Social Media Can Transform the College Basketball Arena
It seems like social media is everywhere these days. The Superbowl, The Academy Awards, and it has even surfaced in the college basketball world, albeit on a smaller extent.
The timing of social media's presence in college basketball couldn't be more fortuitous for the once trailblazing, but now stagnant entertainment sport. College basketball desperately needs a kick-start to attract more fans as it finds itself at crossroads.
According to the NCAA statistics, college basketball attendance has been shedding fans for five out of six years, including last year, where fan attendance declined a whopping 14 percent from the previous year. While fan decline may not be at dramatic proportions, the continued downward spiral is disconcerting for Athletic Directors (AD's) nationwide.
Despite the fact that the game hosts one of sport’s most prolific events - March Madness - it has endured some challenges as of late.
The ongoing disenfranchisement of regional college basketball conferences - with teams like Syracuse and Maryland leaving the Big East and ACC and heading south and west respectively - will only short circuit the electricity of intense, long standing rivalries.
Due to the seismic shift in the NCAA college basketball conference landscape, gone are the days of some of the most heated home and home cross state rivalries that challenged their arenas capacity levels.
Social media just maybe one of college basketball's remaining trump cards to bring the game back to its glory days. If more college hoops teams enlist the power of social media, it is quite possible the prevailing attendance headwinds can be swiftly reversed into tailwinds.
To fill you in on the 411 on the latest social media techniques, here's a top ten primer (and then some) on how to draw an avalanche of fans to college basketball games:
1. What's your Handle? Use Twitter to Draw a Convoy of Fans
If Twitter was one of the key drivers in taking down a 40-year ruthless Egyptian autocrat, it seems reasonable that it could galvanize a lackadaisical student body to start attending college basketball games.
According to a recent SocialMedia Examiner.com article, there are 340 million tweets sent out per day emanating from Twitter's 232 million+ monthly active user social media outpost.
Creating a hashtag is one of the quickest and easiest ways for a college basketball promoter to score some quick points. For instance, the University of Miami can mobilize its basketball fans by hashtagging the keyword phrase #Caneshoops.
For those Twitter novices, a hashtag is a keyword or phrase preceded with a # symbol. When a hashtag is inserted into a tweet, the message is automatically collated into a group with other identical hashtags. This allows same subject tweets to be found easily through a keyword search or by simply clicking on it.
Hashtags make it a breeze for college basketball fans to converse with each other in one place where they can share tweets that link to articles, photos, and videos.
If you're not so jazzed about hashtags, use Twitter in its crudest form tweeting amazing messaging to the team's following and prospects. Potential content to microblog can include game previews and recaps, breaking news, feature stories, season ticket deals, photo and video highlights and recruiting updates.
This can be delivered by combining text and links to your tweets that point to all types of media including photos, podcasts, streaming video, animation, and/or news articles.
2. Produce your own ESPN Television Channel with YouTube - Ba da da - Ba da da
YouTube has proven to be fertile territory for recruiting college students with 67 percent of men and 60 percent of women aged 18-24, who log onto the third most visited web site in the universe. Given YouTube's affinity among college students, it is the perfect medium for a college basketball team to hold a video contest.
With YouTube, an opportunity exists for a sports marketer to throw down a contest that is "Men's Warehouse," guaranteed to appeal to the student body and other fitting demographic groups. The contest could encourage the college basketball team's following to produce a video demonstrating why they are the school's most avid college basketball fan.
The video could be uploaded on YouTube and the best of the best posted and voted for on the team's Facebook Fan Page. The contest could also be cross promoted with Twitter, the school's web site and Pinterest to increase overall exposure.
It is wise when launching a video contest to contract a third-party vendor like Woobox or Wildfire to do the heavy lifting. Companies like Wildfire (now owned by Google) are well versed on the ins and outs of social media promotions and can also weed out inappropriate content, perform web analytics and limit the likelihood of a legal entanglement.
The best videos could be repurposed by recycling them through all the leading social media channels. The videos could also serve as programming content for the college basketball team's YouTube channel.
3. Create a Facebook Fan Team Page
A Facebook college basketball Fan Page is no longer a luxury, but a necessity. It can serve as the face behind the team, a touch-point with fans, an avenue for conversation, and an opportunity to share video game highlights, article links and photos - all in one visually collaborative environment.
