View From the Spire: Hits & Misses of Social Media

Author: Patrick Boyd @ Sports Recruitment

At the recent SoCon Symposium, what should be of particular relevance to sports marketing professionals was the presentation by The Football Association’s Social Media Manager, Andrew Smith. Below is some insight into how The FA develops engaged communities of fans across digital platforms.

With over 1.3 million Facebook fans and 28 million views on YouTube, The Football Association has one of the largest online communities in sport.

The FA has significantly developed their online presence over the last 16 months across three of their major brands; England Football Team, Wembley Stadium and The FA Cup.

‘We want to reach fans online and create engaging content,’ said Andrew Smith, The FA’s Social Media Manager.

‘Reach > Engage > Monetise’ is the model used by The FA to develop its social media business.

Engaging fans in real-time

On match days Smith often sits in with the FATV commentary team, generating real-time discussions with the England Football Team’s 1,040,000 Facebook fans or 215,000 FA Cup fans.

Smith explained that in order to engage more people during a live match, they decided to deploy a ‘social media commentator’ on match day.

‘I’ll sit in the studio with the commentary guys talking to our fans on Facebook. For the FA Cup we want a new generation of fans. Making content timely and topical and getting conversations going increases engagement.

‘It’s important to resource yourself to react’.

Commercialising digital media

One of the key challenges discussed by Smith was how to monetise their digital media audience.

‘One method we used to generate revenue was through mobile technology, however this actually inhibited our reach. We worked with apple to develop an iPhone app, selling it at £2.99 per download. It received 21,500 downloads. In 2011 we re-launched the app for free, and it got 90,000 downloads.

Removing the download fee enabled The FA to connect with an additional 70,000 people via its mobile app, and it aims to increase this to 180,0000 in the next twelve months.

‘We can then go to sponsors knowing that we have 200,000 people using our app and sell the opportunity to associate their brand with the content we put on it.

The England Football Team

The FA was able to leverage the hype around the 2010 World Cup to generate an additional half a million Facebook fans. This was supported by a good content strategy, competitions, discounts and giveaways.

‘Good content is the key driver for people connecting with social media platforms,’ Smith explained. ‘We have some great assets to use such as tickets to the World Cup, the FA Cup final and the opportunity to meet the England team.’

‘We don’t have a huge social media budget to throw at campaigns, and we’re not going to buy media space but we can be smarter in using our own channels and in how we engage with our audience.

An example of such creativity was the ‘Facebook Row’ competition conducted during the off-season. The FA gave its Facebook fans the opportunity to win a a premium seat at the England v Holland match in ‘Facebook Row’. The competition generated an additional 40,000 Facebook fans for The FA.

‘In between seasons the fans can distance themselves from the England Football Team. It’s a strategically important time for the FA to sell tickets to upcoming international matches.

Wembley Stadium

The Wembley Stadium Facebook page has 67,000 fans and has received 89,000 check-ins.

‘In order to drive new likes to the Wembley Staidum Facebook page we ran a competition to find a super fan – someone that goes to every major event at Wembley for the year. It was supported by both print and online promotional campaigns.

‘You could pile on a lot of likes to your Facebook page and your boss would probably say that’s really good, but we wanted to target people that can actually come to Wembley stadium. The number of likes isn’t everything. We got the fans talking and engaging. It’s important to know your target consumers and go after the right people.

Another idea discussed by The FA’s marketing team is to get fans to vote for the pattern to be mowed into the Wembley Stadium pitch. ‘How much fun would that be?’ Smith beamed.

Consumption via Mobile

Smith pointed out the importance of ensuring websites are mobile friendly.

‘500 million people browse the web on their mobile phones. What happens if people go to look at the FA Cup fixtures and it’s not a fluent mobile experience?’

The lesson to brands here is if it doesn’t work on mobile you are selling your brand short.

Facebook v Twitter

Master of Ceremonies Andrew Grill posed the question that Twitter was barely mentioned in Smith’s presentation. Does The FA see value in Twitter?

