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David Barton-Ginger on All Blacks Rugby and Social Media

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing David Barton-Ginger, online social media manager for the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby team. Since we are based in the U.S, it was interesting to see what sports teams are doing all the way down in New Zealand.

For those of you who don’t follow rugby, the All Blacks are like the Manchester United of Rugby, only with cooler jerseys.

They have over half a million fans ‘liking’ their Facebook page, and considering all of New Zealand only has four million people, that’s a pretty good percentage. They’re also not afraid to push the envelope and have been extremely successful in getting their players involved with engaging the fan community.

Two things in particular stuck out at me, first that the amount of success they’ve achieved while running on a small budget. In my opinion, this is one of the core drivers behind sports 2.0 – a lot can be done with sweat equity. The second is their partnership with Adidas and how they have incorporated them into their marketing campaigns. Definitely take the time to watch this video interview and find out how David and his team are breaking barriers:

If you want to read our conversation instead of watching it, the transcript is below the fold. I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment down below!

Lewis Howes: Welcome everyone to today’s show with my new friend David Barton-Ginger who is from New Zealand, and he is the Online Social Media Manager for the All Blacks Rugby team in New Zealand.

I’ve got my cool All Blacks shirt on today, that a friend from New Zealand got for me. So I feel like I’m primed and ready. I’ve got the scruff going on.

I just want to say, thanks for coming on David. How are you doing?

David Barton-Ginger: Good. Thanks, Lewis. It’s nice to be with you today.

Lewis: Now, I’m pretty excited because you guys are doing some interesting things at the All Blacks and online with Facebook, Twitter and social media; doing a lot of cool videos. So I thought it would be great to reach out to someone who’s outside of the States.

I usually talk with people who are in the States, different sports scenes. But you are in New Zealand. You’re an island all by yourself.

How many people actually live in New Zealand? I’m not even sure, what’s the statistics.

David: We’ve got a population of roughly 4 million people.

Lewis: OK. 4 million people and you’ve got over half a million of those people who are fans on Facebook, right?

David: Yeah.

Lewis: That’s pretty amazing.

So, tell me, when did you guys start off on Facebook, Twitter and just using social media? And when did you realize that you could start attracting more of your fan base on these sites?

David: Well, we started about 18 months ago; so in April 2008. And it was really just to put a toe in the water, so to speak, just to see what it was all about.

Then it wasn’t long after that David Meerman Scott actually came out for a conference here in Wellington. We went and had a chat with him. He was a bit of an All Blacks fan as well. And once that happened, we started to get a lot more serious about it.

It actually coincided with a presentation I was giving to senior management here about concentrating more on the fan, rather than the product. You know, for a long time it has always been about rugby as a product in New Zealand, and you know, making the game better and everything. But I could see that we actually needed to start switching our focus more to the fan, and concentrating more on them, and getting that conversation with them. With David coming out to New Zealand, it was perfect timing really.

Lewis: Sure. And David’s a well-known figure here in social media obviously here in the States, so I’m sure he gave you some great advice.

What were you doing with the All Blacks beforehand? Were you just managing the online content? Or the website? Or what was that?

David: Yeah. It was really just the website. So that’s AllBlacks.com obviously.

So we were still doing video with the team before the whole social media thing. But we were only posting that really onto AllBlacks.com. So that’s where people came and interacted.

So, the whole Facebook, Twitter, YouTube thing, it rolled up into a few new channels really there that I guess our community were on. And we recognized that and we thought, well right, here’s a start, we’ll concentrate on these two or three channels and really start having that conversation with our community.

Lewis: So, you’re the one in charge of everything social media basically. Do you have a team underneath you? Or is it basically you by yourself?

David: No. It’s me by myself. So, pretty much, I started at the rugby union six and a half years ago. At that point AllBlacks.com was really just a one page kind of pamphlet on the internet.

Lewis: Sure. Six years ago, right?

David: Six and a half years ago. Yeah.

So pretty much I’ve taken it to where it is today which I’m very proud of. We do have a small outside company, or development shop that has about half a dozen people there. So we decided to go for a… to be a big fish in a small pond, as opposed to being a small fish in a big pond.

Yeah. So they do the development stuff. But in terms of project management and social media, all that kind of stuff, I manage that.

