Ty Scheiner

Providing fresh and unique content to customers is key in keeping your brand relevant to your target audience and maintaining them as customers and fans. I’ve noticed some athletic departments and teams are doing standout jobs of turning sports fans into convertible online fans with killer social media marketing.

No matter the industry that your business is in, these social marketing players demonstrate that giving your customer base reasons to follow you on your social networks and engage with your brand can translate into brand reach and revenue. It’s becoming more and more important to the overall success of your company to have a strong social presence. Social provides an outlet for differentiating your brand on the web.

Here are four examples of different sports organizations that are distinguishing themselves from other teams and athletic departments in social media marketing. The achievements of their marketing efforts have led to increased brand awareness and financial success.

Want more sports marketing news? Check out our recent video about how FIFA used the World Cup to promote a broader marketing campaign.

Baylor Rewards Program encourages content sharing

In the social media space, Baylor Athletics is setting itself apart from other athletic departments with the Baylor Rewards Program. The idea behind this campaign is to encourage fans to interact socially by giving users incentives to share content relating to Baylor Athletics. Any participating fan who posts pictures, shares videos, retweets @BaylorAthletics, uses certain hashtags or checks in to Baylor sporting events will earn points depending on how they’ve shared Baylor content.

Fans can redeem tangible prizes such as team gear and tickets to a Baylor game of the sport of their choice. At the end of June, the top three fans who accumulate the most points can cash in for terrific prizes. Prizes include season tickets to a sport of the winner’s choice, lunch with a Baylor coach and the chance to lead the Baylor football team out of the tunnel at the 2012 home opener.

Although this contest is only half way done, it has had amazing success on the athletic department’s social media pages. The program began in November 2011, and after only three weeks into the challenge, the Baylor Athletics Facebook page accumulated more than 4 million impressions. As of the beginning of January of this year, its Facebook page has 26,000 fans, up from 18,000 in November.

This social media marketing program is successful because it gets interaction from Baylor fans while gaining content advocates. A big takeaway for marketers is the importance of keeping your customers consistently active on social media. Providing content paired with promotions gives customers and fans a reason to return to your social media pages, putting your brand top of mind and holding you accountable for staying relevant to your customer base with frequent updates.

Plus, Baylor rewards user-generated content, which other marketers can take as a reminder to cultivate fan engagement for different types of media. There are plenty of types of content to be shared on these platforms – blog posts, mobile uploads, video content, simple comments and more. Marketers should not limit themselves to specific internet marketing opportunities, but should take advantage of all the different social avenues to engage their fans and customers, like Baylor.

Louisville Slugger’s Cardinals’ scavenger hunt generates social traffic and foot traffic

This past fall, Louisville Slugger took advantage of the buzz around the St. Louis Cardinals becoming World Series champs and implemented a one-day scavenger hunt in the St. Louis area. The goal behind the campaign was to build awareness for the company’s bats and drive traffic to the stagnant and quiet Twitter and Facebook pages for Louisville Slugger.The sporting goods company hid 45 baseball bats around the city of St. Louis and posted clues to their whereabouts via Twitter and Facebook.

For a campaign like this to work, you obviously have to know your target audience, and in a city with deep baseball history where everyone was celebrating the recent Cardinals win, this promotion hit a home run! According to the Realtime Report, the week prior to the promotion, Louisville Slugger’s Facebook page’s “talking about this” number was at 755 users, and once the promo was completed it increased to 7,049. In addition, their Facebook Likes jumped 143 percent and their Twitter followers spiked 161 percent.

The campaign generated tons of conversation not only about the team, but also the bat company. Consumers got excited to hit the streets and find the branded bats, and the campaign made sure to tell them where they could find more sporting goods anytime in a nearby store location.

This was a great example of a company capitalizing on current and relevant news to reach a target audience. Marketers should always be looking for ways to incorporate appropriate trending topics into their marketing strategies, and what better way then to provide a game for your customers where your offering is their reward and social reach is yours?

Plus, Louisville Slugger demonstrates the value of social – a forum with potentially global reach – in connecting with nearby shoppers. This specific campaign relied heavily on mobile usage since the scavenger hunt took place throughout the city, and the clues were always moving. Brafton has long reported that social marketing reaches mobile users as consumers check the leading networking sites while on the go, and Mobile Marketer suggests that mobile marketing budgets will increase substantially in 2012. Nonetheless, a solid social content marketing campaign would make scavenger hunts like this one possible for anyone with mobile internet access – no mobile-specific strategy required.