Successful Facebook marketing is a numbers game. The more Facebook Fan Page likes , comments, and shares a college basketball team can secure, the more exposure to their "awesome baby" News Feeds. One tried and true method to entice fans to "like" a team's Facebook Fan Page can involve running a contest or sweepstakes.
When delving into this activity, don't skimp. Be prepared to offer an off-the-hook grand prize with an impressive array of consolation prizes that carry a high perceived value. Also, make sure contest participation is tied to liking the Facebook Fan Page.
Expedia earned the distinction of staging the most successful promotion in recent Facebook history, an oxymoron in itself. Expedia's sweepstakes centered around a viral component, requiring the entrant to recruit five friends to like the Expedia Brand Page just to merely qualify for the contest.
By encouraging Facebook sharing in the contest, Expedia expanded its Fangate conversion exceedingly.
www.hotelnewsnow.com/mobile/articles.aspx?articleid=7137#.UI8qF-4v7nk.mailto. As far as the outcome - Expedia fan conversion increased from 200,000 fans prior to the contest to 1.1 million fans
upon the conclusion- in just a matter of months.
When Facebook rolled out its highly anticipated Fan/Brand Pages, one of the game changing features involved a much needed overhaul of the page layout. Facebook enlarged the size of the cover photo from its original thumbnail dimension into an expansive, wide-angled banner photo.
It also moved the more diminutive profile photo to the lower left hand corner of the cover photo which is the perfect place to insert a team logo. This impressive one-two punch layout empowers teams to wow their fans with a scintillating photo-set that screams out - "Come to our games!"
4. Hold a Photo Contest - Double Down with Facebook and Instagram
After Facebook acquired Instagram for a cool $1 billion - raising some eyebrows - Instagram's footprint has swelled from 40 to 150 million members.
Herein lies the opportunity for sports marketers to integrate social media behemoth, Facebook, with its newly adopted offspring, Instagram, and build a mega promotion. Contestants can take a basketball photo with Instagram, apply all the super cool filters and effects to it, and instantly share or upload it to the Facebook contest page.
Contest entrants could share the promotion with their friends to stump for votes. Clever Facebook contest themes can spread in outbreak proportions among participants and friends generating even more interest and eyeballs.
When it comes to rewarding the winner, be sure to compensate the first-place finisher with a high value and attention-getting Grand Prize. This will motivate fans to enter and share the promotion within their social media network.
This contest is bound to strike a passion chord with fans by bringing them closer to the team as well as elicit the much sought after buzz. The contest would also be a magnet for attracting user-generated content, providing a staple of fresh material that can be posted on the team's Facebook Fan Page, their Pinterest' profile and web site.
The Crème de la Crème of contest photos could also be routinely tweeted with the official contest hashtag appropriately inserted into the Tweet.
5. Discover the next Viral Sensation by Rolling-Out a YouTube Video Contest
There was recently a high school basketball game in Maryland, where one of the teams had to play short-handed. The undermanned team had the unenviable task of suiting up only three players. Imaginably, the five against three match-up provided a bevy of comical moments.
Unfortunately for the participants, no one recorded this potentially priceless footage and thereby forfeited any chance at viral stardom. The premise behind this anecdote is to serve as a cautionary tale for sports marketers to always be on the lookout for the next blockbuster viral opportunity - it just may present itself when you least expect it.
In short, a viral campaign is basically a form of word-of-mouth advertising. If it is unique, connects with masses and managed wisely, it can quickly ignite and grow exponentially.
When orchestrating a YouTube video promotion, as soon as contestants begin uploading their masterpiece productions to the web site, the sports marketing practitioner should immediately begin sharing the most entertaining videos throughout the schools' social media network.
Additional Internet marketing options include: email blasts, web site promotion, blog publishing, and YouTube and podcast broadcast. Then, just maybe, one of the video submissions will find legs and go viral.
But you can't sit back, cross your fingers and hope your campaign is destined for "Harlem Shake" viraldom. Once you have what you believe to be a Viral Worthy Asset, begin selling it to the social media influencers to evangelize.