Lewis: So, you’re the voice on Twitter, on Facebook, you’re the one who’s updating and letting all the fans know what’s going on, right?

David: Yes. Yes.

Lewis: Awesome. Very cool.

Now, are you basically learning anything online, or from other people coming in, other experts? Or are you kind of just going on the flow, on the go, with what you think will work? How are you getting your information? I mean, how are you making it so successful, really?

David: Yeah. I mean I really keep my ear to the ground in terms of what’s going on globally, from a social media perspective.

You know, I’ve got on my iPhone I have ReadWriteWeb on there. I have Mashable. I look at all those all the time just to see what’s going on around the place.

And then I look at our competitors, a little bit, but I tend to try and focus on what we’re doing rather than what our competitors are doing.

Lewis: Smart!

David: And so, you know, it’s funny because what’s happened then is that we tend to be the leaders in a lot of aspects.

Lewis: I like that!

So, what type of goals do you guys have? You have over a half a million Facebook fans right now. And I love what you have on basically the welcome page for your Facebook wall, which is, the welcome page excuse me, which is great videos of the players interacting with fans, surprising the fans.

You’ve got them going from door to door, knocking in different cities and just surprising fans.
You’ve got them going to knit with old ladies who are knitting sweaters and things like that.

I think that’s awesome stuff. I was just watching these videos beforehand and it just inspires me to watch them. And it makes me want to fall in love with these guys even more, even though I don’t know anything about them.

David: Yeah.

Lewis: So, what’s kind of like the goal for the growth? How are you trying to get to a million? Or are you trying to get to 10 million? What’s the goal?

David: Yeah. Well, I try not to look too far ahead. So up until recently my goal was to reach half a million by about the middle of November. We’re now at about 540,000 and we haven’t even reached the end of October. So, it has taken on a life of it’s own really.

So, yeah, my next goal’s a million. We’ve got the Rugby World Cup here next year, in New Zealand, which is the third biggest sporting event in the world next year.

Lewis: Wow!

David: So, I’m trying to get… my target is to reach a million that starts.

Lewis: Now, are you going to be able to use any of the, you know, in stadium, or in arena marketing to market Facebook, Twitter and everything else online? Are you going to be able to use any of that? Or is it pretty strict with the rugby…?

David: No. It’s really, really strict. So, it’s the same as like with the Olympics, or the FIFA World Cup. We’re really restricted in what we can do. In fact, we can just about do nothing when it comes to the content.

And I think the next one important distinction between say what we do with the All Blacks to say a lot of your American sports, over there.

Where we don’t own of the stadiums here.

Effectively we’re not a team website; we’re a national body website.

So the All Blacks come together probably 5 or 6 months a year and then they go out to their own teams.

We have quite unique issues that a team wouldn’t have, say like a Boston Celtics, or a Los Angeles Lakers wouldn’t have over there.

So getting access to players and things like that always is a bit of an issue for us.

Lewis: Gotcha.

David: But we’re doing our best to get around it. So we have a videographer that when they are together, goes into camp with them and that’s where we get a lot of the really great content.

Lewis: And I see on the AllBlacks.com site, you’ve got mostly, right on the main part, it looks like you’ve got kind of updates, news about teams, or scores of different teams that are happening, and things like that, or different games that are happening. And then I also see that you have some videos as well. You also have scores below and things like that; also where you can connect online, on Facebook.

How much more…

Are you going to be keeping it mostly kind of just updates for what’s happening, different things like a scoreboard?

Are you going to be giving more content, kind of like player interviews?

And what do you see the fans liking more? What brings more people back to your website do you think?

David: Yeah. So definitely, we’re going to be… you know, that’s one of the improvements that I’m looking to make say over the next six months. It’s getting the players and also the senior management at work involved with our social media aspects. So, the players are buying into it a lot more as time goes on. There are a few key players within the team that are a lot more into it than some of the others.

So, really we’re looking to liaise with those players a lot more and getting them to…

I guess you know, they’ve only got small followings themselves, so saying to them, “Hey look, we’ve got over half a million people on here. How about you share your content with us and we’ll help drive content to your personal pages.” So there’s a quid pro quo there in terms of doing that.

