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Driving Brand Engagement for Sports Teams through Facebook

Wallabies Brand Engagement and Reinvigoration

Brand EngagementFaced with falling levels of interest and attendance, rugby in Australia needed a reinvigoration in 2011.

The Australian Rugby Union (ARU), the governing body for the sport in Australia, decided to leverage the annual Tri-Nations tournament as a platform to shake up communication and drive engagement with the Australian public. The Tri-Nations tournament, with matches on home soil and held just a few weeks before the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand, provided the perfect vehicle to communicate with all rugby fans – from the casual to the passionate.

The strategies employed by the ARU proved to be successful and the 2011 Tri Nations Facebook campaign was later entered into the inaugural Facebook Studio Awards competition (where it was 1 of only 4 Australian finalists; from only 70 globally). The campaign was also the first sporting case study of its kind in Australia.

Interview with Michael Briggs, Online and Digital Manager, Australian Rugby Union

Today, I take the opportunity to fire a few questions at Michael Briggs who at the time was the Digital Account Manager at the Ikon Communications agency in Sydney. Michael has now jumped across to become the Online and Digital Manager at the ARU.

(CC) So Michael, what were the overall goals for the campaign?

(MB) In such a critical year for Australian Rugby, our overall communications objective was to recruit and retain broader sporting fans, and start their association with rugby. In a digital context, this meant more of a balance than in previous years between retail activities and tactics designed purely to increase interaction, encourage engagement and to entertain.

(CC) With these objectives in mind, why was Facebook chosen over other social tools and marketing tactics?

(MB) Aside from the fact Australians consume more social media than anywhere else in the world per capita (particularly Facebook) it was also a decision made based on the fact Facebook has now transitioned from a ‘site’ to a ‘platform’. With more emphasis being paid to location-based services and strengthening their mobile offering (2 things we know rugby fans use religiously week-on-week) , as well as rumours around more being done for brand pages (i.e. Timeline), it presented a glimpse into what the future held for brands on Facebook and it was important for the ARU to start to better utilise this space.  Other social tools (Twitter and YouTube) were used; however Facebook became our “hub” for exclusive content and fan discussion.

(CC) What strategies did you employ to drive brand engagement and interaction?

(MB) We implemented 3 tactics during the course of the 4 month campaign period, all built around a social communications strategy that sought to target 3 different audience segments (rugby fans, sport fans and patriots) as distinct from each other.

Rugby Rewards, a social deals tool featuring offers from different sponsor partners, enabled fans to vote for the offer they would most like activated the following week. This lay front and centre as our ‘rewards’ tool and provided fans with tangible rewards they could use to either express their passion for their team (merchandise, tickets etc.) or to simply reward them for becoming a part of the community.

A branded content series (2 episodes utilising popular viral animations “Beached Az”) were used to entertain and, as a result, create incremental and long term value by tapping into some of the social groups we would not have access to.

A ‘Facepaint’ application was also created to provide fans, sporting and patriots with a means to express their passion for their team or their country; a tactic that reflected well our new “One Team” brand positioning and movement away from rugby-centric messaging to a ‘call to arms’ to all Australians.

(CC)  How did you ensure that you created a unique message for all fans out there from the casual ones to the die-hard fans?

(MB) We made a conscious effort to ensure everything we did across social media in 2011 didn’t isolate one or more of our audience segments. Facebook remained the channel for fan discussion and game analysis; however we simply introduced tactics that gave people something else (and something different) to discuss. We saw this had instant benefits with interaction metrics (shares, comments, likes etc.) increasing sharply and a distinct shift in our page demographics.

Whilst we could create tools that had broad relevance across each of these segments though, getting them involved and keen to participate was another thing. Our social communications strategy consisted of 3 categories of paid social advertising, each with their own targeting segments and messaging that was designed to appeal to their interests (e.g. merchandise/ticket offers for rugby fans, branded content for sporting fans and the facepaint tool for patriots).

