Sport is inherently social, however many sporting organisations have chosen to steer well clear of social media due to the bad wrap it has received in the press – largely as a result of it being misused by athletes. Rather than focusing on the negatives, sporting organisations should take a look at how businesses and other sports have used this media effectively, the opportunities that social media provides and how this can be replicated within the context of a sporting organisation. As well as learning from successful businesses case studies, they should also learn from the mistakes made within sport and ensure good policies and procedures are in place to prevent similar incidents within their sport.
The majority of sporting organisations within Australia (National Sporting Organisations, State Sporting Associations and Clubs) have limited resources. They rely heavily on volunteers, particularly at club level, and in most cases have limited (or in some cases no) marketing budgets. I am yet to come across a sport that is not trying to increase participation and attract and retain good people, whether that be athletes, coaches, officials, administrators, support staff or fan base. Social media offers an inexpensive and effective way for sporting organisations to communicate with members, recruit new members and increase their fan base and therefore it should not be ignore, but instead embraced and integrated within the business of sport an important part of operations.
Opportunities On Social Media For Sports
Imagine the implications of the following scenarios for your sport:
- Your club promotes a come-and-try day to potential new members with a Facebook ad that targets the “Friends” of people that have “Liked” your page that also live in the catchment area and have indicated your sport as an interest – how’s that for target marketing!;
- Your club is able to increase the amount of sponsorship it receives because several local businesses see the value of being able to promote to the 3,000 people that “Like” your team’s Facebook Page;
- Your club gains consent to share a selection of good quality photos of members of the club in action on Flickr and uploads them under a Creative Commons license so that club members, journalists and bloggers can access them any time of the day or night without having to gain further permission;
- Your club can market and sell merchandise through an app on your Facebook Page without the expense or expertise required to set up a store through your website;
- One of your athletes is traveling overseas and is able to post videos of their performance on YouTube for their coach back home to critique and provide feedback prior to the finals the following day;
- Your coach is able to save considerable time and money by having a process in place whereby all athletes, officials, spectators and support staff know to check Twitter one hour prior to a scheduled training session to confirm that it is still on and find out any specific requirements for the session. No tweet from the coach means that it is a standard session. If there is a tweet from the coach, then they should follow whatever instructions are given; be that cancellation due to poor weather, change of venue or the need to bring extra equipment. This can become a function of one of the club administrators, further reducing the workload of the coach and can also be used as a tool to communicate with fans of your club that like to attend training, as in this Melbourne Storm example;
- Host team meetings using a Google+ Hangout;
- Your State Sporting Association is able to double the amount of people to its state team fundraising event as a result of posting the event on the State Sporting Associations’ Facebook Page and encouraging their on-line communities to invite their friends with a push of a button;
- Your State Sporting Association is able to attract more parents as officials at sporting events, as the parents see how much fun the officials have at competitions and the various referee social gatherings via the photos that are being posted on the State Sporting Association’s Facebook Page and contact the State Sporting Association to find out how to involved, rather than the State Sporting Association having to hound for more volunteers; or
- Your National Sporting Organisation is able to see what is happening right down to club level on a daily basis, as they have “Liked” all of the clubs on Facebook and are “Following” them on Twitter. Your National Sporting Organisation is then able to keep up with the news in club land via their Facebook Page newsfeed and Twitter stream. National Sporting Organisations can then be aware of issues as they occur and respond in a pro-active manner. Similarly, State Sporting Associations, Clubs, athletes, coaches, officials, administrators and spectators can gain information directly from the content the National Sporting Organisation shares on the social media platforms that they have chosen to follow the National Sporting Organisation on.
Building An Engaged On-line Community
Are you convinced of the potential social media has for creating opportunities for your Association and/or club yet? Sounds too good to be true? Well all this is possible, as long as you invest in building and engaging with your on-line communities. Here are a couple of tips on how you can make sure this is possible within your sporting organisation:
- Listen, Learn, Respond, Connect – Social media (when used effectively) can be an important tool of engagement and provide enrichment for members of sporting organisations. Your social media platform(s) of choice provide a place for your community to meet, connect, discuss and share their common interest (your sport) between organised activities, such as training, competition and any special events that you organise. They do this from the comfort of their computer or mobile device at a time that suits them. Sporting organisations can use the social media platforms they have established to engage with their community, develop relationships, determine what their community wants from your organisation and respond to their needs. Listening is key to social media. Listen to your audience, learn from them and then respond by giving them what they need, rather than what you think they want. This is how you will be able to truly connect with and provide value to your community.
