This guest blog is by Kevin Saghy as part of our themed content hosted the first week of each month, with November focusing on professional sports organizations. Kevin is the public relations and marketing specialist for the Chicago Cubs. You can connect with Kevin on Twitter: @CredibleKev or @CubsInsider.
As social media becomes a common offering from big brands, consumers’ expectations have begun to change. Interaction is the name of the game. Customers were once pleasantly surprised when a corporation replied to individuals’ tweets. Now, there’s an expectation that a tweet will lead to a solution—and quickly. This can create a difficult environment to “wow” your social media followers. So how do the Cubs go above and beyond? We interact with our fans on a personal level online, then connect with our fans in a memorable way offline.
Since we started the @CubsInsider Twitter handle, fans have been able to approach the front office about topics ranging from player stats to where the closest chicken sandwich is located in relation to their seats. They’ve taken full advantage of that opportunity, and we’re thrilled to answer their questions.
The conversation doesn’t stop there, however. We strive to engage fans offline through in-seat visits and giveaways at Wrigley Field, prize mailings, social media-specific events, face-to-face meetings with bloggers, educational talks to classrooms, or even care packages sent through the mail. These efforts show our fans that we’re not just talking the talk; we’re investing time and energy to learn more about our fans and reward them for their loyalty to the Cubs.
Below are a few social media lessons we’ve learned that are particularly useful in the sports industry. It’s worthwhile to emphasize that all of the tactics listed in this post must be driven by a genuine desire to interact with your brand’s followers, and the people behind the wheel must embrace this approach. Social media is about building relationships, and your community will quickly turn against marketing speak that doesn’t feel sincere.
With that background, here are a few takeaways that helped establish the Cubs’ reputation online:
Get to know your influencers
When I first joined the Cubs, one of my first goals was to learn who was covering the team online and serve as a trusted resource to those individuals. The Cubs have a passionate following of bloggers and they haven’t always had a go-to source within the front office. I researched our influential blogs and tracked writers’ personalities on Twitter, then reached out to begin a relationship. I quickly learned that not all of our bloggers were interested in an open dialogue with the team, and it would take an honest and sustained presence to establish their trust. In fact, some social media users were outright skeptical when we created @CubsInsider on Twitter, believing we were online simply to sell.
Though sometimes difficult, I began arranging in-person meetings with both supporters and skeptics to establish our credibility. I visited Twitter followers in their seats during games, met for coffee or set up lunches so I could listen to our fans’ comments, concerns and questions about the team. I also asked for their input about what they’d like to see from the Cubs online. This allowed some of our influencers to shape the role and best practices of @CubsInsider. Within a few months, members of that originally-skeptical audience saw or heard about our efforts to meet one-on-one with their peers, and they could tell we sincerely wanted to share a connection with our fans. Many of our bloggers have become vocal advocates for @CubsInsider, and their buy-in serves as an endorsement to thousands of readers that we may not have reached without blogger support.
There are several ways to identify your influencers online. Klout is a free tool that identifies your primary influencers. Paid social media monitoring platforms offer expanded insight into who you should engage online. However, the best way to learn about your brand’s influencers is to spend some time observing who discusses your company most often and whose tweets are being shared as authority. These are the folks you want in your corner, as their impact on your reputation is exponential.
Small gestures can make a big impact
The Cubs (and many other sports teams) are constantly watching what other companies are doing on social media, and we’re all looking to implement the next big thing. That said, many of our most powerful moments with fans have come as a result of small, simple gestures.
On Twitter, we’re proactively monitoring for opportunities to make a difference. If a fan tweets, “It’s my family’s first time at a Wrigley Field,” we’ll likely ask that fan where they’re sitting and stop by with a small gift. Even more, we’ll stay for a few minutes to hear their story and make sure everyone is having a good time at the ballpark. Those visits are simple to coordinate and they take 10 minutes of my time, however that interaction could become a lifelong memory for a first-timer at Wrigley Field. These fans can’t wait to tell their friends about the experience, resulting in priceless tweets like these:
@EC78: A #Cubs employee just came to our section to personally deliver souvenirs to my cousins, who are here for 1st time. Wow. @CubsInsider
@EC78: Still can’t get over your thoughtful gesture #Cubs. To say that was really nice is an understatement. Two new fans for life. @CubsInsider
In-game visits and giveaways are good, but we can also address and resolve negative experiences through social media. We reply to fans’ complaints online or offline if needed, whether they’re addressed directly to us or discovered through monitoring.
People don’t always need material gifts to be satisfied. Social media can offer a sense of community during exciting or difficult times. After beloved Ron Santo passed away last year, we collected and shared uplifting memories from our Twitter and Facebook pages. That stream of positive stories helped console many of our followers and front office staff. We often share fans’ tweets and pictures, which is very meaningful to our followers. Even a personal reply surpasses what many companies offer online.
I’ll conclude this point with a story that remains one of my favorites. We learned through several @CubsInsider followers that Cubs fan Ryan Maloney’s seven-week-old son, Rhys, was recovering from surgery in the hospital. W
e sent him a care package, which led to a series of tweets and a blog post from Ryan. He returned the online-to-offline favor by traveling to Chicago for a game—even returning for the rescheduled make-up game—just to say “thank you” in person. You can read about Rhys’ story here.
Don’t lose sight of your core value
@CubsInsider has carved out a niche for personal interaction, however we must not lose sight of our purpose and core offering. We’re an official outlet for Cubs news and a representative of Major League Baseball, which means our conversations won’t include rumored deals, unofficial reports or opinions that could undermine others within the organization. This sounds like common sense, however I’ve seen too many corporate accounts that reflect an individual’s point of view more than that of an organization. These companies often show up in the news and become case studies for what not to do.
Cubs fans sign up to follow our social media platforms because they want content and insight that no one outside of the organization can provide. Sweepstakes, contests, personal visits, gifts—these are all bonuses that help exceed expectations, but can ultimately be found elsewhere. Don’t forget to meet your consumers’ expectations with the basic content they’re expecting before jumping to exceed expectations with the extras.
The approach outlined in this blog post results in a very rewarding social media platform, both for our followers and our staff. We’ve seen that doing the right thing both online and offline is the best way to establish a meaningful connection with our fan base. Doing the right thing turns out to be good for business as well. Over the last two years, the club has seen a 320 percent increase in social media followers with a corresponding boost in social media-sourced revenue and web traffic. We’re looking at several new programs for the 2012 season to build on this success.
I hope you’ll shoot us a tweet next time you’re at Wrigley Field. We’ll be sure to say hello!