And then from the senior management point of view… internally for example, our CEO has a fantastic monthly email he sends out to the staff… really personable and really engaging. So what I want to start doing is getting him to… you know, we might tweak it a little bit, and start doing a blog and things like that, and getting him to use Twitter a bit more. But it’ll come slowly down the line. We’re very much a traditional organization, so it’s one step at a time.

Lewis: Right.

David: Yeah. So that’s what we’ll look to do there. I mean, the one really big thing that, at least that I’ve learned, along with being a one-person operation, I have a very, very small budget… so what I’ve tried to do, or what we’ve done now is working a lot closer with Adidas who’s now our core partner, as you can see on your jersey there. They’re the only brand that is allowed on the All Blacks jersey. And they’ve been fantastic actually.

Lewis: That’s Adidas here in the States, just for people…

David: Right! So that’s a good New Zealand there.

Yeah. But I mean, they’ve been a massive help for us in driving fans to our Facebook site. When you see that page, that splash page, it’s someone who might not have been a fan with us before, that give your all Adidas promotion pretty much.

They sponsor some of the key All Blacks and so that means we can get access to those All Blacks via Adidas. Adidas gets that content and they help drive those people to our Facebook page.

And then, when Adidas goes to have a store visit or promotion where the All Blacks are going to be there, we then use our Facebook page to drive people there.

So, it’s a really good relationship.

Lewis: I was just going to ask you about sponsorships. Are you leveraging more… is Adidas the only sponsor? Because you’ve got to be able to have other sponsors, right? Or is it the only sponsor period?

David: No. No. We have other sponsors as well.

Lewis: OK. You have other sponsors. Are you leveraging… are you able to increase sponsorship spending for the All Blacks by show casing more traffic to your site, more subscribers, more fans on Facebook and Twitter? Are you able to say, “Hey look. We’re getting more attention here. You should be spending more here, and we’ll put more exposure out for you.”

Is any of that happening yet? Or are there talks about that?

David: It’s a really good question that. I think we’re kind of getting to a turning point now. Up until recently, you know… so we’ve got one of the biggest Telcos in New Zealand… well the biggest Telco in New Zealand as a sponsor… and we’ve got some… you know, MasterCard and Coca Cola as sponsors as well…

So in the past you know I think that they would have used… they would have said, “Oh, we’re going to sponsor using traditional sponsorship packages, and oh, by the way, can you throw some of that other stuff in there, social media and digital stuff into the package. We’re giving this amount of money.”

But I think personally, that’s about to change. The value we’re going to get out of our social media side of it is starting to do really well. So the digital, social side will come a lot more into our negotiations than it has in the past.

Lewis: Yes. Exactly. I notice in term of in the US specially in NFL who are maximizing their sponsorship dollars on Facebook, you know the Facebook fan pages alone.

So I’m sure if you… once you reach a million fans, you can say, “Hey look, the average amount of user spends on Facebook is 55 minutes. We’ve got a million people here who are spending a lot of time; you can check the analytics and everything.” You could probably increase that sponsorship spending by saying, “We’ll put you featured on the Facebook fan page,” for sure.

That’s pretty interesting. And I’m excited to hear about that, so maybe we’ll do a follow up interview when you get a million followers.

David: We have a situation though where a lot of our sponsors are domestic and probably 400,000 of our 500,000+ fans are based offshore. So that kind of creates a dilemma as well. So, for Adidas it’s perfect because they’re a global brand.

But, you know, so… we’ve still got to build that domestic fan base as well.

Lewis: Gotcha. OK, so let’s ask a couple more questions.

So what do you think… what do you see happening in the near future that we haven’t talked about? What are you guys going to be focusing on?

One thing I’ve noticed is your Twitter following is only around 10 or 13 thousand I think. Is that because people who are your fans are not on Twitter? Or you just haven’t aggressively used it that much? Or what’s the case there?

David: Yeah. So, I mean… to date we’ve pretty much been concentrating on Facebook.

With Twitter the thing that essentially had been… well, what we had set up there is an RSS feed from the web site. So, in terms of major stories and the like, they all go through directly to Twitter anyway. And then also, we have live scoring on our Twitter account as well, which I think has actually driven our fan base a lot on there as well… our followers.

So 10,000 might not seem a lot in the United States, it’s actually not too bad in New Zealand.

