Social Media Strategies for Event Organizers Abstract: The marketing methods of yesteryear are losing their grip. In today‟s wired world, if you want to reach the target demographic for your sporting event, you need to include online social media in your marketing strategies. Social media allow you to connect in a personal and individualized way with your audience. Social media encourage two-way conversation and offer a limitless range of creative opportunities for both gathering information and getting the word out about your event. When you‟re creating your social media strategy, it helps to follow a step-by-step plan. It begins by setting a handful of specific and manageable goals. Then you must get to know your market. What are the online habits of your target audience? Once you know this, you can choose your “weapons” – which social media will give you the best access to your target group. After deciding whether you should build your own site or leverage an existing one, develop a long-term commitment. As you implement your marketing plan, look for ways to leverage technology to make your job easier. Finally, keep the Four C‟s (Content, Context, Connection and Community) in mind. Social Media Strategies for Event Organizers Just in case you‟ve been napping for the past twenty years: the world of marketing has been undergoing a revolution. Only a few short decades ago, marketing was done mainly through print, TV, direct mail, signs and displays, and door-to-door sales. In today‟s wired, interconnected world, those traditional marketing methods are quickly going the way of the slide-rule. Not only are they costly, but they fail to target your key demographics. TV advertising, for example, is like fishing with a massive drift net. You throw it out to everyone, hoping to “catch” your desired audience somewhere within it. By contrast, online fishing methods are more like using a rod and reel with a specially designed lure. You decide exactly which fish you want to catch and you go after it with targeted precision. Today‟s marketing is all about connecting, person to person. One of the key tools you can use to make that connection is social media sites. That‟s why when Procter & Gamble wanted to promote its line of feminine products to young women, it started beinggirl.com. According to Procter & Gamble, this site has been four times more effective than traditional marketing, at a fraction the cost. Leveraging social media is a hugely powerful tool for five reasons: 1. It allows you to target very specific demographics. 2. It allows you to start a conversation instead of just displaying a product. 3. It allows your target audience to contribute meaningfully to the conversation. 4. It allows you to create a trusting bond with your audience. 5. It allows you to share free content. What exactly do we mean by “social media”? Well, Wikipedia (itself a shining example of the term) defines social media as “Internet- and mobile-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings.” In essence, all that is required to be considered a social medium is the online sharing of content by more than one person. With this broad understanding in mind, here are some of the main types of social media today: Blogs and Micro-Blogs. Blogs are an online method of publishing fresh news, information and commentary. They are among the most popular social media technologies. In many sports markets, blogs provide the only real-time news. Hence, they are the first stop on the Internet every day for many athletic competitors. Some examples of sports blogs are: insidenikerunning.nike.com (running), sailinganarchy.com (sailing), curlnews.blogspot.com (curling) and chessninja.com (chess). Blogs provide a valuable service to competitors who crave up-to-the-minute information about the sport they love. Micro-blogs are a little more interactive than blogs and allow for two-way conversations. Many companies are trying to leverage micro-blogs to build awareness, promote products, and create communities. Compete-At, for example, produces several micro-blogs on Twitter that provide the latest news and information to particular sports markets. Check out: twitter.com/RunningScoop, twitter.com/CurlingScoop, twitter.com/FishingScoop, and twitter.com/SailingScoop. Social Network Sites (SNS). Social networks can be defined as online communities of people connected by shared interests, needs or activities. Most social networking sites provide concrete ways for users to interact and post content. Some have wide appeal like Facebook (facebook.com) and MySpace (myspace.com), while some focus on specific interests. SNS have become a dominant means of connecting to people in the 21st Century. The keys to evaluating a particular SNS for your purposes are to look at its size (more specifically, your target market’s size on the SNS) and its activity. Who uses it and what do they do when they‟re on the site? Facebook is currently the largest SNS on the Internet, with over 125 Million users and counting. Facebook, by its sheer size, is sure to cover a large portion of your target market. However, there are also some very active specialty-sport SNS. A well-groomed social network is a great way to both spread and gather news and information. Internet Forums. Forums are one of the oldest forms of social media on the Internet and trace their roots back to the late „70s. Unlike blogs, forums are designed to facilitate conversations on specific topics between multiple people. A few examples of sports-driven forums are SportsForums.net, NX Sports, Sport Talk, NFL Smackdown, and RacingNascar.com. Wikis. A wiki is a site that features user-provided and user-edited informational content. To make your own wiki successful, you must be able to attract a large community that will contribute content and editing. However your event might already be listed on existing wikis. For example the Transpacific Yacht Race has a Wikipedia entry at: wikipedia.org/wiki/Transpacific_Yacht_Race. How do you use sites like Wikipedia to promote your event? The key is to know where your event is listed and to check the entry for accuracy. If it is not listed, try to get it listed. The more links pointing back to your event, the better! This will not only send you more visitors but will also improve your ranking in search engines such as Google and Yahoo. Photo and Video Sharing. These sites provide ways for users to