The Social-Media ROI Equation

S3 panel explores balancing fan engagement with dollars and cents

A strong social-media strategy has skyrocketed to the top of sports organizations’ priority lists in recent years, and Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a host of other social platforms have become integral in how fans interact and consume live sports content. However, as sports organizations tout the importance of social media to branding and fan engagement, a question arises: when will it deliver a return on their investment?

“We do look for social media to bring in revenue, but we use social as a branding tool first and a business tool to bring in revenue second,” said New York Mets Director of Social Media Will Carafello at the 2nd Screen Summit: Sports event last month. “Keeping fans engaged is as good as ROI for us.”

Seeing Dollar Signs in the Social Sphere
That said, social media has become a legitimate revenue generator for many sports organizations.

The New York Mets’ Will Carafello

The New York Mets’ Will Carafello

In the case of the New Jersey Devils, where Carafello previously served as director of marketing, the team made significant strides on social revenue via sponsorship, jumping from a quarter of million dollars to well over a million in just one year.

In addition to sponsorship opportunities, teams are looking for unique strategies to drive fans toward purchasing tickets, merchandise, concessions, and other commodities. For example, to drive appetites — and wallets — to the concession stands at Citi Field, the Mets often tweet to promote a new food item or post a concessions discount on Facebook around midday or right before the gates open, when people are heading to the ballpark.

“We strategically place a post featuring some of the food we have at Citi Field, and we will see direct increases as a result,” Carafello explained. “So there is a lot of value in social platforms. It is a great avenue for us to reach our fans directly, but we do have revenue goals from a ticket and other sales standpoint on our social media.”

He added that his team tailors content to particular social platforms rather than posting the same text, photo, video, or other content across multiple platforms. In addition, his team breaks up the day into six-hour blocks and “looks at social media the way a TV network would,” consistently posting content throughout each day to keep fans engaged.

The Facebook Factor: Data, Data, and More Data
As of the 2015 Q1 earnings report issued in April, Facebook boasted 1.44 billion total monthly active users (65% of which are daily users) and 1.25 billion mobile users. Facebook’s ubiquitous presence among sports fans provides unique insight and gargantuan amounts of data on how the general population consumes content on a daily basis.

Facebook’s Rob Shaw

Facebook’s Rob Shaw

Facebook uses this sea of data to react to user trends and adapt its philosophy accordingly. Nowhere is this statement more true than when it comes to video: in just 18 months (as of July), activity grew from 400,000 video views a day to more than 4 billion. And that exponential growth is likely to continue.

“Seeing the industry — and humanity as a whole — move in different directions gives us a sense of where we need to move our products,” said Rob Shaw, global head, sports media, Facebook. “Two years ago, we really didn’t have much invested in video and didn’t really expect that to take off the way it did.

“But, looking at data,” he continued, “we learned a lot of things. We learned that people don’t like when advertising is between them and content, so we realized preroll was not something that worked great on our platform. We realized people want to share videos — both from professional media and [personal media] like the Ice Bucket Challenge, which was enormous on Facebook. And we are now investing in putting more resources to video.”

Facebook remains one of the only large-scale online video outlets to not allow preroll clips to be inserted into its video content. Although the tactic may seem risky, it is a decision that can be traced all the way to the top.

Socialbakers’ Bob Gearing (left) with Robert Gekchyan, senior executive director, technology, Deluxe Media

Socialbakers’ Bob Gearing (left) with Robert Gekchyan, senior executive director, technology, Deluxe Media

“It’s something that goes all the way up to [CEO Mark Zuckerberg]. He simply doesn’t think [preroll video] is a good experience,” said Shaw. “Because we have this scale of about 1.5 billion people a month, we can make those decisions. A lot of Websites cannot make the decision to just abandon the most popular way of monetizing video content. But our advertisers can still target an audience like no one else and provide content directly to an audience that is interested in a very specific topic.”

Video Takes Precedence
When it comes to social media — and the Internet in general — video is king. Although this may seem obvious today, it was not long ago that video was rather rare on social platforms. As video jumps to the forefront, sports brands and organizations are quickly adapting, creating specifically for social outlets engaging video that will reel fans in and keep them coming back.

“The one thing that I take away with social is, year over year, it’s completely evolving,” said Bob Gearing, director, strategic accounts, North America, Socialbakers. “A few years ago, people were just trying to build up their networks and then take those networks and actually start getting reach and engagement. Now [it] is becoming socially native, and [providers are] able to share out that video so people are actually and coming and looking for content on a regular basis. That is why we see a lot of the media brands surpassing even the folks that are paying for visibility on those [platforms].”

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