- Identify, encourage and support your social media champions – If you listen, learn, respond and connect effectively, you will start to build an engaged on-line community. Through this process you will start to identify the passionate and influential individuals within your on-line community and those that will champion your cause on your behalf. For example, if one of your goals is to use social media to increase membership, then you need to encourage your Fans to share your content on your behalf. These types of people often just rise to the surface and can be identified by their behavior – sharing your content, raving about your organisation and jumping to your defense. When you find these people, treat them like royalty, particularly if they have a lot of influence (and by influence I mean loads of on-line friends and several communication channels, such as a personal blog or their own YouTube channel that they include content about your sport on). It is through these kinds of relationships that you are able to increase your reach and gain greater success as people are more likely to take action if referred to by a friend rather than asked by an organisation, as was the case in many of the examples above.
Social Media Considerations For Sport
Given the history of sport and social media, it would be remiss of me not to mention the things that sport should take into consideration when setting up and maintaining a social media presence. Here are a few questions sporting organisations should ask themselves when establishing a social media presence:
- What are you trying to achieve? – Like anything you do, you need to work out why you want to be there and what you want to get out of it. If your only reason is “because everyone else is doing it”, then unfortunately that is not going to be enough to be successful. You need to know what you want to achieve from social media so that you are able to measure whether or not you have been successful. This means setting SMART goals as you would with all aspects of your business plan, of which your social media strategy (once developed) should form an integral part.
- What procedures do you need to put in place? – Complete control over the social media space is impossible, but expecting individuals linked to your organisation to adhere to some basic guidelines is not only possible, but the reasonable and responsible approach. If you have learnt anything from the mistakes of other sports, then you should understand the importance of not only having a policy that provides guiding principles for your community to follow when using your social media platforms, but also procedures around education, implementation, monitoring and moderation to further support those policies. The social media environment is continuing to evolve at a fast pace. Therefore it is important that any social media polices or guidelines you develop are refined regularly to meet with new requirements. In addition to this, your social media policy should be consistent with your member protection policy, child protection policy and disciplinary and grievance procedures (to name a few) and should be shared with and referred to regularly through your on-line communities.
- How will you educate your community? – It is your responsibility to educate your community in regards to what is and isn’t acceptable within your social media platforms in the same way that you would educate your community what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of drugs in sport, discrimination and fair-play. Educate your athletes, coaches, officials and administrators on sensible and responsible use of social media. Social media is a public place, the law still applies, individuals must take responsibility for the content they share and commonsense should prevail. As a general rule, never post anything you don’t want your grandmother, life partner (or future life partner), boss or kids reading on the front page of the paper – think of the web as a permanent record of online actions and opinions.
- What resources do you have? – Everyone says social media is great because it is FREE – That is not true! All social media activities cost time, which should never be under valued, particularly if you are referring to the time of volunteers or already stretched paid administrators. You need to consider what resources you have available to develop, implement and monitor your social media strategy in line with your business objectives. Do you have a person (or better still people) with the appropriate skills, expertise and interest for you to be successful? If not, can this be addressed through training and/or mentoring? Do you need to contract in an expert to get you started in the right direction?
- Where is your audience? – Once you can identify where they gather (both on and off-line), then you can build a presence in those places. It is no use investing all your time on Facebook if the majority of your customers prefer to use Twitter. This information will form a key part of your strategy. Start with one or two social media platforms and then build from there (if you need to and have the resources to do so).
If your only knowledge of the social media and sport cocktail comes as a result of press coverage, then the thought of developing a social media presence for your sporting organisation may seem daunting. Hopefully this has demonstrated that the benefits far outweigh the risks if implemented correctly.
Do you have a positive example of how a sporting organisation has effectively integrated social media within its operations? Or do you have any further advice for sports developing a social media presence? If so, please share in the comments below.