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Why Facebook Sponsored Posts Will Change the Way Your Favorite Sports Team Interacts Online

There are few companies who have done a better job than Lululemon using social media to grow its brand. More impressive is that they’ve done so in a field (apparel) where its competitors spend hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire market share.

Lululemon’s advertising is minimal, relying on word of mouth and consumer interaction rather than focus groups, advertising and big data. I knew it was time to jump on the bandwagon, both as a fan and a shareholder, when figure skaters Sarah and Emily Hughes started to rave about their products via Twitter.

The fact that many of the NHL players I worked with in Detroit casually wear the Canadian-based company away from the ice, despite a league-wide deal with Reebok, only reinforced that investment.

While I may be a shareholder, I have been remarkably puzzled of late at how little Lululemon was appearing in my Facebook news feed. The site’s specifically designed algorithm (a.k.a. EdgeRank), much publicized in the tech world, favors those pages that receive personal interaction like ‘Likes’ and comments. My own use of the company’s Facebook page was to show my support for the brand, while occasionally looking through new product photos.

That, combined with Facebook utilizing its news feed as a means of generating new revenue has led to a drastic change with how users interact with the site. Sponsored posts, including Lululemon’s competition and the likes of Ralph Lauren, Samsung and Verizon have been appearing more and more frequently with each new login. These posts were all placed in my algorithm, not because I liked them, but because friends of mine did.

Facebook has a right to make money and Lululemon, a company that has resisted opportunities to invest in advertising, will likely rely on its die-hard brand ambassadors rather than giving into the sponsored post trend. Still, this brings up a key question that community managers and media buyers must face in 2013 and beyond. What is the value of a ‘like’ when the things you ‘like’ don’t show up in your Facebook feed at the expense of those who pay to be there?

As Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban wrote on his Huffington Post blog, “from a brand’s perspective, not having to try and fall within the parameters of the algorithm (EdgeRank) allows us to post fun things, tidbits, information, anything, knowing that there is at least a chance that those who have a connection with us can see it, and knowing that we won’t reduce our chances of the algorithm showing the post.”

“A user can govern his/her news feed far better by hitting unlike than an algorithm like EdgeRank ever can.”

Cuban has said that his club won’t give up on Facebook, but will place more of an emphasis on other forms of social networking.  It is just one of many things teams must now consider as part of their digital strategy.

Other things to consider include

Sponsorship

The Red Wings were one of the first teams in professional sports to use impressions as a means of commanding sponsorship dollars for social media activation. We also utilized the sheer scope and demographics behind our audience as a talking point with potential clients.

Facebook’s updated algorithm means that those who are interacting with the page most frequently see the greatest amount of content, while its newfound emphasis on sponsored posts serves as an indirect competitor to teams with established digital sponsorship programs.

While Facebook can guarantee an impression number for a fixed cost, the site doesn’t offer the other benefits of corporate partnerships, including VIP experiences, in-venue activation, tickets and other means of brand association. Also, when you consider that most corporate partnership agreements are not done a la carte, it is still more affordable to activate with a team on a consistent basis.

Ticket Sales

This is where Facebook’s new approach is most promising, especially for clubs willing to spend a little money AND provide a friendly price point at the same time. Many teams, including all of Major League Baseball, utilize email campaigns for special ticket deals, including those at the 11th hour. Yet these are plagued by poor open rates, or even worse, not getting by various spam filters. It’s only a matter of time before an NFL team uses a sponsored Facebook post as a means of promoting ticket sales in an effort to avoid a television blackout. Count on it!

Sponsored posts should also be of interest for teams in search of new and creative ways to push season tickets and partial plans. Many fans don’t know how affordable a four, six or ten game plan can actually be, or some of the perks that go along with them. Also, given Facebook’s ability to hypertarget, opportunities to promote specific opponents, like Albert Pujols and the Angels to the local Hispanic community, should also be taken into consideration.

Important News and Information

While Facebook’s sponsored posts open the door for businesses to put themselves front and center. Rarely, if ever, will a team spend money via social media to promote its own news content. Why would anyone compete against local newspapers, TV and radio in promoting media that is already considered earned?

While content is seen as one of social media’s greatest strengths, team-curated content takes a back seat on Facebook. Who’s starting at shortstop may be important to your die-hard fans, but rarely if ever, will it get past the algorithm.

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