Q&A: Social networking uncovered

Sport Business News

"Within the sports industry, community and chat have always traditionally been stalwarts of the online world, so social networking based around sports properties is a natural progression of engaging more closely with fans, and if done well, can be successful."Digital media expert Rachael Church–Sanders, editorial director of Major Events International and director of ZagZig Media takes part in a Q&A with Slovenia–based SPORTO Magazine. This article has been reproduced with SPORTO's kind permission.

In the last few years we have seen extreme development of social media (networks). Speaking about numbers, there is more than 170 social network online services. Only Facebook, leading social network, has over 350m active users, which is enormous number. Where are the limits of this growth and development? "As is the case with all categories on the internet, new social networking sites will continue to be launched as quickly as others go out of business. The survivors will be those with a strong brand–such as Facebook–or those with a niche proposition. Within the sports industry, community and chat have always traditionally been stalwarts of the online world, so social networking based around sports properties is a natural progression of engaging more closely with fans, and if done well, can be successful. In terms of general overall social networking growth, many broadband markets are still to reach maturity, so the outlook is good for now. "Lots of theories, connected to social media/networks, have been born. Some of them say that social media won't last long; it's just a matter of time (two years), when the popularity will stop and new modern things will come. What do you think, what's the real "life time" of social media? "If growth on social networking sites slows, sites will have to look outside their core audiences for new users, such as older people. I already know many people who are spending less time on social networking sites now that the initial novelty has worn off, or have consolidated their activities on several sites in favour of one. For many other people however, updating their social networking sites has become as commonplace as checking their e–mail or text messages and I can't see this changing for a few years. Social networking companies are already looking at ways to keep people on their sites longer such as offering games and this will continue. "According to latest data: younger population (below 25) spends more time on social networks than on TV, what demonstrates the power of social media and its environment. That means that social media is a "threat" to the TV and really represents a mass communicative tool? What is your look on this? "Television will always remain a powerful medium, however brands are wising up to the fact that they need to be multiplatform in their approach to reaching younger people because a 'one medium–fits all' approach no longer works. An advert for a new breakfast cereal on television may no longer be as effective as an amusing or quirky viral for the same product on YouTube for example. Brand monitoring of social networking communities will increase in sophistication so that companies can begin to understand the 'why' of consumer chatter as well as the who, what and when, therefore giving the platform even greater scope for monetisation. "Social networks are also inevitable connected to sports industry. Latest example: YouTube bought rights for live coverage of Indian Premier League cricket, which means–being a bit optimistic–that Facebook or any other social network could buy rights for football World Cup or other important competitions. Is that possible or is more unreal declaration? "Convergence of delivery and devices is already having an impact on the way sports rights are sold and there will be a greater move to selling rights by window of time (live and delayed) rather than by platform, such as is the case with the English Premier League and also the International Olympic Committee from Sochi 2014 onwards. In this regard, the method of delivery will become irrelevant and it will come down to whether the potential broadcaster (regardless of platform) can afford the rights. Certainly YouTube's parent company Google has deep pockets and I wouldn't rule out the company buying some heavy duty (rather than niche) sports rights one day. YouTube's recent move to start showing independent Hollywood movies is a step in this direction. Remember however that many countries still have a protected list for major sports events, so free–to–air television may always remain 'king' for crown jewel events. "About social networks and sport industry has been lately written and spoken in numerous occasions, but the clear question is, if social networks are communication prolongation or even first communication tool? What's your opinion about it? "Whilst much of the content on community sites is user originated as well as user generated, as with every other type of media, there is a desire for unique and high quality mainstream content and this creates a significant opportunity for sports properties to engage with their fans. The NBA for example has used Facebook successfully during All–Star Games to allow users to choose camera positions. While fans watched the game online last year for example, all the conversations from Facebook from the other people who were watching were pulled into the page on the right hand side. Fans could see the conversations as a whole, or just what their friends were