On Thursday, November 5, I was a panelist at Football Partnership’s Tweet – Blowing the Whistle on Social Media, a discussion about soccer and social media. The panelists also included Greg Lalas (Goal.com), Chris Schlosser (MLSnet.com) and Chris Toy (Studs-Up.com). For more about the panelists, check out the blog I posted the day after the event. Also, all the photos are courtesy of Jesse Winter Photography. You can see more at FootballPartnerships.com.
Like everybody else it seems, I found the panel to be an enlightening discussion. In particular, I thought it was fun to learn how four totally different organizations – and all the people gathered in the room – are using social media to advance/enhance their businesses.
Now that I’ve had some time to reflect on the event, I’ve boiled the things I learned down to one overly-simplified statement for a relatively complex idea: No two companies, no matter how similar they may seem on the surface, will ever have the same social media marketing strategy. There’s no magic pill. You can’t see somebody else’s work and copy it. The panel topic was “Soccer and Social Media”, so on one hand you might think all panelists are implementing similar social media strategies. But in fact, each of our approaches is very, very different.
In sum, our panel discussion led me to believe that social media campaigns are based largely on the following three factors: Company Structure, Employees and Audience.
1. Company Structure
The way a company is set up directly impacts the organizational strategy of a social media campaign. Here are some thoughts about the companies represented at Tweet.
WPS: Women’s Professional Soccer operates as franchise-based organization, meaning each team is individually owned and operated. Therefore the teams control pretty much everything they do… within league operating standards, of course. This definitely transcends into social media. The WPS league office provides a social platform for each of our teams to engage in at a local level, the WPS Fan Corner. We make recommendations to each of our teams, discuss our strategies as a group and share ideas frequently. But at the end of the day each team develops their own campaign, and lives and dies by their own implementation in the local markets.
MLS: Major League Soccer is run as a single entity organization based out of the league headquarters in Manhattan. Many marketing decisions are made on a national level. While each team is free to pursue their own social media campaigns, it seems the league is not a leader in this space (yet) and therefore the team and league social presence, to me, feels a bit fragmented online. I was interested to hear that Chris and his crew at MLSnet.com are developing a strategy to bring team messaging to local markets, but we have yet to see how this will evolve, and of course, how it will reflect the company structure overall.
Studs-Up: Chris Toy owns Studs-Up.com, and he makes his marketing decisions on his own. He’s a stats-driven guy who puts 100% of his marketing dollars into Facebook. I guess if you write the comics, host the website and develop the social accounts on your own, you can do whatever you want. Check out his Twitter – you’ll get the vibe.
Goal.com – Goal.com is an online soccer news outlet. Greg Lalas has a collection of authors who write about just about anything and everything soccer. Their site is developed on a system where users can add comments and thoughts to any content that Goal.com publishes – so by its very nature Goal.com is a social community. The company makes money through ad revenue, which is largely based on page impressions. So Greg’s social media strategy seeks to drive traffic back to his main URL. Check them out on Twitter and Facebook.
In essence, social media is about engaging and interacting with people, not companies. The voice of those people responsible for the social media marketing will inevitably become the voice of that company. Here are some thoughts about the companies represented at Tweet.
WPS: When I started working at the Chicago Red Stars as the Director of Online Marketing in June 2008, one of my main points to the entire staff is that everybody is responsible for sharing the Red Stars message. “Facebook is now your job,” I’m sure I sounded like a broken record. As an organization, we started accounts at just about every social outlet we thought might work to reach our audience – Yelp, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Hi5, Fan Corner, Craigslist, and more – and pressed our organizational message through those channels. Then each of our staff was encouraged to start personal Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, MySpace pages, etc. and communicate WITH the brand and WITH the fans through the CRS and WPS pages.
I came to the WPS league office in December 2008 and joined Head of New Media, Karyn Lush, in encouraging our league-office peers to employ similar tactics. WPS has a Facebook page, MySpace page, Twitter page, etc. We also have a league-wide social network called the WPS Fan Corner. These platforms provide a place for our staff to engage WITH the brand and WITH the people who care about Women’s Professional Soccer online. For example, the Commissioner and Chief Operating Officer blog at the Fan Corner. The Director of PR, Legal Counsel and Head of New Media tweet and re-tweet the WPS message with regularity. I answer questions and post comments to fans blogs across all networks, while blogging at the Fan Corner myself. In essence, this allows our fans to communicate back with the actual people who work at WPS, not just an anonymous brand.