6. Offer your Fans the Team's Inside Scoop by Penning a Coach's Blog
As more and more newspapers are closing shop, there has been a distinct industry paradigm shift from print media to the blogosphere. Suddenly, blogging is quickly becoming the new media darling.
Blogging dominance is not only restricted to the print world. It has even outperformed web sites in terms of login registrations and overall inbound activity. According to HubSpot.com, blogs generate 55% more traffic than web sites.
Blogging can be particularly effective in the sports industry. It can offer fans a team's inner perspective and provide them with a sense of belonging, ultimately leading to their critical buy-in.
If the coach is too busy to write a blog at least once a week - as is the case more often than not - then let the sports information director ghost write it. And most importantly, sprinkle the blog throughout all the team's social media channels.
7. Don't be a Blast from the Past -Implement an Email Marketing Campaign
While email marketing may not fall in the same genre as the other pristine social media types, when blended with the Facebooks and Twitters, it straddles the peripheral line. In fact, many of the bulk email providers now make it easy with just a few clicks to embed all the leading Follow Us social media badges into their electronic messages.
This is precisely why it is imperative in every college basketball outreach initiative to secure fan contact information in the form of names and email addresses. This lead generation data should be inputted into a bulk email program like Constantcontact.com or a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to be used for future electronic marketing campaigns.
When it's time to craft an email message, it should be light on text and heavy on graphics. Email blast formats may include digital email newsletters with lots of image centric articles (commonly referred to ezines) or subject themed emails, such as ticket promotions.
Email content present a wide spectrum of topical choices spanning a variety of flavors from game previews and recaps to promotional announcements and recruiting updates.
8. Incentivize Fans by Deploying a Loyalty Program
More and more mobile loyalty program applications are coming out of the woodwork enticing consumers to patronize their business. These days you don't have to invest in an unproven app when you can go old-school with foursquare.com.
This downloadable free applet allows venues like a college basketball arena to be located through its geo-coded technology. Foursquare could ultimately empower smartphone toting college students to earn points by simply attending games.
At the end of the season, the fan with the most college basketball foursquare check-in points could win a prize like an all expense paid trip to the team's conference tournament.
9. Linkedin - The Perfect Tool to mine a College Basketball Town's Business Sector
A college basketball program is only as strong as its weakest link. Often times their weakest link is a team’s difficulty luring the local workforce to its games. Now, with the advent of Linkedin it is one of the best means to rally businesses within the university vicinity.
Moreover, Linkedin has the most affluent members signed into their online professional business network, who are flush with disposable income to purchase season tickets. Linkedin flexes its social media prowess, Standing Tall and Talented (STAT) like Amare Stoudamire, checking in with 225 million members and counting.
These days with fickle students reluctant to attend games, attracting the business sector is paramount in the sports marketing world to fill the void. Linkedin can quickly serve up a refined list of local businesses and drill down to the university alumni level within the proximity of a college campus.
Creating a group is another powerful Linkedin feature that can unify individuals sharing a common cause, as in the support of a nearby university basketball team. A Linkedin group can be set up rather quickly and only require a limited amount of time to administer by the sports community manager.
One example is the group: "The Business Community Supporting Canes Basketball." This Linkedin group is comprised of the local workforce who are dedicated to one mission, filling seats at the University of Miami basketball games, which until their recent success was the school's Achilles heel.
The Linkedin group administrator can host discussions, plan events, post: game reminders, previews and recaps; invite civic organizations to join and provide a forum for content sharing and networking.
A host of other customized features can be discovered by just navigating through this far reaching social media site. A Linkedin administrator can even conduct an informal poll asking its members to vote for their favorite player.
The purpose of the whole Linkedin outreach effort is to use the social media platform for target marketing. A sports marketer can define its audience by configuring LinkedIn's search engine to churn out segmented lists. These lists are sure to contain candidates ripe for fan conversion.
10. Google+ - The other Social Media Network
Despite the fact that Google+ over 359 million active users dwarfs Facebook nation's 1.15 billion following; Google's social media component is poised to have their way in the digital marketing space. Google+ has benefited appreciably by its parent company's titanic brand recognition and search engine dominance.