saying. Fans could also vote on which players they wanted to see via the Player Cams. "There is also a present question: if you have a lot of "fans" or "followers", how many of them are truly interested in you, your twits, stories etc. ? What is the number/percentage, which is relevant and, interested and is not only a "daily / season fan"? "Increasingly, sports properties and brands are using twitter and other applications within the social media space to connect with their fans. Blogging has been popular with individual sports stars for a few years–often being used by media owners to generate traffic to their websites. However, the advent of twitter has now given even the most technologically–shy sports stars a convenient avenue in which to voice their thoughts. In terms of measuring which followers are most relevant to you as a sports property, it would be better to assume that they are all relevant. You should treat the fan who follows your tweet once a month with the same respect and enthusiasm as one who follows daily. "So far we understand social networks as communication tools, but showing numbers of "fans"/"followers" maybe doesn't have a real linking with sales. So, how to use social networks in connection with sales activities? Are there any opportunities? "Marketers are increasingly using social networking to reach consumers. Brands such as Adidas and Puma have been savvy in creating virals on YouTube based around some of the properties they sponsor. And digital and mobile will play an unprecedented role in the fan experience in South Africa this summer. Sony Ericsson will use its sponsorship of the 2010 FIFA World Cup for example to create a digital community of sports fans. Creating a feelgood factor around your brand can create positive 'buzz' that can translate into purchases. However, more time needs to be spent understanding what online consumers want and how they behave as well as considering what is already out there. It is important for a brand/sponsor to appreciate that building a relationship with its target market will take a bit of time and won't happen as soon as the first ball of a tournament has been kicked. " As new media specialist: what is your piece of advice for sports industry in terms of social networking? What's the right approach in usage of social networks? Which one to use, how often, what's the correct strategy? "One of the worst things a sports property can do is launch a social networking site or application and then not keep it updated. That seems to happen alarmingly frequently. Athletes who don't have time to update their sites or twitter feeds regularly often rely on a third party and such feeds can lose the personal touch. And of course, many athletes have run foul of twitter or Facebook by blurting out personal secrets or uploading inappropriate photos that they wouldn't even want their own mothers to know about or see. Less haste, more consideration is probably a good social networking mantra. "Could you expose some good cases of athletes or clubs (globally looking) which use a social networks in best way? Why their cases are better than others? Where's the difference? "Last year I awarded English Premier League football club Chelsea the accolade of SportBusiness' Ultimate Sports Website 2009 partly due to its prowess in the social networking/use–generated space, such as its Blue Tube and The Bridge services. Chelsea took the decision to engage with social networking and user generated content rather than trying to control it which has proven to be very smart. The club was quick to jump into bed with YouTube back in 2007 and has now added twitter to its social networking portfolio. The club also caters for multiple languages, recognising the global power and popularity of its brand. I have already mentioned how creative the NBA has been with social networking and the NHL can also be commended. Last year for example, the NHL hosted a series of 'Tweet–Ups' across North America. In 25 NHL cities, twitter users congregated in bars and restaurants to watch the opening night of the NHL playoffs in a unique social–media atmosphere, while tweeting about their experiences. "Maybe majority of athletes/clubs just don't know what to use: website, Twitter, blogging, Facebook etc. What do you think, what is the best combination, where to be focused? Could you tell us one or more good cases on this field? "On the basis that you probably wouldn't hire a vegetarian to run a steakhouse restaurant, sports properties should consider hiring a social networking or digital marketing expert to manage their efforts in this space. "There are also some negative effects of using social networks: "loosing personality" (someone uses your name, such as case of Phil Taylor on Facebook) etc. Where do you see social networks negative in connection of sport? Why? "The open and instant nature of social media tools means that they are not without potential pitfalls. There are many examples of sports personalities uploading inappropriate images or comments and being admonished by their superiors–although of course by then the damage has often already been done. Twitter can however turn negative news into something more positive. For example, when Michael Phelps apologised to fans on twitter for his drugs misdemeanours, it seemed to reverse some of the negative feelings towards the US Olympic swimmer and improve his image. In terms of impersonators, the popularity of a fake Shaquille O'Neal twitter account famously motivated the NBA player to launch 'The_Real_Shaq' in