‘Twitter sits with communications and editorial teams’, Smith replied.

‘There are things we need to investigate such as the customer service aspect of Twitter. We can’t take things much further with the resource we’ve got. Perhaps we need to move resources from some of the less effective areas of the website and redirect them to enhancing our twitter conversation.

‘It also depends on the project. There is definitely a role for it and we do use it but it doesn’t drive huge traffic as shown from some of our previous campaigns.

‘We have a great relationship with Facebook so we are very lucky. We get great support from those guys. If you have an engaging way of using Facebook’s functionality get in touch with them because they want to hear from you.

Measuring ROI

A common theme of the day was the difficulty in setting key performance indicators to measure the return on investment in social media.

Smith uses the following formula for measuring engagement with The FA’s Facebook fan base:

Likers + Comments + Organic comments + Polls / divided by total number of fans

Smith tries to measure value by monitoring increases in ticket sales during campaign periods, the number of emails collected via campaigns, and the number of referrals Facebook generates for The FA website.

‘Facebook’s role is to raise awareness, not as the actual sales channel,’ Smith noted.

Smith is a self-proclaimed number cruncher, Facebook’s ‘Insights’ statistics is a useful source of information used by The FA to help make decisions and measure improvements in execution.

The Challenges Ahead

The key Social Media goal of The FA is to ‘get much better at our conversation’.

One method of measuring this will be the number of impressions on their Facebook posts, which Smith demonstrated was heading in the right upward path.

‘We need to keep learning. We want to make it a better experience for our fans. We need to make our content better. We want to improve turnaround times. Get videos online more quickly.’

Key Messages

Smith summarised his advice to sports marketers with the following:

  1. Learn from your data
  2. Resource to react
  3. Think outside the box
  4. Engage external communities
  5. Consider your mobile users
  6. Get the mechanic close to the action
  7. Monetise can inhibit reach
  8. Review and optimise
  9. Timely’ and ‘topical’increases engagement
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About davidmorganjenkins
I am an experienced international, commercial, strategic business leader delivering customer focussed initiatives for world class leisure & sports brands. I have a credible track record of leadership and senior management experience in particular with business operations, marketing & business development within leisure, sport, ecommerce/retail & B2C sectors. I have a unique creative vision, supported by sound financial management & budgetary responsibility having increased brand awareness, sales & core revenue by 60% & profit 200 % at Football Aid over a 3 year period. In parallel, I am centred on attention to detail ensuring a consistent product offering and the greatest possible customer experience. This is delivered through strong collaborative teamwork and creating a culture of creativity, determination and enthusiasm amongst team members. I possess an ability to cement & develop relationships at all levels and can easily engage, report to & upwardly manage share & stakeholder alliances ensuring delivery of business objectives. Key skills Developing & implementing business plans focussing on sales, profits & volume Bringing sales & marketing strategy to life to inspire customers; making visions/dreams a reality Customer service; driving enhanced customer satisfaction & delivering a reputation for excellence Developing, influencing & implementing plans & partnerships that deliver competitive advantage Effective planning & delivery of multiple channel, venue & geographical programmes & projects Leading & managing operation, marketing & business development teams to believe in their ability to succeed Experience headlines Commercial; sales, strategy, development, marketing, sponsorship, promotion, customers service Business administration: P&L, performance, improvement & operational management Marketing & brand; communications, brand management, development & membership/loyalty Ecommerce & retail; FMCG, optimisation, data (CRM), social media, SEO, PPC & affiliates Technology; CRM, web TV, new media, smart phone/iPhone applications

One Response to View From the Spire: Hits & Misses of Social Media

  1. Great post, David

    The most astonishing thing (for me) was that Andrew Smith was doing the whole thing by himself – an entire team of one!!!

    Imagine what the FA would be able to achieve with a larger team once the first year social media trial was over.

    Fin 🙂

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