(CC) So how did the overall campaign perform?  Were there any tactics that didn’t really work and why?

(MB) A key learning for us was the importance of better utilising other communication channels (Twitter, YouTube and other emerging social platforms) to create further awareness and to enhance the social experience of the rewards and facepaint tactics. Also looking at ways we can use other channels (integration with ATL advertising and PR) as a means of driving un-aided awareness. This is one thing we are looking at being a primary objective for the 2012 Rugby Rewards program.

(CC) How do you now ensure progress is maintained in 2012?

(MB) The ARU now has resources in-house for content creation; however for Rugby Rewards we have reduced some of the barriers to entry (e.g. voting for offer redemptions) and have introduced a gaming element that incorporates the ‘gamification’ trend we are now seeing across social media. Gamification is one thing I think all sports brands need to adopt in some degree to help leverage fans’ competitive nature and to take social engagement to the next level.

(CC) Are you able to share with us any new initiatives you will adopt this year?

(MB) As mentioned, we are looking at a much more inclusive Rugby Rewards experience this year; offering multiple layers of fan engagement, several opportunities for fan rewards and a selection of ‘real-life’ experiences designed take the rewards concept to a level not seen across any code before. In addition to public rewards (available to redeem at any time), interactions with the Qantas Wallabies brand (or that of our partners) via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube will be rewarded. We are also looking to flip the concept of the ‘People’s Choice Award’ on its head by offering one lucky individual the chance to be crowned our ‘Ultimate Fan’ for 2012 and a further 14 (to make up our 1st XV) an experience of their own.

(CC) What are your digital predictions for brands and sports properties for the latter part of 2012 and beyond?

(MB) I think the thirst for social media analysis/discussion will continue, as will the thirst for exclusive video content, so it is important for all sports brands to consider ways to place more of an emphasis on these (not just during the season, but all year round). I also think the smartphone will become the ‘remote control’ of fan interaction – the centrepiece of their entertainment experience. We are already seeing this with the advent of social TV, however things such as NFC technology (despite the fact it isn’t forecast to take off until 2014), to me, offer some exciting opportunities for sports brands/stadiums to add another layer to the game-day experience.

(CC) Lastly, we have an interview series on how to break into the sports industry, can you offer any tips to aspiring young graduates reading this trying to land a job in sports?

(MB) One of my favorite quotes by Mr. Mark Twain goes a little something like this “There is no royal road to anything. One thing at a time and all things in succession”. This definitely rings true for me as whilst it has always been a dream to work within a sporting organization, I was realistic in the sense that I needed to prove my worth first.

I spent 7 years in advertising agencies prior to coming on board at the ARU, but there were certainly things I could have done to help fast-track this. Such things could have been writing blogs and demonstrating your knowledge, volunteering/interning wherever possible, checking LinkedIn groups and getting involved in the latest discussions and Meetup for any sport networker events. Lastly, don’t be deterred if you’re not one of those sports nuts who remembers every test match score for the last 50 years or the middle name of every player in the team – whilst having an advanced knowledge of the sport helps, your vision and ability to innovate (whether it is digital media or not) is of the greatest importance.

(CC) Michael, on behalf of Sports Networker thank you for your time today.

(MB) My pleasure, no worries.

Disclaimer: The author/interviewer was an employee of the ARU at the time of the interview.

What do you think of what the Australian Rugby Union has done to reinvigorate their brand and drive brand engagement through Facebook? Leave your comments below or tweet us!

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One Response to Driving Brand Engagement for Sports Teams through Facebook

  1. johntublin May 25, 2012 at 8:55 am #

    Great article Chris! Michael and the ARU have done a tremendous job with fan engagement. In addition to the Try Nations I also loved the social media buzz around the RWC in 2011 as a whole. Have you follow USA Rugby at all from a social media standpoint, and how do you think they can improve the sport in the US via social media?

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