in Garden Square again this year. However, they also included reference to it in other places around Melbourne Park.
Official Australian Open Hashtag 2015
Promotion of the official hashtag was most prominent around those places that were more likely to be photographed, such as on the back of the giant Australian Open tennis balls around the Melbourne Park precinct.

Selfie Hashtag

The Australian Open also started promoting the #AOSelfie Hashtag, which interestingly looks like a user created Hashtag that has been used in previous years independent of any promotion by Australian Open.
Adopting this Hashtag as their own has come with a bit of a risk that seems to have flown under the radar somewhat.
In surfing back through the Hashtag newsfeed on Instagram it appears that some people also use this Hashtag to promote “Adult Only” selfies. Whilst these types of posts are the minority due to the large traffic volume of Australian Open selfies that have taken over this hashtag feed, I am not sure I will be encouraging my kids to check out this Hashtag just in case.
Potential controversy aside, it is great to see selfie spots being created and promoted around the venue. Most of these places are around landmarks where people naturally like to take photographs anyway, like the wall containing a giant visual of the draw for the event. The prompts via floor signage both encourage photos to be taken, as well as promoting those that are already taking photos to social share them.
#AOSelfie Zone Australian Open 2015
As well as encouraging people to share photos to Instagram, the signage also promoted selfie takers to pick up an instaprint of their happy snaps at the Social Shack. Once at the Social Shack, there was then a mosaic selfie wall that those images could be contributed to.
Pick Up Your Instaprint Australian Open 2015

I also liked how they were encouraging people to social share images from centre court this year by making announcements over the PA at Rod Laver Arena to combine the use of the venue specific Hashtag (#RLA for Rod Laver Arena) along with the #AOSelfie hashtag.

Would you like to see your photos at Rod Laver Arena. Use the Hashtag #AOSelfie and #RLA to see your photos up on the big screen.
Showing selfies on the big screen during breaks in play was a great way to encourage more social sharing from within the main court itself, something that had been missing in previous years at the event.

Hashtag Competition

On the court, the competition was hot, but off the court the competition for the inclusion of campaign specific Hashtags in the social sharing posts of Australian Open goers was even hotter.
It was “refreshing like a snowball in the face from a sexy person” (to quote the Canadian Club¬†commercial) to see more of the event sponsors¬†adopting hashtags as a way to further group and promote conversations around their brand at the event.
However, as a result of this heightened activity, it seemed like there were more Hashtags in play than players this year. In addition to the official Hashtags, there were also Hashtags being used by sponsors, as part of promotional competitions, for players and to group conversations around other related activities around the event.
You can see a comprehensive list of Hashtags in use at the Australian Open 2015 here: Australian Open Hashtags for 2015.

Event Sponsors Promotional Stands

I did my best to visit and participate in as many as possible of the interactive activities put on by the event sponsors.
Yes, it’s a tough job, but someone has got to do it. ūüėČ
I had snowballs thrown at me, rocked an electric guitar on stage with Keith Urban and got filmed by a GoPro whilst I pretended to hijack a Kia Rondo, to name just a few of my most memorable experiences.

I did all this each time on the promise of either a prize, immediate giveaway or a copy of my humiliation being either sent to me via email or shared on social media should I so choose.
But what I was effectively doing by participating in each of these activities was giving permission for each of these businesses to use me as the centre of their marketing campaigns and in some cases also capturing my details to be marketed to at a later date. That is really what those promotional stands were designed for.

Facebook Shares vs Email Opt-in

Interestingly, from my observations, when presenting people with the option to obtain an email address or get them to post their potential humiliation on Facebook, it is easier to gain an email address of a participant than a Facebook share. However,  you also run the risk of gaining nothing in return for your effort as well.
Medibank GenBetter Social Media Australian Open 2015For example, I chose not to opt-in to receive the images taken of me at the Medibank stand nor share them on Facebook, as they were less than flattering as I stumbled around failing to even hit the ball at all.
In another example, after voluntarily agreeing to have a snowball pelted at my face from close range by an attractive looking guy at the Canadian Club stand, I was given the choice to either post it to Facebook for all my friends to see or have it emailed to me (and opt-in for further marketing messages).

I stood around to see which option people chose and of the 10 people (including me) that I surveyed (through eavesdropping) I was the only one that chose to share it to Facebook.
I even¬†heard one person say “I am not going to share that to Facebook as I have already posted once today”.
No doubt the Canadian Club invested a lot of money in this stand to gain exposure by people social sharing their experience as they re-created the commercial they are currently running on TV, but I wonder whether or not it would’ve had the desired effect given the proportion of people that were choosing¬†to only have it delivered to their inbox.