Lewis: Sure!

David: So, we would be up there with some of the major players in New Zealand. But, yeah, it’s definitely something which I’m going to start switching my focus towards and getting that working better.

Lewis: Specially since 400,000 of your fans on Facebook are around the world, I bet a number of those individuals are on Twitter.

If you added some type of “Follow Us On Twitter” on your Facebook fan page wall, even on the Welcome Page, just a little button below the videos, I bet you’d see that start to increase a little bit as well.

That might be…

David: Yeah. Absolutely. And it’s that cross-promotional stuff which is going to be key to actually, to get that going better.

Lewis: Exactly!

But I think you guys are doing a… I mean I love the trick shot videos. There’s one video that took a trick shot where the guy’s like throwing it and kicking it, and catching it behind their head… it’s like a classic video. And that’s kind of like… I guess they did…

LeBron James did a similar type of video with… was that inspired by that?

David: Yeah. Well you guys have got the NFL ones over there for your fantasy guy and you’ll notice that some of those moves are pretty much take straight off those.

There are a lot of people in New Zealand who haven’t seen those obviously. So that’s how we were able to get away with it without too many people realizing…

Lewis: It’s awesome though. It’s classic. I love it.

The characters that you guys have on your team, the All Blacks team… I mean those guys are awesome. I mean the accents… the ‘hey bru’… everything that’s going on around it, the hug… the whole thing going on there…

It’s just like you have such a great brand and I can see why so many people around the world… You’re like the Manchester United of rugby basically, right.

David: Yeah, well, I mean a few years ago we were the fourth most recognized sporting brand in the world. I think we’re up to about number seven now. But… yeah… it’s definitely up there. You know, we’ve got, I guess you look at our Facebook community, we’ve got:

5,000 followers from France
55,000 from Italy

You know, so it is… we’ve definitely got this… hundreds of countries… well at least 150 countries that follow us.

Lewis: Sure. Wow!

David: So there are fans from those countries.

Lewis: That’s pretty exciting.

So let’s… so what about other teams in New Zealand. You know, you guys have this huge brand, because:

You’re worldwide recognized
You’re one of the best in the world every year for rugby

But you’re on an island. So you’re in a small country. You’re on an island with 4 million people, so I guess…

What would your advice be for some teams in smaller countries that don’t have the biggest brand recognition that you guys have… what would your advice be for some of theme? And how to increase their social media presence?

David: Yeah. So, I mean the first thing I’d say is just small steps. You know, don’t try and do everything at once. That’s something that I probably try to do too much all at once.

Recognize where your communities are having the conversation and I guess, try and get into those communities. For us it was Facebook and Twitter, so that’s why we’re concentrating on those two.

And I guess the second and really big lesson for us is really try and leverage your partners to help you with that. If you haven’t got the means to go out there and do it yourself… you know, social media is a place that… you know, if any commercial organization out there is serious about, you know, talking to their communities, and you’ve got half a brand, then leverage your partners to help you do that.

We’ve done that with Telecom here and it’s been hugely successful for all the parties concerned.

Lewis: Awesome. So I asked the question on Twitter- what people would want to ask you about social media. And everyone pretty much said, “I don’t really care, I’m just a big fan” and “can he do the haka?”

So can you do the haka for us real quick?

David: (laughter) I wouldn’t even try. I wouldn’t do it justice. But I tell you what, they can go YouTube.com/nzrugby and there are plenty of haka on there.

Lewis: OK. Cool. We’ll put some up in the article below. We appreciate it.

Where can people find you online, David? Are you on Facebook, on Twitter? Or is it mostly just behind the scenes?

David: It’s very much behind the scenes. I am… I do have DBGtweets on Twitter. That’s Twitter.com/DBGtweets. Once again I tend to really do all my social media stuff for work. It’s not really a personal thing for me, although I am starting to do a lot more on Twitter, or focus more on Twitter, and get myself out there a little bit more and share, share some of my learning.

Lewis: OK. Well, very cool. We’ll check you out on Facebook.com/AllBlacks and Twitter.com/AllBlacks and everything else AllBlacks.

David, we appreciate your coming on and we’ll talk to you soon.

David: OK. Nice talking to you Lewis.

Lewis: We’ll see ya.

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