Why Teams Should Get Involved With Social Media

According to the recent Consumer Internet Barometer, one out of every four people online visits a social networking website. More sports properties are beginning to enter the social media world to better connect with fans and discover new ways to communicate with their audiences. I’d like to explore some reasons why teams should get involved and then discuss some steps they can take to get started.

Why get involved

Notice how I said “get involved” and not “utilize” or “do” social media. Social media is not just another channel to be used to promote your own message and shout at fans. Social media is about listening, participating and genuinely connecting with people. Through social tools such as blogs, podcasts, video, and online communities, fans now have the ability to easily find others who may share their passions and voice their opinions.

Instead of just reading about you in the newspaper or watching you on TV, fans are learning about your team and publishing what they think in many different avenues online. There is an opportunity to get involved by listening to the conversations, joining in (when appropriate) and giving fans a place to connect on your own team site, as well as on other social-networking sites.

Why should you get involved with social media? This is an opportunity to hear what fans think about your team and what they like and dislike. This is a way to get honest opinions, and there are many free tools for basic monitoring and listening.

Here’s what can happen if you’re not listening. Imagine if a fan has a bad experience with a ticket representative. He can easily post a video on YouTube about this experience. Anywhere from hundreds to thousands to millions of people can see this video and you may even lose a few potential season-ticket holders due to one person’s bad experience. But if you were monitoring mentions of your team, you could get in touch with the fan, fix the situation and be seen as the hero.

Extending your team’s presence on other sites is also a good way to extend sponsorships and generate more revenue. Instead of having a promotion that lives only on your official Web site, why not syndicate it to other sites to increase its reach. You may be able to reach a million fans with a promotion that revolves around your stadium and team Web site, but you have the opportunity to reach millions more on other Web sites, blogs and communities.

Once you’ve done enough experimenting with social media, you could consider starting your own network to provide fans with an official site to connect and generate incremental advertising and sponsorship revenue. The Indianapolis Colts have done a good job of this with MyColts.net, which allows Colts fans all over the world to connect and talk about the team.

How to get started

If you’re new to social media, then I recommend you spend a lot of time listening and learning. Find out where your fans are gathering and talking. See if you can tell who is participating, what they’re talking about and what information they’re looking for. Just as you wouldn’t go to a bar and start shouting to people you don’t know, you shouldn’t automatically start promoting your message on social media sites. Each community has its own nuances. Spend some time getting familiar with each one that you are considering participating in.

There are many free tools for listening. Try doing a Google Blog search for your team’s name and set up an RSS feed to monitor the results. You can also search Technorati for recent blog mentions and find related groups on Facebook and MySpace that will give you insight about where people are talking about you and what they’re saying.

Before you decide to start participating you should think about how you’re going to involve your employees. Set clear rules for your employees about how to respond and what is appropriate. Also, you may want to consider why you’re participating in the first place. Is it to provide valuable information? Build awareness?  Respond to a controversy? Or some other reason?

When you decide to join the conversation, you should place yourself in the shoes of your fans and ask what you’d really like to see and how you’d like to be communicated to. Using your research about where fans are already talking, set up profiles on these sites to reach people who may have never visited your official site. Every video, blog post, article and picture is an opportunity to make a connection with a new fan and deepen your relationship with existing fans. You have to keep these profiles updated and include compelling content so people will keeping coming back. You can drive traffic to your social media profiles through other channels, such as your  website, e-mail newsletter and printed media.

Participating in social media is just like anything else you may do with your friends. You have to listen and learn before you jump in. You can’t just promote your own messages and expect to build relationships.

Five key social media starters for teams

  1. Determine your goals
  2. Involve employees
  3. Listen
  4. Learn
  5. Don’t promote. Participate