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Fan Engagement Through Social

Let’s face it… COVID-19 has been a challenge for the sports world and fan engagement.

Seasons put on hold. Uncertain futures for players. Frustration for fans.

While live sport may have taken a hit, the conversation continues with the mobile phone filling the role normally occupied by bars and water coolers across the land. 

The social buzz behind sports hasn’t dimmed in this time. Quite the opposite in fact.

This past summer saw unprecedented levels of fan engagement in comparison to a ‘normal’ sports season:

– ESPN miniseries ‘The Last Dance‘ was the subject of over 1.5 million tweets during its finale episode.

– WWE’s Wrestlemania scored a staggering 13.8 million social media engagements across all platforms in April (in spite of a WrestleMania event being moved to its Performance Center).

The takeaway? 

Fans are chomping at the bit to talk about their favourite teams. They will continue to seek out the content and communities that allow them to do just that. 

In many ways the social media rubicon was crossed way before the pandemic in the states, with the NBA earning $350m in 2019 via social – a huge 19% of their overall revenue. 

As a global business however, we see teams across the globe who have been caught with their pants down – their ‘traditional’ sponsorship assets rendered ineffective and revenues damaged as a result. 

As teams & leagues resume something resembling normal, social media’s role in sports will continue to be the centerpiece. Rights holders can instantly:

– Keep fans up-to-date on team news (think: player signings, contracts, league announcements).

– Provide fans with opportunities to engage with teams and sound off (think: caption contests, Q&As).

– Highlight team-related community events and news.

Be Live. Be Social.

Let’s get to the brass tacks, and talk about some recent trends for social media in sports. 

The following trends and best practices are proven ways to engage your audience.

First, let’s give emphasis on real-time updates and “live” content. 

Much of what makes sports so buzz-worthy for social media is the fact that games happen in real-time. As on-demand inexorably replaces live events, it is only news and sport that are capable of generating such intense and focused conversation. 

And so anything teams can do to capture and encourage those real-time engagements is a plus. Some popular tactics for doing so include:

– Live Tweeting events such as games, press conferences or drafts.

– Providing fans with a team or game-specific hashtag to publish to.

– Gathering fan feedback via polls or Q&A sessions on Instagram or Facebook Live.

As always though, creativity rules.  

For social media in sports, that means constantly exploring new avenues and opportunities for fan engagement. It also means emphasising the social as well as the media (the clue is in the title). In short, make your account feel like it’s being run by a true fan rather than a corporation.

Be Human.

There’s no denying the potential disconnect between athletes on big-money contracts and the average fan.

A huge function of social media in sports is the ability for players to show their human, more personal side. Consider the following ways that teams and athletes alike can use social media to connect with fans.

We see a lot of playful content for athletes via Instagram Stories and TikTok.

Trending dances and challenges go hand in hand with athletes and social media. 

Content that makes fans laugh tends to perform well in terms of likes, shares and comments. Meanwhile, major team accounts aren’t afraid to jump on the meme bandwagon.

Doing so not only allows teams to show off their personality, but also imbues their posts with an element of virality.

In short, authenticity is key to creating connections with fans. Empower your athletes to tell their stories and engage with fans.

Many athletes are endearing and downright hilarious on social media. On the other side of the spectrum, some use their platforms primarily for activism.

Fan engagement.
Serena Williams’ TikTok account.

Either way, athletes should be trusted to be themselves.

Teams can learn from this and lead by example i.e. show what they’re doing to make a difference in their local communities. This includes coverage of charity events and initiatives that impact fans on the ground.

Additionally, social media allows athletes to go back-and-forth with fans directly – the relationship has a reciprocity that was impossible over a decade ago.   

Be Consistent, Be Secure. 

Sports social media accounts need to take special care of how they handle themselves.

For starters, don’t neglect account security for athletes and teams alike. It’s hard to find a team that hasn’t been the victim of a hacked Twitter account, signaling the need for more security when it comes to log-ins.

Additionally, teams and athletes need to be on the same page in terms of how they communicate and engage with their fans.

Avoiding social media apologies or potential backlash from fans can be tough for those in sports. This is partially due to teams having massive audiences, but also the currently charged political climate.

Athletes should be allowed to speak their minds, but teams should be particularly mindful of how they engage with followers. For example, how do you deal with trolls? Does your team have a distinct brand voice that extends to all of your accounts?

Teams should have conversations about values and what’s expected as a brand on social media. These expectations also extend to athletes and those responsible for making posts on behalf of a team’s account. Although social media policies for leagues aren’t public, establishing some “ground rules” is a smart move.

And with that, we wrap up our guide!

What do the future of sports and social media look like?

No matter how you slice it, social media will continue to play a major role in sports.

Especially as players return to the field and fans return to the stands, teams should do everything in their power to keep the buzz and momentum going via social media.

 The tips and best practices above can help you do exactly that.

If you haven’t already, make sure you check out Sportskred to see the latest trends for fan engagement in the world of sports and beyond.

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