share, comment on, and display photos and videos. There are many photo sharing sites such as Flickr (flickr.com), Zoomr (zooomr.com), Photobucket (photobucket.com), and SmugMug (smugmug.com) to name just a few. There are also sites designed to share and stream video such as Vimeo (vimeo.com), Revver (revver.com/), and, of course, the phenomenally successful YouTube (youtube.com). Not only can you use these sites to share event images and videos, but you can leverage them for resource-intensive activities like streaming video. You can embed content from these sites within your own site without incurring hosting and bandwidth costs. The world of social media offers limitless creative opportunities for connecting with people who love your sport. If you are not using social media as a crucial part of your marketing strategy, then you are scheduling yourself for extinction. Join the 21st Century! Creating a Social Media Strategy Social media are a vital resource for promoting your events in the 21st Century. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Wikipedia provide endless opportunities to connect, one-to-one, with thousands - even millions - of raving fans of your sport. As you think about how to leverage this mind-boggling new resource, though, it‟s easy to become overwhelmed. So when you‟re creating your social media strategy, follow a simple step-by-step plan. Step 1: Set your goals. Clearly state your goals and constantly check them against your marketing intentions and your concrete results. Write goals down and be specific. Don‟t have too many goals but focus on what is important and keep an eye toward diversity. It is always better to have a few goals and meet them than to go after pie in the sky. Your goals might include, for example, reconnecting with a certain percentage of your previous event competitors, increasing your network size and generating a certain amount of new content every day/week/month. Whatever your specific goals, remember that your plan is going to take time and don‟t have unrealistic expectations. Rome wasn‟t built in a blah, blah... Step 2: Know your market. Try to understand the online habits and preferences of your event competitors, spectators and sponsors. Get to know their “social technographic profiles.” Do the research. Talk to people, surf the net. Identify the demographics of your target group(s) and then identify the social media they‟re most likely using and how they‟re using them. Step 3: Pick your weapons. Choose the online tools that best match your goals and targets. Don‟t put all your eggs in one basket but, rather, have a mix of technologies and sites. The idea is to diversify, not duplicate. You‟ll probably want to use a strategic mix of Social Network Sites (SNS), Forums and Blogs. Pick a general SNS like Facebook and then a couple of sport-/event-specific forums and blogs. This strategy gives you a mix of coverage to optimize results. When using the SNS, accept invitations and build up your friends lists. Use the Status Updates to your full advantage. Post often, but not to the point of annoyance. Create fan pages. Join Groups and contribute to discussions, but also start your own Groups. On the forums, become active. Post often and, more importantly, supply answers and insightful comments. Keep these insights positive and helpful, not negative or self- serving. Consider making a donation to the site (usually less than $50). This shows your support of the community and instantly raises your standing. Lastly, consider advertising on the site. This can be a very cost-effective platform. As for blogs, know that starting your own blog is a major commitment and growth can be slow. In most cases you are better off finding blogs that your target audience is already following and see if you can get involved. Consider contacting the blogger. Most bloggers are always looking for content and ideas, so help them out. Give them exclusives. Let them know what you are doing that is unique. Feed them press releases, news items. Make them feel special. Step 4: Build or borrow? After working the first three steps, you‟ll come to a point where you really need to decide whether you want to build your own (forum, SNS, blog…) or leverage an existing site. In most cases it will be more efficient to find a blog, SNS or forum that already covers your target audience and use it to meet your goals. If there‟s really nothing out there for you, or if you see a great opportunity to be a pioneer, then you might want to build your own. But remember, growth can be a slow process. Step 5: Think long-term. As with any marketing or branding effort, this is a long-term strategy. Give it time to develop. Social media is like a bank in which you make deposits one penny at a time. So to buy that shiny new bicycle (or other r eward) you‟ll have to stick with your strategy over the long haul. The good news is that as your “principal” grows, it generates interest, increasing the total value over time. Step 6: Look for ways to leverage technology. Because you want to cover several different social media, look for tools that will help you reduce your effort. Work smarter, not harder. There are innumerable tools and solutions available to help you streamline your workload. For example, Ping.fm allows you to simultaneously post to Facebook, Plaxo, Twitter and other accounts. Tweetlater allows you to queue up “tweets” (Twitter posts) and automatically post them on a staggered schedule. Those are just a couple of examples. Remember, too, that you don‟t have to create all of your content. You can “borrow” content from other sites, as long as you give them credit and post links to the source. And finally: Step 7: Remember the 4 Cs. Whatever web tools you choose, create your posts, uploads and site improvements with the following criteria in mind: 1. Content – Does this post (content, upload, feature, etc.) add value to the target community? 2. Context – How does this post relate to the “world” of the target community? 3. Connection – How does this post build connections between you and the target community? 4. Community – How does this post help to build a sense of connection among members of the target community? Following this seven-step plan will help you navigate the vast, but rewarding ocean of social media and get the best return on your marketing investment. eting investment.
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