Whether promoting a team on Facebook or Google+, best practices still apply. The whole point of the Google+ experience is to build relationships with existing and potential fans in a graphically friendly environment.
The Google+ architecture allows members to break down its followers into groups that are housed in circles. This format frees up its members to coexist in an ecosystem where they can privately share relevant content with fellow college basketball fans.
One other unique Google+ perk lending itself to a group encounter is its "hangout" video chat service. Here up to 10 members at a time can congregate by sharing videos or simply talking with each other in a video conference call setting.
This highly collaborative tool empowers students to jointly perform activities like watching YouTube videos online or huddling together to shoot the breeze in a Skype-like environment.
Hangout's fan engagement potential has a tremendous upside for innovation. A sports marketer can organize and moderate a hangout session to gush over the highlight reel of a blue-chip recruit, discuss the ramifications of a new coaching hire, or organize a weekly basketball coach hosted Q & A.
Someday, hangout will have the technological capacity to stream a live ESPN3 Internet college basketball game for a group of fans to watch in a hybrid video conferencing/chat room environment.
On-line Forums - Virtual Focus Groups on Steroids
When joining a college sports on-line forum for the first time, a sports marketer has to enter with one mind-set. Be scared! Be very scared!!
These deceptively benign discussion forums contain some of the most rabid, "What have you done for me lately fans." The atmosphere on many of these forums encroaches unadulterated fanaticism that can be toxic at times. Think condo or town hall meeting.
Nonetheless, it is critical for a sports marketer to hang 10 and surf through the towering wave of threads on a routine basis. It's unfair to stereotype every group and its members. There are many great fans who share one common quality - unbridled devotion to their sports team.
These fans are so intense, on one forum, a member performed an exhaustive analysis on his school athletic department's 500+ page Five-Year Plan. By participating or innocently being a spectator on these forums, a college sports promoter will gain a wealth of actionable market research.
Message board member' topics are often esoteric. Content can run the gamut, ranging from pleas to raise the college arena's PA system volume to outcry over the AD's decision to remove the player's last names from the back of their team uniform.
Online forum members converse comfortably with each other and are not afraid to voice their opinion. Some of these fan's diatribes can be invaluable marketing intelligence.
For example, a sports marketer can gain insightful feedback on the effectiveness of a game promotion by starting a new thread asking its members for their input.
These message boards provide a treasure trove of thought provoking data that could easily be employed to carve out actual promotions. A message board can be viewed as an unconventional web analytics tool that provides information from a source - fans - that are actively passionate and knowledgeable about their favorite college sports team.
Honorable, Honorable Mention
Pining for Pinterest Fans
Pinterest has taken social media by storm, challenging the industry heavy weights as one of the most visited Internet marketing web sites. This ultra addictive photo and video bookmarking site inspires members to aggregate, customize, and share their very own pin board creations.
Categorized board collections store and display member's hobbies near and dear to them, covering a broad spectrum of photo and video topics. Some pinners insert text directly into their images to add context and when you click on the image a college basketball team can provide a link directly to their web site.
Subjects can be as diverse as interior design, food, fashion and, yes, even sports. This uber interactive visual marketing tool allows fellow pinners to easily share each others creations by re-pinning them onto their very own boards.
Now if just one of these pins piques interest, it can spawn a gynormous volume of impressions for a member, such as a college basketball team.
A sports marketer can carry out a Pinterest promotion urging fans to build their very own board replete with an assortment of the teams most entertaining photos. The winning contestant garnering the most repins could receive a desirable prize, perhaps donated by one of the school's boosters.
Sponsoring a Pinterest promotion is a branding coup for marketing partners since the thriving social media site draws rush hour traffic with 70 million users. Pinterest will empower sports marketers to broaden their marketing reach to a new audience - women - the overwhelming gender frequenting the site.
The marketing world is experiencing a media revolution with the emergence, innovation and evolution of social media. College basketball is by no means immune from this dramatic turn of events.
A college basketball marketing professional’s only recourse is to consistently embrace change by welcoming new social media opportunities. Sports marketers will pleasantly discover that once a social media strategic initiative is engineered and set into motion for their college basketball program, it will quickly become one of their leading athletic supporters.
Photo Credit: Social Media and Basketball/shutterstock