As college football schedules start to be released, it's time for colleges to think about fall social media strategies. I know August is a long way down the calendar yet, but it's not too early to sketch out an initial social media strategy for big fall events like home football kickoff or move-in day. Even if fall isn't on your horizon yet, these winning social media strategies will help you with any event.
Let's use your first home football game as an example. Start by putting fan experience somewhere near the top of your goals list. What kinds of events do you use to engage your fans during fall camps when the student-athletes are back on campus? One of the most popular events at many college campuses is a Fan Fest that may involve scrimmages, autographs on posters, activities for families, food, mascots, cheerleaders, and lots of hype. Sound like a familiar scenario? How can social media turn your fan event into something that will create affinity for your brand? Here are three ideas to get the (foot)ball rolling.
1. Give a group of social media advocates up close and exclusive access. In her book, Renegades Write the Rules, Amy Jo Martin talks about the formula of access: Access leads to affinity, and affinity leads to connection, influence, and conversion. When you open the doors and give access to people they connect at a deeper level. What does that look like? It might be a tweet-up during Fan Fest. Designate a highly invested group of tweeters (could be three or thirty) and invite them to an exclusive Fan Fest experience. If you don't already know who they are from listening, you can use a tool such as Followerwonk, Twello, or others listed here to find them. You can screen them through email and phone to gauge their interest and willingness to participate.
Their job is to post pictures, videos, tweets, and Facebook posts of their fan experience. You could start them out before the event with snacks, maybe a visit from the head coach as a thanks for coming and tips on what to look for, up front seats to the scrimmage, access to a select group of players after, pictures with mascot, cheerleaders, players, coaches-whatever you can pull off. I would make sure and give them a quick training up front via email and in person on best practices for them and guidelines for appropriate posts. Make sure your official accounts post pictures of the fun they are having, as well as retweeting and sharing the best of what they do in real time.
2. Have a social media event for fans at the event. I saw a great example of this the other day from Clair Wyant on Google Plus from the Arizona Diamondbacks Fan Fest on February 8. One of the real-time activities for fans at the event was a scavenger hunt. The details are explained in this link. I like this promotion because it engages fans at the venue and the prizes are easy to scale and copy: tickets and signed gear. What other ideas can you think of for real-time contests? If you have Tagboard or a similar set-up for your scoreboard, you may want to have a running conversation on a hashtag and post pictures and tweets during the event on the scoreboard. The hashtag is also a great way to help fans that can't make the event experience it virtually.
3. Don't forget the meat in the sandwich. I did a presentation at CASE Indiana in 2013 on Proactive PR and the power of promoting an event in real-time to create virtual fan experiences. If you're interested in the presentation notes, let me know. Sometimes we concentrate so much on promoting an event for attendance and reporting on an event afterwards that we miss the most engaging opportunity: Proactive PR. I like to use a sandwich illustration to explain. Which of these sandwiches would you like to eat?
Reactive PR is using social media for two basic purposes: getting people to show up for an event and reporting after the fact about the event. This is traditional PR at its best. The problem is, this method misses the real piece that offers the opportunity for affinity: the experience of the event. When we add media that reports the fan experience in real-time, that's the meat-the part of the sandwich everyone wants.
Today we have some pretty exciting bread options besides the old white bread: pretzel buns, ciabatta, brioche. Sometimes people think they are offering something very satisfying just by using fancy bread. But sandwiches without filling are not going to bring you back. They may stave your hunger, but they don't tickle the taste buds much. The guts of the sandwich is event social media in real-time. It takes human bodies to pull it off, but it is worth it. Social media can help your fans, on-site or virtual, have an affinity-building experience. Make a full social media plan to create a fan experience during the event. Think about eveything from hashtags to contests to crowdsourcing pictures-- tell the story in real-time.
I know August is a long way off, but keep your eyes open during Major League Baseball spring season. You're going to see a lot of innovative social media ideas you can copy and scale. Have you seen anything you want to try?