November 2008. Twitter has since taken steps to validate celebrity accounts on its service. "You are also involved in organization (founder) of Sport and Technology Conference with 5 editions in previous years. Can you shortly introduce us the history of the event, event target group and programme focus? "I co–founded ArkSports in 2003 with Luke Boyle (who is now head of business development at Press Association Sport) and by the time we sold the company to SportBusiness Group PLC in 2007 we had built up a successful consulting company and the Sport and Technology brand. Sport and Technology was an ezine with over 20, 000 readers at the time of the sale and was the first online publication to cover the digital sports space. Our spin–off event Sport and Technology: The Conference was first held in 2005, sponsored by BT and held at the telecoms company's conference facilities at BT Centre in London representing the first time an external event had ever been hosted by the company. The conference has been held annually at BT Centre ever since (apart from year at Inmarsat's London headquarters) and I organised and chaired the event from 2005 up to and including last year–2009. The conference has attracted an impressive array of speakers over the years and personally I have enjoyed moderating some interesting debates. The smallest television screen in the world and even a new sport (Leet) have been unveiled at the event in the past. When we held the first conference in June 2005, the likes of Facebook and twitter didn't even exist!"You are also author of several business reports including Sport on the Internet, The Global Business of Sports Television, Bidding and Hosting: The Guide to Successful Sporting Events and Ultimate Sports Cities . . . Expertise, know–how is the key for success in sport–business. What would be lessons from your experience for involved in sport–business? "I have always been a great fan of identifying a niche and then going for it – first–mover advantage certainly helps. When I was a Financial Times (FT) journalist in the mid–1990s, the internet was something we were just starting to get to grips with and e–mail was mostly used as an inter–office communication tool. Most of us used to forget that we could actually e–mail people we couldn't already see across the room! Being a sports fan myself, I always felt there was potential to write something about how sports properties were using the internet in those early days and therefore wrote Sport on the Internet in my first year of leaving the FT and going it alone [the year 2000]. I'm sure the fact that it was the only report on the subject at the time helped with the high volume of sales, plus led to my invitation to speak at the IOC Congress on New Media in December 2000 as one of the youngest speakers there. Whether it be Sport and Technology, Ultimate Sports Cities or my Global Business of Poker Report, finding those subjects that no–one has covered extensively and being first to market has always been important to me. "Something more relaxed for the end: do you use social networks? Which ones? Why? Which one you like most? "I often go on twitter or Facebook to see what sports properties or brands are up to and how many followers they have, but I have never posted any of my own content on a social networking site. Writing all day for a living makes one less enamoured to write socially too! I do however tune in weekly to an online user–generated show called Kellow's Bootlaces that covers the football team I support–Exeter City. Otherwise, if I'm not actually watching Exeter City games in person, rather than spending time online, I'd much rather read a good book or go running with Flackie, my Parson Terrier, who of course is named after an Exeter City legend, Steve Flack. "Thank you very much for the answers!About SPORTO SPORTO organises the annual International Sports Marketing & Sponsorship Conference SPORTO Slovenia. The goal of SPORTO as the leading regional annual Sports Marketing & Sponsorship Conference is to bring together all the actors involved in sports business and marketing sector (sponsors, agencies, clubs, organisations, media) and to help to develop sports marketing expertise in our region. This year, SPORTO is going to be held for the seventh year in a row and will take place on 29–30 November in Portoroz, one of the most favourite of Slovene tourist destinations. In 2009, the event hosted more than 350 delegates (mostly from Slovenia) from companies, agencies, sports clubs and associations, media etc. SPORTO co–operates with all the main media in Slovenia, its organisation partner is the Olympic Committee of Slovenia and it is a member of the European Sponsorship Association and Europaische Sponsoring Boerse. In previous years it has hosted many eminent guests from Real Madrid CF, SportBusiness Group, SportFive, Eurosport, Euroleague, Unicaja Malaga, WTA Sony Ericsson Tour, HSV Hamburg, SC Heerenveen, Grosswaldstadt, Deloitte Sportbusiness, Mastercard and others. Foreign speakers' lectures are held in English and simultaneous translated to Slovene. SPORTO magazine, the company's sports marketing and sponsorship magazine is published twice a year (April and October), and made available free of charge to all past SPORTO delegates and also as a supplement to Marketing Magazine, the only Slovene marketing magazine. S. V.–RSA d. o. o. /SPORTO konferenca, Brnčičeva 51, 1000 Ljubljana, t:+386 1 561 43 50, gsm: 041 373 707, e: jure. doler@sv–rsa. com

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