NJ Devils’ “Mission Control” makes loyal fans part of the team

One of my favorite social media efforts by a sports organization is being run by the New Jersey Devils. Last year, the Devils created “Mission Control,” a social media center that is maintained by fans. The 25 passionate fans behind the control center (also known as “The Devils’ Army Generals”) monitor any mentions or discussions surrounding the team on their social media platforms. They work up to 12 hours a day on game days, rotate in shifts and don’t get paid!

“Mission Control” was created in February of 2011, based solely on the premise that fans wanted to be able to voice their opinions, ideas and stories around the NJ Devils brand. Within the first six months, the Devils saw amazing success. ESPN reports that the team’s Facebook fans increased from 100,000 to 170,000, and the its Twitter account surpassed 25,000 followers. (In the beginning, the Devils added followers at an extremely high rate of 600 new followers per week.) The team was recognized as the most Digitally/Socially Engaged Brand of the Year at the 2011 Bulldog Awards.

The increase in fans and followers was huge for the Devils’ brand, but the “Mission Control” idea benefitted financially too. Through two different ticket promotions, the Devils grossed over $17,000 in incremental revenue from the campaign.

The engagement and interaction that the Devils provide to their fan base is a great benchmark for other marketers to learn from and implement similar strategies to increase fan loyalty. Brafton recently reported that more than 27 percent of businesses say that social media marketing has been the most effective channel for customer retention. Like the Devils, allow your clients to have a voice and give them that “personal” feel of communication instead of making them feel like nothing more than part of a crowd.

Marketers should ask themselves if there are ways they can get customers involved in social. While Mission Control catered to an extreme group of enthusiasts who wanted to feel like sportscasters, other companies might reward their fans and make them feel like “brand celebrities” by changing businesses’ profile images to user-generated content, retweeting content from customers, generating custom Facebook posts or @mentions on fans’ birthdays or similar acts that make customers feel more closely tied to the social success of the brand.

Michigan Wolverines football presale generates social sales

The main goal of any business is to make money by selling your product, but the goal in social media marketing is sometimes not direct sales. Michigan’s campaign reminds marketers that social reach can be leveraged for sales. Prior to the 2011 football season, the Michigan Wolverine football team held a one-day presale via Facebook to increase ticket sales.

Jordan Maleh, the director of marketing for Michigan athletics, wanted to use the enormous amount of fans the team had amassed on Facebook to help generate more revenue in ticket sales before the season kicked off, reported IndustryBuzz.com. In order to accomplish this, Maleh created a one-day presale exclusive for fans of the Michigan Football Facebook page. This was a great idea because it allowed Michigan to provide its passionate fan base with exclusive content and a sense of added value simply for being a fan.

Michigan created a landing page on Facebook about the promotion and required team enthusiasts visiting the page who you were not yet fans to Like the team in order to see wall content. Once a user had Liked the brand, they could access a link that brought them to an exclusive website page describing the promotion. From this page, a link took fans to a conversion page to purchase tickets.

This 24-hour promotion was a tremendous success. The campaign helped the team add 7,000 new Likes and Michigan’s Google Analytics reveal that more than $74,000 in ticket sales were generated from Facebook fans who accessed the exclusive web page. Not only was this a big win in terms of ticket sales before any games were played, but it can be argued that the 7,000 fans added will be valuable in the long run.

Promotions, contests, sweepstakes and other exclusive content for fans are terrific ways to give social users compelling offers that will make money for your company. While it may take some creativity to figure out what kind of content or incentive will make social fans move from your profiles to conversion, the general consensus among marketers is that it can be done: Brafton has reported that more than half of businesses think social marketing can be used to directly boost their bottom lines. Plus, these campaigns not only provide monetary value to your business but also stand to extend the reach of your Facebook page.

Using these models to develop your social media marketing game plan

Overall, these four campaigns did an outstanding job of differentiating themselves from competitors. Engagement, interaction and providing unique content were the basis of all examples. No brand can survive without their customers, just like teams cannot survive without their fans. Interaction on social media is key, even at the most basic level, such as retweeting, @mentioning and replying to posts on Facebook. Brafton recently reported that 58 percent of businesses are planning to increase their social media marketing to boost their online presence this year. Demonstrating your appreciation to your fans by offering exclusive deals, promotions and rewards are a few of the ways to retain customers and add new clients through social.

Whether you are sending your customers on a “wild goose chase” around a city or implementing a social media hub to interact with fans, it is important to remember that technology is always changing! The key to undefeatable social marketing is staying ahead of the curve. What are some of the most unique social media marketing promotions or contests that you have seen?