Thursday, October 21, 2010

Listen, Then Engage: How #Sportsbiz Should Approach Social Media

Via @jonathan_norman, I posted an article yesterday from the ever-thoughtful Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer on Carolina Panthers President Danny Morrison personally reaching out to season ticket holders and fans after receiving difficult-to-swallow emails.  Morrison took the opportunity to give fans the ability to share feedback (and frustration, candidly) on the current state of the 0-5 team.

This is undoubtedly a difficult time in the Panthers organization.  But Morrison took two important steps that others in his position have not.  He picked up the phone ... and then, he listened.  He could have posted a press release, had an intern reach out through social media, or even ignored the mails.  But Morrison -- true to everything I've heard about him -- took the road less traveled.

I feel like more brands, teams and leagues could learn a lot from this simple act.  I still see countless tweets with shameless self-promotion, trying to sell tickets or whatever bucket needs to be filled that particular day.  It's almost as bad as the tweets from those self-proclaimed #sportsbiz social media experts-hiding-as-mavens (a term I hate, by the way). 

One of the terms that's typically overused by these "mavens" is that they're a "learner."  And unfortunately, a lot of these people have ended up in social media positions with some pretty notable organizations.  They are fluent in a language that many teams and brands aren't, and they've frankly been empowered through the opportunity given to them.

Read their bios.  "Still learning" or "social media learner" fits their bills, but really down deep, they're pedantic.  They want to be seen as a trusted source of information, but it only comes off as forced and trite.  From those that have said they are "learning," they're really listening and looking for a teaching moment ... in other words, the opportunity to show how smart they think they are.  It's really rhetoric.

(I want to pause here for a second.  <on soapbox> You may read this and think that, you know what, this Norman guy is full of it too ... but here's what this blog is all about.  I see and hear a lot from a #sportsbiz and #sponsorship perspective on a daily basis, and I form opinions based on those interactions.  I wanted a forum to share these opinions out, and that's what this site is -- my unfiltered opinion.  It doesn't represent who I work for or the clients I represent.  This is just me and the way I see it. <off soapbox> )

A mentor of mine once told me, "Sometimes, the smartest man in the room says the least."  This man is one of few words, but when he says something, he's like E.F. Hutton: people listen.  And he wasn't even talking about himself in that statement, but he could be.

I am forcing myself to listen, not talk (this is out of my DNA, by the way) and apply some simple concepts to make myself a better asset to my clients and company.  People in the #sportsbiz or #sponsorship space should challenge themselves to do so as well. 

As sports marketers, I believe we should conduct ourselves in three ways:
  1. Listen and observe what our social media environment is telling us.  There are millions of fans out there that want to share their opinion.  It's our job to listen to their communication and decide a path of action.  We need to know the answers to these questions.  What do our fans want?  What do those fans as consumers need?  How can we address their problems, or better yet for us, capitalize on their opportunities?  What can we offer consumers that they can't get through other brands, or more importantly, from home watching on TV?
  2. Form a thoughtful response -- even if it is 140 characters.  We have become a society that communicates in fragments.  Take the time to consider what the best response might be, what your desired outcome is and how to reach it.  (I cannot underscore this first point enough in my own life: take the time.) Then take care and pride to communicate a formal response.  If you paid for tickets to see your team or had the opportunity for a unique experience with a brand through activation, how would you want to be treated?  Apply that concept to social media interactions.  And if all else fails, be sure and keep the longevity of your brand first and foremost.
  3. Definitively act and confidently support your actions.  I think my major issue is that these "mavens" jump right to the last part of that statement, without even really considering the other steps and they can't even really support their positions without hiding behind the number of followers they have.  Say something important ... and be there to back it up.  Then prove the interaction by showing the person on the other end that you're dedicated to seeing it through and paying it off.
Danny Morrison did all three of those things.  It's obvious that he "gets it."  Actions like what Morrison did make me more excited to work with that property.  I believe if an action is made at the top of the organization, it should trickle down.

Let's challenge ourselves.  Let's embrace the engagement opportunity we have before us.  Let's develop timely, relevant interaction.  Let's allow our fans to direct us, not vice versa. If we work hard enough, it will be obvious to your fans and consumers that we "get it" too.

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