Permission For Use Of Images

Permission For Use Of ImagesLast year it was only Mount Franklin that were promoting check-ins. I mentioned at he time that the decrease in the number of businesses encouraging this type of engagement was no doubt a result of the decreased organic reach that Facebook is giving those types of posts.
Well it seems that check-ins are now dead in the water, as Mount Franklin has replaced their check in sign of 2014 with terms and conditions of entry that include giving “permission for your images to be used for the Mount Franklin Facebook page for an unlimited period of time without renumeration by Coca Cola Amatil (Aus) Pty Limited”.
Gaining permission for the use of images in promotion was less evident at the other event sponsors promotional stands. In some cases they were buried within the terms and conditions I signed when offering up my email address and at other times they were nowhere to be seen.

The Rise Of Instagram

You could’ve been excused for thinking that Instagram must’ve been a major sponsor of the Australian Open in 2015, as it was being promoted everywhere as the preferred social media sharing tool of choice by the event organisers.
This makes sense, as it is the easiest social media platform to search for and find user generated visual content when combined with effective use of Hashtags.

Twitter Vending Machine

Although there was an obvious increase of Instagram promotion. Promoting the use of Twitter was not completely lost.
Tweet For A Treat Twitter Vending Machine Australian Open 2015One of the new innovations at the Australian Open #SocialShack was a vending machine that requests a “Tweet For A Treat”.
It was a little gimmicky, requesting users to Tweet the following:

I’d love an @australianopen treat #ausopen” followed by a unique hashtag code.

The vending machine was programmed to use that tweet to trigger a treat to fall from the machine, with each unique hashtag corresponding with a position within the vending machine.
AusOpen Tweet For A Treat Vending MachineThe treat I received after doing this was the kind of promotional paraphernalia that I have seen many businesses give away for free over the years.
By issuing these treats in this manner rather than just having them in a jar on a table as they might normally be, they somehow seem a little more special to receive. It also meant that the Australian Open is getting some return (a Tweet) on the investment of distributing these items. You can also assume that less product would need to be purchased as the barrier for collection is much higher and therefore the distribution would be much lower.
This could be a great strategy for businesses who regularly give away promotional items at events, but are disappointed with the amount of social exposure they get for the expense of distributing those items. Obviously the cost of the machine would need to be taken into account in implementing this strategy.
Without further information it is hard to assess whether or not this would be a cost effective strategy, but regardless it could be a unique and fun method of engaging your audience.

What Businesses Can Learn From The Australian Open

Businesses can learn a lot from the use of social media at the Australian Open in 2015, including:

  • Consider creating multiple Hashtags for your event to promote different activities (e.g. #SocialShack), selfies (e.g. #AOSelfie) or venues (e.g. #RLA).
  • When using a Hashtag, check first that is not commonly used to share content¬†that your business does not wish to be aligned with.
  • It is important to widely promote the use of your official event hashtags at your events via a variety of methods (e.g. giant 3D hashtag, strategically placed floor signage and public address announcements).
  • Featuring social media posts (that include¬†your event hashtag) on big screens around your venue will encourage more people to share content at your event.
  • Instaprints of social media posts using your event hashtag can be another way to encourage people to share content about your event.
  • Encourage¬†your event sponsors to create their own social media presence around your event to allow them to gain additional value out of your partnership.
  • Create¬†activities within your event¬†that encourage your event goers to¬†give you and/or your event sponsors permission to use them¬†as the centre of your¬†marketing campaigns and/or¬†capture details to market to them at a later date.
  • When creating unique experiences with the objective of gaining social shares from the content created, try to make sure that the finished result is “share worthy” and not humiliating or unflattering in nature.
  • Consider how you will obtain permission to use¬†images taken at your events¬†for future marketing purposes.
  • Encourage cross-platform sharing by your event goers, especially Instagram for user generated visual content.
  • Investigate what new¬†innovations (or gimmicks) are available to incorporate within your event (e.g.¬†“Tweet For A Treat” vending machine or a mosaic selfie wall) and incorporate as appropriate to assist in achieving the overall objectives for your event.

This is not an exhaustive review of social media usage at The Australian Open 2015, but rather one person’s opinions based on two separate visits to the event, including one session at centre court. No doubt each person’s experience as either a patron, at home spectator or social media follower would vary. If you had a differing experience of social media usage at The Australian Open 2015, then please share your experience in the comments below.