Goal.com: It seems Greg Lalas has developed similar tactics at Goal.com. As I mentioned earlier, Goal.com is a news outlet that offers fans a way to engage WITH the authors and WITH fellow fans on the actual website – so right off the bat, Goal.com isn’t just an anonymous brand. Instead, it’s actually a platform for engagement. Goal.com also maintains a Facebook presence and a Twitter page. So there are more places where fans, authors and employees can interact directly with each other online, and drive traffic back to the main site to communicate more. Importantly, many authors have their own social presence (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, etc) where fans can engage them directly. Personally I think Goal.com is doing a good job of harnessing the power of social interaction by embracing the reach, power and voice of its employees.
Studs-Up.com: Chris Toy communicates his message and links back to his main URL through the communities where his targeted audience already hangs out online. On his About page, Chris says:
If you’re looking to get in touch with me to ask questions, check on advertising opportunities or just have a chat then the best way is via email. You can also follow me on Twitter.
Every Mon/Wed/Fri I channel my energy and football-induced dementia into a new Studs Up comic. In my spare time I like to play football, master a variety of football video games, read about football, and sleep on my football-shaped pillow. I wear pyjamas made out of old footballs. They are extremely uncomfortable.
MLS: Major League Soccer has incorporated comments into their site and has added social links to all of their articles, which makes their centralized online presence very similar to Goal.com – a place to interact with the brand itself. MLS also has a Facebook and a Twitter page. But while I learned a lot about the future of the MLS digital strategy at Tweet, but I didn’t learn very much about the tactics their employees currently undertake. I don’t want to make assumptions, so can anybody reading this help clarify here? Are employees encouraged to interact with the MLS or teams’ fans? There are a few MLS teams who have built social sites – like the Houston Dynamo, for example. But this seems to be the team’s initiative, with little more than the league’s moral support. I tend to get my MLS news from other fans. Perhaps that IS the MLS social strategy? I really don’t know and would love some insight here.
I thought Alex Kotler was wise to lead off the panel discussion by asking each of us who our audience is, since that’s probably the one thing we all had in common: the soccer fan (although the demographics of that group certainly varied). Each of the panelists at Tweet had a solid understanding of their target audience, which I greatly respected. Companies must understand who is on the other side of the table in order to effectively converse with them online.
To take it one step further however, in my opinion, you can’t truly define your audience until you assimilate into their communities and conversations. But I’m going to be brief on this point as I think this is a full blog post for another day here at Soccer Science.
After the Event
After Tweet – Blowing the Whistle on Social Media, we all went to the neighboring bar for a drink. It was especially engaging to watch the Real Salt Lake vs. Columbus Crew in an MLS playoff game with the league staff.
Then, after the lightweights all went home, Football Partnerships owner and event host Alex Kotler, SoccerInteractive.com owner Tim Horton, FC Buffalo owner Ryan Knapp and I went to Brother Jimmies barbeque for a nightcap and impromptu interview. Audio and transcript below.
Amanda: I’m here at Jimmy’s Barbeque. Haha, Here I am. I’m here with Alex Kotler of Football Partnerhips. Alex, what do you think was the biggest learning – the piece of learning that people tonight – the guests of the panel – will walk away with?
Alex Kotler: I guess in terms of nuggets of knowledge, people saw a diverse array of how four different professionals and organizations were utilizing and leveraging social media, so they can then take this knowledge and apply it to their own businesses, be it clubs, be it merchandising. Whatever it may be. And they also see the importance and the value of having dedicated personnel to making good use of social media.
Amanda: Tell us your name, Sir.
Tim Horton: Tim Horton.
Amanda: And what’s your website?
Tim Horton: SoccerInteractive.com
Amanda: And Tim, did you enjoy tonight’s panel?
Tim Horton: I found it very enlightening.
Alex Kotler: That’s cuz you’re sitting next to the host, haha.
Amanda: What did you find most enlightening about the panel?
Tim Horton: I think the variety of ideas of how social media is being utilized and considered. By leagues, by individuals, to build their businesses on, and that it can be profitable. It’s a powerful tool if used correctly.
Amanda: Do you use social networking?
Tim Horton: Why, yes, Amanda I do use social networking. It’s funny you should say that! I have my own community called Soccer Interactive.
Amanda: Wow! And what is Soccer Interactive, Tim?
Tim Horton: So we basically try and focus on coach and parent education, which is sort of a niche market. We don’t feel there’s a place where you can go and ask questions, share ideas, and really be part of a community of like-minded people who are trying to promote and continue their education when it comes to soccer.
Amanda: Educating coaches. I like that. Very important, right!? Okay, We’re going to go around the table. Tell us your name.
Ryan Knapp: Ryan Knapp.
Amanda: And Ryan, tell us your website.
Ryan Knapp: Ah, which one?